Herbert Roper Barrett – A Lawn Tennis Biography 2/4
By Mark Ryan
Part II – Early Successes at Lawn Tennis
Most of Herbert Roper Barrett’s early successes at lawn tennis came in the summer tournaments held in England referred to above. These included the Suffolk Championships, held in Saxmundham; the Essex Championships, held in Colchester; and the East of England Championships, held in Felixstowe in the county of Suffolk. In the 1890s, lawn tennis was still in its infancy, the first Wimbledon tournament having been held only in July 1877, when Herbert Roper Barrett was three years old.
By the time of his twenty-first birthday, in 1894, the number of tournaments was multiplying at an impressive rate, and not just in England or the British Isles, where most tournaments were still held on grass courts. At the same time, lawn tennis, as its name implies, was still very much an outdoor sport and one also suited to the driest and warmest months of the year. Indoor courts were still something of a rarity and, although they would increase in number during the course of his lawn tennis career, Herbert Roper Barrett rarely took part in indoor tournaments.
Commenting, in the interview already quoted from above, on the lack of opportunity for playing lawn tennis during the winter months, Barrett said: “‘There was no such thing as winter lawn tennis in England in those days. The season started on the first of May and closed with a bang on the last Saturday in September. The swells went to the Riviera, but only a few of them.
“‘My first tennis in the close season was played at the old Caterham Drill Hall, to which I made a long journey by train every Sunday morning, breakfasting at the unearthly hour, for a Sunday, of 8 a.m. The light was bad and the run back very short in the drill hall, but the chance of a game in the winter was too good to miss, and I loved every minute of it. And this after a hard game on the Saturday for the Upton Ivanhoe Football Club, afterwards the Idlers Football Club.’”
As indicated in this same interview, Herbert Roper Barrett was also a keen player of association football, commonly known as football or soccer. Like lawn tennis, in its earliest days football was almost wholly an amateur sport. For many seasons Herbert Roper Barrett played for both the Casuals and Corinthian, two football teams formed in London, in 1878 and 1882 respectively (they would merge in 1939 to form Corinthian-Casuals Football Club).
According to Barrett, “‘I think I enjoyed my football with the Casuals and the Corinthians nearly as much as my lawn tennis. During seventeen seasons with the Casuals I played in every position barring goal, in cup ties. I got my Corinthian cap in 1899, and had many desperate games against teams like the Spurs, Aston Villa and Preston North End.’”
It is clear that Herbert Roper Barrett enjoyed playing team sports such as cricket and football almost as much as he did playing lawn tennis, which is not really thought of as a team sport. However, there were many opportunities for Barrett to take part in the men’s doubles and mixed doubles events at tournaments, and he took full advantage of them. Indeed, his greatest successes at lawn tennis would come as part of a doubles team.
One of Barrett’s earliest successes in this respect came at Wimbledon in 1900, when he was already 26 years of age, but competing in this most prestigious of tournaments for only the third time. In this year he reached the final match of the doubles event with his compatriot Harold Nisbet. The match in question was, in fact, the Challenge Round, in other words the round where the winners of what was then known as the All-Comers’ event – featuring the teams that played through the tournament – took on the holders, who did not have to play through.
In 1900, the challengers were the redoubtable English brothers Reggie and Laurie Doherty, who had won the Wimbledon doubles title for the past three years (Reggie was also the reigning Wimbledon singles champion). In the Challenge Round of the men’s double event at Wimbledon in 1900, the two brothers won the first two sets before Barrett and Nisbet rallied to take the next two. With their greater experience the Dohertys then won the fifth and last set, the final score being 9-7, 7-5, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3.
In the men’s singles event at Wimbledon in 1900, Herbert Roper Barrett lost in the quarter-finals to his fellow Englishman Sidney Smith, in four sets, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. In his first appearance at Wimbledon, in 1898, Barrett had reached the third round of the men’s singles event before losing to Laurie Doherty in straight sets, 6-1, 6-4, 6-1. One year later, in 1899, Barrett went as far as the semi-finals of the men’s singles event at Wimbledon before losing to Sidney Smith in a titanic struggle, 2-6, 11-9, 4-6, 8-6, 8-6.
