The Forgotten Era of Tennis:
Bill Tilden

Peter Underwood

Far from a prodigy, Big Bill Tilden nevertheless went on to dominate world tennis.

Until the late 1960s professional tennis players were banned from competing in the world's major tournaments. Professional players were forced into a traveling circus playing each other in long and often tatty tours that took them all over the world.

My book, The Pros: The Forgotten Era of Tennis (Click Here), tells this story through the lives and careers of eight champions who dominated these tours.

In these exclusive excerpts for Tennisplayer, I tell the stories of the first and last of these champions, Bill Tilden and Rod Laver, starting in this first article about Tilden's amateur career.

A Stumbling Apprenticeship

Bill Tilden was far from a prodigy. Born into money in Philadelphia, he had started tennis at high school and continued playing a little at university--there, says biographer Frank Deford, he wasn't good enough for the "very ordinary" university team. Following a couple of desultory years - coincident with a series of family traumas to be explored in future articles--he began playing the local East Coast tennis circuit to fill in time.

Then came a crucial turning point. Overnight, tennis became his life. By now, aged 22, in what appeared an inexplicable about-face, he was entering `"every rinky-dink tournament that would have him." And began playing every day. To mark this metamorphosis, he changed his name. Christened William Tatem Tilden Junior, he became William Tatem Tilden 2nd.

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Peter Underwood is a doctor, writer, broadcaster, activist, and the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. He has a long involvement with the Medical Association for Prevention of War, a group of health professionals who in 2009 founded the International Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons. He divides his time between peace work, medical education, growing fine wool, and writing. A passionate student of tennis since childhood, The Pros is his first nonfiction book.

The Pros: The Forgotten Era of Tennis

The Pros: The Forgotten Era of Tennis chronicles almost 40 years when the best players in the world were barred from competing in the biggest tournaments, including the Grand Slams. It focuses on the lives of careers of 8 players who dominated the traveling circus of pro tours around the world, from Bill Tilden to Rod Laver and all the champions in between, depicting the ruthless battles of these players for prize money and status as the best players in the world.

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