Bill Tilden and the Tennis Dub

Westbrook Pegler

The Chattanooga News/January 5, 1929

NEW YORK Jan 5—(Special)—The controversy between William Tilden and the United States Lawn Tennis association continues on and on like a boundary dispute between a couple of poodle principalities in some scrubby back area of the Balkans.

Sometimes Mr. Tilden licks the association and it is curious to note how much attention they command because actually it would make no difference to the game of lawn tennis as a game of the casual athlete if both of them were to lick one another to complete and utter extinction.

I often read and hear of how much Mr. Tilden has done for lawn tennis, but whenever I chance to be around a tennis-layout where a number of genuine amateur players are cuffing the ball I am impressed with a belief that he hasn’t done much, or that if he has done much the game must have been in terrible shape when he began his sterling services.

One day I was loafing away an hour up at the Harvard athletic reservation waiting for the football team to come out of a star chamber session in the stadium and paused to watch the young gentlemen of the university taking their relaxation on the tennis court. There were about twenty courts in one row and all of them were in use for doubles and singles. Watching the players through the screens I came to the conclusion that the average tennis player is an even worse dub at this game than the average golfer is at golf.

They were batting balls over the backstops, cutting them over onto the neighboring courts and shooting service deuces right into the nets. Watching perhaps forty players for most of an hour, I saw not more than half a dozen earned points and the game was almost entirely a game of errors. At other times I have paid attention to the players on a semipublic court in New York and have noticed that with the tennis dub an earned point is almost as rare as a twenty-foot putt is to a 120 golfer.

Of course, tennis is a difficult game. It requires great stamina and as fine a delicacy as that required in golf or in the proper administration of a job at third base on a major league ball club, which is a kind of nicety, by the way, that does not receive the recognition which it deserves. But Mr. Tilden had made it no less difficult, and if he has improved the play of the common tennis athlete, as distinguished from the more or less professional amateur of the tournaments, then it must be that this type of player couldn’t hit a balloon with a banjo before the great improvement set in. As matters stand, I take it that a tennis dub who can hit a ball without falling on his face must owe a debt to William T. Tilden for his improvement of form and finesse.

On the contrary, it would seem that tennis has done pretty well by Mr. Tilden. Without going Into literary criticism and basing my opinion solely on what I know of the syndicate market tor the written word, I suspect that his tennis ranking has figured to some extent in the customer demand for his tennis articles. It seems unlikely, too, that he would have gone on devoting so much of his time to tennis if he bad felt that the whole thing was an altruistic service to thousands of abominable semiweekly players whom he had never even seen. He has commuted between the two coasts, the north and south, and between Europe and America, and if he has done a humane service in waving a tennis bat on tour, then there are one hundred million other Americans who would be glad of a chance to sacrifice themselves on the same terms and conditions.

From Pegler’s daily syndicated column “Nobody’s Business.”


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