From the Archives

Tennis personalities at Roehampton Club in the early years

In the continuing story of the first Open Tennis Tournament at Roehampton Club in 1914, this article highlights the 40 year-old winner of the inaugural Men’s Singles event; Major Josiah George Ritchie who was one of several world-class players who had previously reached the Finals of numerous Wimbledon championships and other significant events across Europe. He had also won a gold medal in the 1908 London Olympics and was the last British player to achieve this distinction before Andy Murray followed suit in the 2012 London Olympics.

His name suggested a military background, but Major was a Christian name followed by the names of his father and his grandfather. He was born in October 1870 in London. The census records show a variety of occupations for his father during his early upbringing including hatmaker, a dissenting minister and ‘a proprietor of houses’. Major enjoyed a middle-class upbringing attending a boarding school at Broadstairs in Kent where he discovered several sports.

Lawn Tennis would have been considered a novelty pastime in the 1880’s and the first Wimbledon tournament was not to take place until 1877. According to one account of his early tennis experiences, Major Ritchie learned the basics of Lawn Tennis between the ages of ten to fourteen in the grounds of the family home in Putney and stopped playing altogether at around the age of fifteen. It was not until he was approaching the age of twenty-five that he joined two tennis clubs in South West London. One was in Norwood and the other was the Chiswick Lawn tennis Club where the Secretary became a member of Roehampton Club with his wife and was instrumental in setting out the Bye Laws for the Club.

Within two years Ritchie had reached the Final of a major tournament, the London Championships which were held at Queens Club in July 1897 where he met another rising tennis star Laurence Doherty who beat him comfortably in three sets. It was another two years before Ritchie finally won his first Singles Tournament in the French Covered Court Championships in Paris in 1899. From this period leading to the Open Tournament at Roehampton Club, Major Ritchie was among the many top players at this time spreading the popularity of the game participating regularly in matches in Belgium, Holland, Germany, Hungary, Sweden, and Austria.

In 1902 he was the losing Finalist in the All Comers Final in his first appearance at the Wimbledon Championships. His best years were between 1903-06 and again in 1908, when Ritchie attended numerous Wimbledon Championships winning the coveted German Championship events held in Hamburg. His career in tennis had blossomed after he reached his thirtieth birthday making regular appearances at Wimbledon until as late as 1919. His most notable achievement at Wimbledon was in 1908 when he won the Doubles title with Anthony Wilding regarded at the time as the best player in the world and someone he would also see at the Open Tournament at Roehampton. In these early years of the game, many of the players were generally Amateur in status and were not playing for prize money. Their skills however were enjoyed by growing numbers of spectators paving the way for a future generation of Professional players. Ritchie represented a number of similar players who were not seeking a living through the sport with enough money from independent means to relax and enjoy themselves.

In these events, the players would play singles, doubles, and even mixed events and on occasions were required to play four or five matches on the same day. Ritchie continued his prolific career well into later life returning to Roehampton Club in 1924 to win the Singles Title in the Open Hard-Court Tournament at the age of 53. His successes did not stop there, winning several Singles Tournaments held at Fleet in Hampshire and again at Epsom in 1925. It was here in Epsom that Ritchie claimed his final victory at the tender age of 56 finishing an incredible sporting journey.


Steve Riedlinger, Club Archivist