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Part IV of V
Ritchie’s successes at the Riviera tournaments are proof that he could play very well not just on grass or wooden (indoor) courts, but also on slow clay, the most prevalent outdoor surface on the European Continent. Virtually all of Ritchie’s successes in Continental European tournaments, including the aforementioned victories at the German Championships, came on this surface. Nowadays, many tennis players tend to have a “favourite” surface, e.g. hard (concrete-type) courts or clay courts. But when Major Ritchie was playing, such predilections were relatively unusual.
Besides, in the early decades of the sport, starting with the first Wimbledon tournament in 1877, the most common surface within the British Isles was grass and, as already indicated, on the European Continent, clay. The main type of court to be found in a particular country depended on that country’s climate, and indoor (usually wooden) courts initially came about mainly to facilitate the playing of tennis during the colder months of the year.
Major Ritchie also played very well on the aforementioned indoor wooden courts, which suited a fast, attacking game. As indicated above, he won his first singles title of real significance at the French Covered Court Championships in 1899, at the age of 28. He won the same title again in 1902, 1905 and 1908, and was runner-up in 1903 and 1906.
At the British Covered Court Championships tournament, the primary tournament of its kind in the world for many years, held on the wooden courts of the Queen’s Club in Kensington, London, usually in late April/early May, Major Ritchie won the singles title twice, in 1909 and 1914. (At the time of his second victory he was already 43 years old.) Before World War One, Ritchie was runner-up at the same event in the same tournament in 1900, 1902, 1904, 1905, 1909 and 1911.
In 1903, a second important indoor tournament was inaugurated at the Queen’s Club. This tournament became known as the London Covered Court Championships and was usually held around mid-October. Before World War One, Major Ritchie took the singles title here in 1909 and 1911, and was runner-up in 1903, 1905, 1907, 1908 and 1912.
It was in October 1903, at the first edition of the London Covered Court Championships, that Ritchie beat Laurie Doherty, who at the time was not only Wimbledon singles champion but, a month or so earlier, in September, had become the first non-American to capture the men’s singles title at the US Championships. In the third round of the tournament at the Queen’s Club Ritchie beat Doherty, 6-2, 6-4, 8-10, 1-6, 6-4. It was Doherty’s only defeat in singles in the years 1902-06. As already stated, Ritchie would beat Laurie Doherty in singles again, in the final of the Monte Carlo Cup in early 1907.
Some of Major Ritchie’s other tournament victories before World War One included the Middlesex Championships, held at Chiswick Park, London, in early June. Ritchie, who had become a member of the Chiswick Park Lawn Tennis Club at an early age, won the singles title there in 1906, 1907, 1908, 1910 and 1911. At another pre-Wimbledon tournament, the London Championships, held around mid-June at the Queen’s Club, Ritchie won the singles title in 1902, 1904, 1906 and 1909.
At the popular Northumberland Championships tournament, held in Newcastle in that county in late July/early August, Ritchie took the singles title in 1909, 1910 and 1911. Ritchie also won the singles title at the modest Berkshire Championships tournament, held in Reading in mid-July; he was champion there in five consecutive years, 1908-12. It is possible this tournament was not simply a favourite of Ritchie’s, but that he also had some sort of special connection with Reading or Berkshire.
The Middlesex Championships, London Championships, Northumberland Championships and Berkshire Championships tournaments were all held on grass courts.
The outbreak of World War One in the late summer of 1914 meant the cancellation of all lawn tennis tournaments in Great Britain until the cessation of hostilities in November 1918. Indeed, lawn tennis tournaments as such would be held again in Great Britain until April 1919. It is not clear how Major Ritchie spent the war years, but it is very likely that he contributed to the war effort in some way.
Once meetings had been resumed, Major Ritchie returned to tournament play and continued to enjoy success, not just in veterans’ events. At the first tournament held in Great Britain since the end of World War One, the Covered Court Championships, held in mid-April at the Queen’s Club, London, Ritchie, the holder, lost in the Challenge Round to his countryman Percival Davson by the score of 6-2, 6-3, 8-6.
As already indicated above, in 1919 Major Ritchie also once again reached the semi-finals of the singles event at Wimbledon, an extraordinary feat considering he was 48 years old at the time. He was beaten in four sets by the eventual champion, the Australian Gerald Patterson; the score was 6-1, 7-5, 1-6, 6-3.
In 1920, Ritchie reached the semi-finals of the singles event at the short-lived World Covered Court Championships tournament, held that year at the Queen’s Club in London instead of the London Covered Court Championships. Ritchie played his semi-final at the former tournament on 20 October 1920, in other words two days after his fiftieth birthday. He was beaten in four sets by another Englishman, Walter Crawley.
Last edited by newmark401; 01-22-2013 at 10:25 AM.