Join Date: Aug 2009
Part V of V
In later years Major Ritchie continued to add to his long list of tournament victories. He was singles champion in Monmouth (Wales) in 1921, the year in which he also won the singles title at Angmering-on-Sea in West Sussex. In late October 1922, in fact in the week in which he celebrated his fifty-second birthday, Major Ritchie achieved one of the most remarkable successes of his long lawn tennis career when he won the singles title at the London Covered Court Championships at the Queen’s Club where he defeated the Indian Athar-Ali Fyzee in the final, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
As late as 1924, when he 53, Ritchie won the singles title at the spring hard court tournament in Roehampton and at the autumn Phyllis Court tournament, held in Henley, North Hampshire (this tournament was also played on hard courts).
One year later Ritchie was singles champion at the tournament held in Fleet, North Hampshire, in early June. In the same year, 1925, Ritchie won the Epsom tournament, which was held in early July. He had already won the singles title at Epsom in 1905, 1910 and 1911, and would do so again in 1926 and 1927, his last victory there coming at the age of 56.
In 1925, Ritchie was also runner-up at the Bridhurst tournament, held in South Croydon, close to the Grange, the former Ritchie family home. At this same tournament in 1925, the fourteen-year-old Richard Ritchie won the boys’ singles event. As already stated, Richard Ritchie would enjoy a certain amount of success at the sport of lawn tennis in later life, but not as much as his father. Nevertheless, Major Ritchie must have followed Richard’s progress with a strong sense of pride.
It appears that Major Ritchie separated from his wife, Ethel, at some point in the late 1920s. According to the electoral register of England for 1929, Major and Ethel are still living together, at a house called Riverholme in Thames Side, Surrey. However, one year later Major is still living at the same address, but this time with a woman called Amelia Ellen Reid. Ethel Ritchie was still alive at this point and, indeed, would live on until 1970, when she died aged 83.
In the electoral register of England for 1936, Major Ritchie and Amelia Reid are still living together in Thames Side, Surrey. Richard Ritchie is also living with them at this point in time. Richard would marry in 1947 and have several children with his wife, Daphne Flower. Richard Ritchie, known to family and friends as Dickie, died on 8 April 1999, two weeks before what would have been his eighty-eighth birthday.
Major Ritchie lived on until 1955, when he died in London on 28 February at the age of 84. Several obituaries and tributes appeared, including ones in the London “Times” and “Lawn Tennis and Badminton”. The latter tribute does justice to not just Major Ritchie the player, but also to Major Ritchie the person, and is reprinted in full here:
“The late M.J.G. Ritchie
“We record with much regret the passing on February 28 of Mr Major Josiah George Ritchie in his 85th year. For many years in the early part of the century he had been one of the best known and most successful tournament players in this country, and in more recent times he was a familiar figure at the Queen’s Club, playing almost daily on the club courts or in the role of critical spectator at some of the season’s big events. His son Richard J. Ritchie acts as secretary of the club.
“From about 1900 until the first World-War there was probably no more successful a tournament player or prolific winner on European courts than ‘M.J.G.’. His biography in those days occupied over a page in Ayres’ almanack and he won practically every honour in the game, save the [Wimbledon] Championship itself. Beaten three times in the final of the All-Comers’ singles at Wimbledon, he reached the challenge round once (over Herbert Roper-Barrett) in 1909, then losing to Arthur W. Gore. He was doubles champion in the years 1908 and 1909 with Anthony Wilding.
“Ritchie’s record would naturally have been even more distinguished if his peak form had not coincided with the reign of the immortal Doherty brothers, but he had his successes too over these idols of Wimbledon. He brought about the first defeat for over three years of Laurie Doherty in the London Covered Court Championship of 1903, and he did it again in Monte Carlo in 1907.
“Ritchie represented Great Britain in the Davis Cup in 1908, and after the European war he won the All England veterans’ title at Eastbourne, and on his fiftieth birthday achieved the remarkable feat of reaching the semi-final of the world’s covered court championship at Queen’s Club in 1920.
“No player, save perhaps Jean Borotra a generation later, was more familiar with conditions on the east covered court at Queen’s than Ritchie, whose usual practice it was to request a full panel of linesmen for his key matches. He used to assert and with every justification: ‘I play for the line itself, and in indoor conditions it is not possible for the chair umpire to see me hitting the line consistently!”
“Ritchie’s ball control was phenomenal and he possessed such an attacking forehand that he seldom had to visit the net. The embodiment of physical fitness, he never played a really bad match and was therefore unusually immune from defeat except by the player of real champion class.”
“A Great Player and Sportsman
“Mr Stanley Doust contributes the following appreciation:
“The passing of M.J.G. (‘Major’ to his friends) Ritchie will be a sad blow to players and spectators of his generation. I was one generation younger than he, nevertheless when I became a regular tournament player in this country we seemed to be doomed to meet each other either in the finals or semi-finals of the singles. Needless to say that Major generally beat me, but once or twice I had the luck of the game and managed to beat him.
“It was those isolated wins of mine that led to my admiration of him as an opponent. Admittedly Ritchie loved to win. At the end of a close match, when he had won the last stroke his face would wreath in smiles, and he and his defeated opponent would retire for some liquid refreshment.
“But I found Ritchie just as good a loser as a winner. Talking over our matches, he always praised my good points and if I had won he would give me a nudge in my midriff and say, ‘Wait till the next time’; and usually that ‘next time’ ended in his favour.
“Playing against each other so often, both in British and Continental tournaments, drew us together as friends. We both liked each other for a doubles partner. His returns of the service were so accurate that one never had any doubts on that score. My returns were erratic (always were) and if he ever felt peevish with me he never let me know, but would plod along with returning the best services and quietly wait until I could support him.
“Ritchie seldom gave up trying. He used to say, ‘We must win the last shot. That is all that matters.’ I remember one rubber in the London-Paris match in which we played together, the Paris pair led by two sets to one, 5-4 and 40-15 in the fourth set with Frenchmen serving. Ritchie made an outright winner off the next return, I managed to win mine and the score was deuce. Again Ritchie scored another brilliant return and the French muffled my return and the score was 5 games-all. Believe it or not, he and I won the match without losing another game. How well I remember Major’s delight.
“I found Ritchie’s lobbing his most potent shot. In my early days I used to ‘live’ at the net, but when I came up against Ritchie, his depth of lob was so accurate that I was forced to play the return from the ground. Seldom did he put up a short lob.
“He was a great tactician. His footwork was not considered first class, but his sense of anticipation was so good that he was seldom beaten by an outright return or by a lightning service. His victories over Laurie Doherty in 1903 and against Beals Wright in the Davis Cup a few years later are proof of Major being a very great player. He certainly was a good sportsman and nobody will regret his passing more than I.”
Last edited by newmark401; 02-17-2013 at 12:43 PM.