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TENNIS\Big Bill Tilden remembered\Burbank man keeps memory alive.

The year was 1945. Bill Tilden was 52 and he was not only running pro tournaments but playing in them, too - and doing amazingly well.

Art Anderson can see one event as if he were a ball boy again. Don Budge and Bobby Riggs were the two best players in the world, and they beat Englishman Fred Perry and Tilden, respectively, in the semifinals.

So Perry and Tilden, two old war horses, played for third-place money. Each man won a set. Perry got to a 5-3 lead in the third. Then, during a changeover, Anderson heard Perry, in his dry British way, say something like, "Bill, in your younger days, you would have been able to get that ball."

Tilden bristled. His pupils got like BBs.

"Tilden served three out of four aces," recalled Anderson. "Perry served the next game; Tilden hit four winners in a row, so help me God, off Perry's serve. He came back and served three out of four aces. In 10 minutes, Perry was gone, and Tilden said, 'Don't you ever call me old again.'

"Perry came off the court and the reporters asked him what the hell happened. No one had seen tennis like this for years. He said, 'I made the cardinal sin in tennis. I made Bill Tilden mad.' "

Tilden, the greatest tennis player ever, died more than 40 years ago. But he has not faded in the mind of Anderson, 64, a Burbank engineer who is the guardian of Tilden's memorabilia and reputation.

Tilden died broke, and shunned by many because of his conviction for homosexuality with underage partners. But according to contemporary George Lott and authoritative biographer Frank Deford, Big Bill did not make advances to players, be they other adults or his pupils.

So Anderson, who was 11 when he began taking lessons from the master, remembers him as a teacher and an inspiration. And a friend. When Tilden was down and out in Los Angeles at the end of his life, Anderson and his mother stayed loyal and even took him in.

It was Anderson who discovered Tilden dead of a heart attack in June of 1953. Big Bill was due for dinner at the Andersons' and was uncharacteristically late. Anderson went to investigate and convinced Tilden's landlord to open his apartment. The former champion was sprawled across his bed fully dressed.

Tilden had hocked some of his trophies, but what memorabilia remained - cups, rackets, books, unpublished manuscripts - he left to Anderson.

Tilden had had frequent run-ins with the U.S. Tennis Association and, according to Anderson, asked in his will that his memorabilia never be given to that organization.

Anderson has also declined to give anything to the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., because, he says, it's an extension of the USTA and it has refused to set aside "a really nice area for Tilden."

Anderson did sell 84 lots of memorabilia at an Atlanta sports auction in 1991.

"I made a hell of a lot of money," he said. "The Tennis Hall of Fame ultimately came to the auction and bought $15,000 worth of stuff. . . . I think the sale would have made Bill happy, because the majority of the buyers were honestly Tilden fans. In fact, they came from all over the world.

"I bought back his Forest Hills perpetual trophy that he won in '23, '24, '25. I had a change of heart and bought that back for well over $30,000."

Anderson still has that sterling-silver cup, plus rackets, photos, books and unpublished manuscripts, in the Burbank house he shares with his wife and son. He even has a piece of hotel stationery on which Tilden had scrawled the plans for a pro-tennis council, with himself as tournament manager.

Anderson's own bric-a-brac is not nearly as evident in the house, even though he was an outstanding junior player in Southern California and once ranked No. 17 among United States men.

Anderson chose an engineering career rather than stay on the circuit because in those days there was no money in the sport except for a few pro vagabonds at the top.

For example, he won the Phoenix Thunderbird tournament in 1950 and received $300 under the table. A few years later Arthur Ashe won the same event and got $17,000, which was also chicken feed compared to today's prize money.

But he'd much rather talk about Tilden than himself. He loves to point out that Tilden was self-taught, that Big Bill developed the grip that allowed him to be a pioneer in hitting "the backhand drive.

"He went to Wimbledon in 1920 and blew everybody off the court, because no one had ever seen a backhand drive like this in their life. Tilden took tennis two or three notches ahead of where it had ever been."

"When you talk about (Pete) Sampras and (Andre) Agassi and these guys," added Anderson, "they can't hold a candle to this man. Now I know that I'm prejudiced, but you have to figure that these kids who come up today get coaching and all this.

"Tilden had to invent the modern game of tennis so that it could be played like it was ultimately played in the '20s, '30s and so on. He wrote the book.

"Can Andre Agassi go out there and develop tennis? On his own? That's one reason why it took Tilden until he was 27 to win his first world championship, but after that he was unbeatable."


In a terrific biography, "Big Bill Tilden, The Triumphs and the Tragedy," writer Frank Deford said, ". . . he is unquestionably the finest all-around player in history." Here are just a few reasons - courtesy of Art Anderson and the record books - why Deford was right:

Tilden won three Wimbledon singles titles. He would have won seven or eight, but he got in a fight with the U.S. tennis honchos and bypassed Wimbledon for five years, 1922-26, when he was in his prime.

He won 12 U.S. championships (seven in singles, five in doubles) and had a 34-7 record in 17 Davis Cup ties.

He won 21 of 28 Davis Cup Challenge Round matches.

According to Deford's book, "For seven years he never lost a match of any significance, anywhere in the world."

At age 37, he won the only match for the U.S. against France in the Davis Cup, defeating Jean Borotra. And he won Wimbledon.

At 50, he beat U.S. champion Ted Schroeder 6-2, 6-2 in an exhibition for the Navy. And in a well-attended match at a hotel court in Hollywood, he smashed Jack Kramer - just before Kramer was to be runner-up at the U.S. championships.

At 52, he joined Vinnie Richards to win the U.S. pro doubles.

At 53, he regularly reached the quarterfinals of pro tournaments on the circuit he helped organize.


PHOTO[ordinal indicator, masculine]CHART

Art Anderson of Burbank, who took lessons from Bill Tilden, displays some of the trophies Tilden won during his storied career. Hans Gutknecht / Daily News Box Passing Shots (see text)
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Feb 12, 1996
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