Free Fall

Peter Underwood

By age 40 Tilden was leading a double life.

By the time Bill Tilden was forty he was leading a double life. One on the tennis stage with remnants of glory, the other off the stage and inglorious.

Off the stage he was pursuing a string of older boys and teenagers in a demimonde of furtive, risky, illegal and profoundly unsatisfactory liaisons.

Barry Unsworth's haunting novel, Morality Play, about a troupe of medieval players comes to mind. Unsworth gives these lines to one of the novice actors: "Now it came to me. The player is always trapped in his own play but he must never allow the spectators to suspect this, they must always think that he is free. Thus the great art of the player is not in showing but concealing."

Bill Tilden was trapped in his own play while trying to convince the audience he was free. But the trap was closing and his efforts to convince rang more and more hollow. For this player was doubly bound –as performer on stage and performer off it. Big Bill could never really come to terms with himself and who he was. Says biographer Frank Deford so aptly: it was as if he thought he was just "a wrong call."

Eventually, Tilden became a man whom he himself despised, so much so that soon he couldn't care for himself. Banned, he was unable to play or teach. Who wanted an ex-con pedophile who smelled bad? Thus he was denied his tennis-- the only thing he loved, the only thing imparting meaning to his devastated internal world.

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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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