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How to Play(ed) Tennis: An Instructional History

Flipping through the channels this Thanksgiving Day weekend, I happened upon a movie short entitled Tennis Technique on Turner Classic Movies – everyone’s favorite TV time capsule. Filmed in 1931, the educational film starred “Big” Bill Tilden, a 14-time Grand Slam champion and former World No. 1. Standing at an intimidating 6’2″, Tilden was an American powerhouse, dominating the amateur ranks with over 900 match wins and 138 career titles. Who better than Tilden, then, to teach tennis in the Roaring Twenties?

While we couldn’t find that particular entry on the interweb (check out re-runs on TCM!), a quick YouTube search yielded an even older video dedicated to Tilden’s “tennis technique,” this time a silent film from the 1920s:

Much of the intro leaves the viewer struck by how Tilden’s tips ostensibly differ from the modern game. The long pants, the wooden racquets, and stiff-armed grips all immediately appear symptomatic of a by-gone era.

Yet getting to see the Hall of Famer in action around the midway point brings out more similarities than you might expect. After cracking a one-handed backhand, note how Tilden resets to the ready position. Technology undoubtedly influenced modern-day technique, yet it’s equally striking to trace back the core elements of the game.

Fascinating too, is how the leading star of the day was tapped to teach tennis to the masses. What would instructional video featuring a Roger Federer or Serena Williams look like? In the era of Netflix and online distribution, it would certainly reach a much wider audience than the select theaters showing Tilden’s films.

What do you think of Tilden’s technique? Which of today’s players would you like to see in teaching tennis?

Sound off in the comments!

About David Kane (137 Articles)
Sr. Digital Content Producer, WTA Networks.

1 Comment on How to Play(ed) Tennis: An Instructional History

  1. amazing whats available on the internet! thanks for sharing


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