Friday, February 8, 2019

This Week in Punta Gorda History - One of the Most Farmous Tennis Players of all time Visits in February 1931


William Tatem Tilden II , called  "Big Bill", was born on February 10, 1893 - over 125 years ago this coming week. Considered one of the best tennis players of all time, he was the world's number one  player for six years from 1920 through 1925 winning 15 Major singles titles including ten Grand Slam events.

In 1920, Tilden became the first American to win Wimbledon.  He also won a record seven U.S. Championships titles, and dominated the world of international tennis in the first half of the 1920s, and during his 18-year amateur period of 1912–29, winning 138 of 192 tournaments. In 1929, Tilden became the first player to reach 10 finals at a single Grand Slam event, which remained a record until Roger Federer reached his eleventh in 2017.

In 1931, Tilden needing money turned pro, and was snared for a tournament in Punta Gorda by Barron Collier.  Collier was the largest land owner in Southwest Florida. He had  invested millions of dollars to transform and in development of  the wilderness, including drainage of the Everglades and construction of the Tamiami Trail.  In 1924 he purchased and later remodeled the old Hotel Punta Gorda and reopened it as a grand renaissance-style Floridan hotel to which he hoped to draw famous sports legends of the time to garner prestige for  the area. As part of his development of south Florida, he planned to make Charlotte County the sports center of the south during the winter season.  He had had new tennis courts constructed at the hotel which cost him $15,000 (almost $250,000 in today's dollars).

Tilden played his first professional tennis match in Punta Gorda on February 2, 1931 beating Francis T. Hunter 6-3, 6-4.3-6, 7-5.  Later in the exhibition event, he went on to defeat Emmett Pare to win the prize money.  The court area had seating for over 600 people and buses brought people from Palm Beach, Tampa and Miami to watch the games.

(Photo courtest Burgett Brothers Photography Collection, Hillsborough Public Library)

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