Join Date: Aug 2009
Part II of V
According to one source, Major Ritchie learned the basics of lawn tennis between the ages of ten and fourteen, in the grounds of the family home, The Cedars, in Putney, a suburb located in south-west London, not far from Wimbledon. The Ritchie family might well have had a lawn tennis court in their garden. It appears that Major Ritchie stopped playing lawn tennis around the age of fifteen and that he did not start to play again until he was nearly twenty-five. It was at this point in time that he joined two lawn tennis clubs – the Norwood Club in Croydon, a suburb in south London, and the Chiswick Park Lawn Tennis Club in Chiswick, a suburb in the west of the capital.
Major Ritchie would probably have joined both clubs at some point in 1895 or 1896. By this time he, his parents and a number of servants had moved to a new residence, The Grange, in Upper Norwood, Croydon. According to the 1891 Census of England, the family were already living at The Grange, a twelve-room residence, perhaps with a lawn tennis court in its gardens. The same census states that Josiah Ritchie, now aged 50, is a dental surgeon. No profession is given for Elizabeth Ritchie, who is now 41, nor for the 19-year-old Major.
One of Major Ritchie’s first appearances in the final of a singles event at an important tournament came in July 1897 at the London Championships, held on the grass courts of the Queen’s Club in London. At this particular tournament Ritchie met another up-and-coming English player, namely Lawrence (“Laurie”) Doherty, against whom Ritchie lost rather easily, by the score of 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. However, at this stage Ritchie still lacked sufficient experience at the highest level.
Almost two years later, in April 1899, Major Ritchie won his first singles title of real significance at the French Covered Court Championships, held each Easter on the wooden courts of the Tennis Club de Paris in the suburb of Auteuil. In the final of this tournament Ritchie beat the talented Frenchman Paul Aymé, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.
In the late 1890’s, lawn tennis was still something of a fledgling sport in France and other countries on the European Continent. However, by taking part in tournaments such as the French Covered Court Championships, top players from the British Isles ensured that the sport achieved growing attention and a corresponding growth in popularity.
In later years Major Ritchie and a number of the top British and Irish players would patronize not only the French Covered Court Championships, but also the nascent tournaments held early each year on the French Riviera, as well as tournaments in countries such as Belgium, Holland, Germany, Hungary, Sweden and Austria. For example, in the years 1903-06 and 1908, Major Ritchie won the singles event at the prestigious German Championships tournament, held in Hamburg around late August.
What might appear as one of the striking features of Major Ritchie’s tennis career, if such it can be called, is that he enjoyed most of his success after his thirtieth birthday. Although most players nowadays tend to reach their peak around their late twenties, this was not necessarily case in the early decades of the sport, when a good number of players continued to win tournaments well into their thirties and even on into their early forties.
It could be argued that the sport in its infancy was less strenuous than it is nowadays. However, in the early years, many players liked to play not only singles, but also doubles and mixed doubles as well as what were known as handicap events, where less-talented players were given a head start in each game by the top players. This meant that a player might have to compete in four of five matches in one day on several days during the same tournament.
Moreover, in those days players like Major Ritchie, in other words amateurs, were not playing for prize money. But there were very few complaints about this at the time, to a great extent because tennis was played mainly by the well-to-do who lived on independent means and therefore did not need to earn their living through sport. Indeed, the thought of earning a living through sport would have been completely foreign to many players.
When the next Census of England was taken on 31 March 1901, the 30-year-old Major Ritchie was still living with his parents, Josiah and Elizabeth, at The Grange in Croydon. Once again, no profession is listed for Major, although by that time his father had become managing director of the Royal Aquarium in Westminster, London, a short-lived, but rather fascinating-sounding establishment located almost opposite Westminster Abbey.
One year later, in 1902, Major Ritchie enjoyed his greatest successes on the tennis court to date. These included a first appearance in the penultimate round of the singles event at the Wimbledon tournament, then as now the most important tournament in the tennis calendar. In late June, Ritchie made his way through the draw at Wimbledon before reaching what was known as the All-Comers’ Final. In those days, in fact up until 1922, the defending champion in the men’s and women’s singles event at Wimbledon did not have to play through the tournament, but was able to “sit out” and see whom he or she would face in what was known as the Challenge Round. The other players in the draw would play through the All-Comers’ Final, with the winner facing the titleholder.
In 1902, Major Ritchie’s opponent in the All-Comers’ Final was a familiar face, namely Laurie Doherty, who by then was really coming into his own as a singles player. Born in 1875, Laurie Doherty had had to serve an apprenticeship to his brother Reginald (known as Reggie; b. 1872), who dominated the sport in the British Isles in the years circa 1897-1901, before ill health forced Reggie to limit his appearances in singles events. As a doubles team the Dohertys remained virtually invincible for the next five years or so, until 1907.
At Wimbledon in 1902, Laurie Doherty beat Major Ritchie in straight sets in the All-Comers’ Final, the score being 8-6, 6-3, 7-5. Doherty then went on to win his first Wimbledon singles title by beating another Englishman, Arthur Gore, the holder, in the Challenge Round. Despite his defeat at Wimbledon, the fact that he had made it to within match of the title was proof of how much Ritchie’s game had improved.
Last edited by newmark401; 01-22-2013 at 10:23 AM.