A Big Day For Big Bill And Jim Courier

Today, February 10, is a hallmark day in American tennis as it marks the birthday of one of the country’s greatest champions – “Big” Bill Tilden – who was born 116 years ago today. Today also marks the anniversary of Jim Courier taking over the No. 1 world ranking on the ATP computer back in 1992. Courier became the first American man to rank No. 1 since John McEnroe in 1985 and ushered in an era of American dominance in the top spot with Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi also holding down the ranking in subsequent years. Courier, McEnroe and Sampras are still on the courts competing and will be action later this week at the Outback Champions Series this weekend in Boston. The following is the excerpt from my book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, www.tennishistorybook.com) that outlines all that happened on this day, February 10, in tennis history.

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1893 – Six-foot-two “Big” Bill Tilden, regarded as one of the greatest players to ever pick up a tennis racquet, is born in Philadelphia, Pa. Tilden dominates the tennis world in the 1920s winning 20 major titles – 10 in singles including three Wimbledon titles and seven U.S. singles titles. Tilden anchors the winning U.S. Davis Cup teams from 1920 to 1926. Writes Bud Collins in The Bud Collins History of Tennis of Tilden, “If a player’s value is measured by the dominance and influence he exercises over a sport, then William Tatem “Big Bill” Tilden II could be considered the greatest player in the history of tennis.”

1992 – Jim Courier becomes the No. 1 ranked player in the world for the first time in his career, unseating Stefan Edberg from the top ranking and becoming the first American to hold the position since John McEnroe last holds the ranking on Sept. 8, 1985. Courier holds the ranking for a total of 58 weeks during his career.

2008 – Jill Craybas of the United States nearly pulls off one of the greatest final-round comebacks in the history of the WTA Tour at the Pattaya Open in Thailand. The thirty-three-year-old Craybas, the 1996 NCAA singles champion for the University of Florida, fights back from a 1-5 third-set deficit against Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska to win five game in a row, then holds match point at 6-5 in the third set, before losing the final by a 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (4) margin. “She came back and was fighting to the last point, I could have finished the match twice, but I didn’t,” says the eighteen-year-old Radwanska, who upset defending champion Maria Sharapova at the U.S. Open five months earlier. “I was nervous and everything put me off. It was a very strange match, but the most important thing is I won the match.”

2001 – Justin Gimelstob earns a dubious Davis Cup distinction when he and Jan-Michael Gambill are defeated by Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Lorenzo Manta 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 as the United States goes down 2-1 to the Swiss after the second day of play in the Davis Cup first round in Basel, Switzerland. The loss, which ultimately becomes his Davis Cup finale, drops Gimelstob’s Davis Cup record to 0-3, tying him with Robert Wrenn and Melville Long for the worst-ever record for a U.S. Davis Cup player. Wrenn loses two singles and a doubles match in the 1903 Davis Cup Challenge Round against Britain for his 0-3 record, while Long turns the same trick in the 1909 Davis Cup Challenge Round against Australasia. Gimelstob also loses in doubles with Todd Martin in the 1998 Davis Cup semifinal against Italy and, also in that tie, loses a dead-rubber singles match to Gianluca Pozzi.