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Bill Tilden - End Of An Era

Famous Sports StarsTennisBill Tilden Biography - Born Into Privilege, Chronology, A Self-taught Genius, Awards And Accomplishments, The Tilden Age

End of an Era

Tilden continued his string of victories until the fateful year of 1926 when, in a match with the Frenchman Rene Lacoste, part of the famed French Musketeers, he injured the cartilage in his knee and lost his first Davis Cup match. Later that summer he was defeated in the quarterfinals at Forest Hills by Henri Cochet, another member of the French Musketeers who had been gunning for him for years. The following year he was determined to become number one again, but lost a heartbreaking match at the French Championships at St. Cloud to Lacoste 11-9 in the fifth set, and again lost to Cochet in a world-famous semifinal at Wimbledon after being up two sets and 5-1 in the third. The power balance had shifted to the French, and though Tilden continued to play world class tennis, he would not win another major until his 1929 victory at Forest Hills and his final 1930 win at Wimbledon. He was 37 when he took the Wimbledon title for the third time, the second oldest man to win that title.

Tilden retired from amateur tennis in 1930, and immediately went on the new professional circuit, touring around the country with other tennis stars such as Karel Kozeluh, Vinnie Richards, Ellsworth Vines, and Fred Perry. In 1939 he finally moved from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, where he made friends with movie folk including Charlie Chaplin and Joseph Cotton, both of whom allowed Tilden to use their courts to teach. By this time he was already experiencing money problems, and was forced to give lessons and continue the relentless tour schedule just to make ends meet. During World War II he played exhibition matches to raise money for the war effort, and following the war, he was instrumental in forming the Professional Tennis Players Association.

In addition to his money problems, Tilden was increasingly losing control over his proclivity for young boys. During his pro career such an orientation had been well hidden, even though many of the players knew that he would travel with a favorite ball boy. In 1946 he was arrested on a morals charge for engaging in sexual activities with a 14-year-old, and served eight months at a minimum security prison north of Los Angeles. Out of prison, most of his friends had abandoned him. In 1948 he was again arrested, and served another ten months in prison. Thereafter, he barely scraped by, living on what he could make on his occasional lessons or on a professional tour. On June 5, 1953, preparing to leave for a tournament in Cleveland, Ohio, Bill Tilden died of a heart attack in his small Hollywood apartment.

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