According to Barrett, in the interview already quoted from above, “‘In ‘ninety-nine I had a tremendous game at Wimbledon with the great Sidney H. Smith, whose forehand has been described as dynamic. Tennis had to be fitted in with business in those days, and every one of my games in the championships was preceded by a hard day’s work at the office. There was no time for training or any other sort of preparation.
“‘The day I played this match against Smith I was working up to ten minutes past four, had a great rush to catch the 4.30 from Waterloo to Wimbledon station, where I jumped into a hansom and was on the centre court at 5. It was ten past eight before I came off, after a final set of 13-11 [8-6] and a match of 66 games, in which we each won 33.’”
In 1901, Barrett again reached the quarter-finals of the men’s singles event at Wimbledon before losing to the eventual champion, his fellow Englishman Arthur Gore, in three sets, 8-6, 6-1, 7-5. One year later, Barrett went one stage further at the same tournament, reaching the semi-finals for the second time before Sidney Smith stopped him again, this time in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.
In the years 1903-07, Herbert Roper Barrett did not take part in the Wimbledon tournament. Instead he confined himself mainly to appearances at the summer tournaments already mentioned above, i.e. the Saxmundham Championships, the Essex Championships and the East of England Championships, in addition to one or two others, such as the North London Championships (also known as the Gipsy Open), held in early July just after Wimbledon, and the Cinque Ports Championships, held in Folkestone, Kent, towards the end of August. At these tournaments in these years Barrett almost always won the singles event whenever he entered it – and often the men’s doubles and mixed doubles events, too.
In the years 1899 to 1903, Barrett also won the men’s singles event at the tournament held around mid-May in the Belgian capital, Brussels. It is not clear why he favoured this particular tournament, which was held on clay. He might simply have had a liking for Belgium. In 1904, he travelled even further afield, to Prague in Bohemia, then the venue for the Austrian Championships (Bohemia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at this point in time). Barrett had little difficulty in reaching the final of the men’s singles event at the Austrian Championships, which was also held on clay courts, where he faced his countryman Major Ritchie. After losing the first set easily, Barrett rallied to win the second set and lead in the third before Ritchie retired with the score standing at 1-6, 6-2, 3-0.
Although he did not take part in the Wimbledon tournament itself in the years 1903-07, Herbert Roper Barrett did compete there in 1907 as part of the British Isles Davis Cup team. (Barrett had been part of the ill-fated British Isles team which took on the United States in the first edition of what was then officially known as the International Lawn Tennis Challenge at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston in early August 1900. During that particular tie, Barrett had played and lost the doubles match with Arthur Gore, thereby giving the United States of America an unassailable 3-0 lead in the five-match series.)
The British Isles had subsequently won the Davis Cup in the years 1903-06, when they were able to rely on the virtually invincible Laurie Doherty in the singles, with Sidney Smith as the number two, and Laurie and Reggie Doherty in the doubles. However, the Dohertys and Smith virtually retired from competition at the end of 1906, thus leaving a huge gap in British lawn tennis (Laurie Doherty had won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon in the years 1902-06).
For many decades a Challenge Round was in force in the Davis Cup competition, with the defending champions hosting the final tie, and in 1907 the Australasian team made up of the Australian Norman Brookes and the New Zealander Anthony Wilding came through to take on the British in mid-July at the old Worple Road ground in Wimbledon. (Only a fortnight or so earlier Brookes had won the men’s singles title at Wimbledon and, with Wilding, the men’s doubles title too.) The British Isles team consisted of Barrett and Arthur Gore. After the first day’s play things looked very grim for the home side, Brookes having beaten Gore in straight sets, 7-5, 6-1, 7-5, and Wilding having defeated Barrett almost as easily after a bad start, 1-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-5.
However, Barrett and Gore rallied to win a titanic and crucial doubles match against Brookes and Wilding, 3-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, 13-11 and, on the final day, Gore raised British hopes even higher by beating Wilding, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2. This meant that the final singles match, between Barrett and Brookes, would decide the tie. Although this match was awaited with much anticipation, in the end it was the most one-sided encounter of the whole tie, with a superb Brookes overwhelming Barrett in straight sets, 6-2, 6-0, 6-3. This win brought Australasia victory by a match score of 3-2. Herbert Roper Barrett would not represent the British Isles in the Davis Cup again until 1912 and would never again play a singles match in the same competition.