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Tue, Sept. 17

Column: Tennis Q&A with Nancy Ritchey, one of US's best

Nancy Ritchey hasn't played professional tennis since 1978 when she retired from the game, but from 1958 until she called it quits she was a woman who packed a punch.

Her father was a tennis pro, and he groomed Nancy and her brother, Cliff, to the point of both having very successful careers on the tennis tour - even to this day the best brother/sister combo ever to have played professional tennis.

Ranked in the top 10 of U.S. women players for 16 years (1960-76), winning two slam singles titles, and four slam doubles, as well as a total of 69 singles titles, a Fed Cup championship in 69, and induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2003, Nancy Ritchey was a player to be reckoned with.

A side-note is that Nancy was one of nine ladies to sign a $1 contract to establish the first women's tour.

Nancy gave special interview for the Daily Courier readers.

During your tennis career you won 69 singles titles, the Australian in 1966 and French in 1968, as well as four slams in doubles. What do consider your best moment(s) of those titles?

There were lots of great moments but several stick out. When I won the French I played Billie Jean (King) in the semis. It was a long grueling three-setter. I had beaten her a couple months before at Madison Square Garden after being down a set and 5-1, so at 4-all in the third at the French I just reminded myself of having recently besting her which gave me the confidence at that point to change my strategy and start charging the net and extracted errors at the crucial point of the match and I won 6-4 in the third. I played Ann Jones in the final and was down a set and 4-1 and rallied to win the second set 6-4 with two aces - not a bad feat on clay! Believe the final score was 5-7, 6-4, 6-1. The tournament was played during an almost total shutdown of Paris due to city-wide strikes. The players were asked to move to hotels as close to Roland Garros as possible as the gas was in short supply for the official cars for our transportation. The phone were shut down for calling overseas, but came back on the afternoon I won the tournament as did the airlines and just about everything else. Great memories!

During the amateur era was the tennis just as competitive as you see it today?

Yes, it was just as competitive. The money was nice but that was not the reason we were playing. Winning tournaments was what it was all about and I think the players still feel that way even today.

Since you had a younger brother playing on the tour and women's tennis was considered by many to be second banana in comparison to the men's tour, how did that square off when it came to family relations?

Cliff was not one of those guys who complained about the women taking prize money away from the men. There were some of the other men who thought otherwise, one of them being Marty Riessen.

Your father was a teaching professional. What role did he and your mother play in your becoming a top player on the tour?

My dad was my one and only coach. He was rated by World Tennis magazine as one of the top three coaches in the world in the '60s - so he coached both Cliff and me. My mom also played a big part as she played a good club brand of tennis so she used to pump balls to us like a ball machine so we really were a unit to ourselves and really way ahead of our time with the way we approached the game with our coach traveling with us.

What took precedence as a child with tennis aspirations - school or sports?

Tennis!!! School was secondary. I finished high school and took all the sewing courses I could find at SMU and when I ran out of any more, I quit. Cliff got so good at tennis at such a young age he dropped out of high school and started playing the tour. We both knew that if we had to make a living it wouldn't be with high school or college diploma - we had a Ph.D. in tennis. My dad, who we affectionately called the "Chairman of the Board of Richey Inc.", was totally OK with all of it. He was not only a great coach, but he was a great dad as well.

You were one of the nine women professionals who took a stand to create the women's tour. How did that come about and did you think things would become what they have?

That came about because the prize money was about 10 to 1 in favor of the guys, so Billie, Rosie and I went to Gladys Heldman and asked if she would help the women get some of our tournaments. She got Virginia Slims and we signed the now famous dollar bill contract with her - even though the USTA threatened us with suspension. Of course they weren't providing any tournaments with much prize money, so I knew Gladys would do better for us than the USTA. She was a total success at everything she ever did and the V.S.'s circuit was no exception. She deserves all the credit for starting the women's tour.

What do you see as the differences between your time on the tour and currently?

I haven't been around the tour since I retired in 1978. I guess the main difference is the money. I got to the finals of the U.S. Open in '69 and received $3,000. Need I say more?

What's your life entail now?

I am very involved with Cliff and his mental health advocacy work. He wrote a book, "Acing Depression: A Tennis Champion's Toughest Match." I do social media work, e-mails, scheduling, etc. I also take care of my mom who turned 90 and that is a blessing for me. She's in good health and sharp as a tack.

Your best friends from that timeframe were?

I really didn't have many friends on the tour as it's tough to be friends with your competitors. Since leaving the tour I've become really good friends with Julie Heldman and Judy Dalton.

What regard do you give the game of tennis now that you've just reached the age of 70, and would you do it all again?

Wow...YES. I would definitely do it all again for sure! It was a great life and I met lots of great people and saw the world and did it at a time when things were a lot easier - like air travel. It was great in the early years to travel as a family. Glad I played when I did and the players on the whole were of normal size and not 6 foot and taller.

Any thoughts you think the tennis players in the Prescott area would like to know about you and any additional experiences?

I think I've about said it all. I'll have to come with Cliff one of these days to Phoenix. He spends a lot of time out there playing golf with his friends. It would be nice to take a swing through Prescott sometime.

Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or choward4541@q.com.

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