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Lottie Dod - Wimbledon Champion and all-rounder extraordinary

This is the complete text of "Lottie Dod - Wimbledon Champion and all-rounder extraordinary" (1983), by Alan Little, honorary librarian of the Kenneth Ritchie Library at the All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon.

Lottie Dod - Wimbledon Champion and all-rounder extraordinary

Charlotte Dod, the Wimbledon Ladies' champion of 1887, 1888, 1891, 1892 and 1893, must surely be regarded as the greatest ever woman all-rounder. With nothing else to accomplish at lawn tennis she decided at the age of twenty-one to retire from that game and concentrate her efforts on a variety of other sports, many of which she mastered with phenomenal success.

Lottie, as she was always known, was born at Lower Bebington, Cheshire on the 21st September 1871 - the fourth and youngest child of James and Margaret Dod. Her sister Ann was eight years her senior and her brothers, William and Anthony, four and one-and-a-half years older, respectively. Lottie spent most of her early life at Edgeworth, the family home at Bebington, where her father, a wealthy retired cotton-broker, was able to provide governesses and tutors for her education.

Edgeworth was a large gabled house set in an attractive spacious garden which contained a grass and rubble tennis court. It was here that Lottie, when nine years old, started to play the game under the watchful eyes of her brothers and sister. Within a short time she became a member of the local Rock Ferry Lawn Tennis Club.

Advantage over opponents

One distinct advantage which Lottie had over her opponents in those early days was that being so young she was able to wear a dress much shorter than fashion dictated at the time, which allowed her more freedom of movement about the court. Black stockings and shoes and a jaunty white cricket cap normally completed her attire. Later in her career she was considered the model of fashion with her loose terra-cotta long-sleeved blouse with close fitting embroidered collar and cuffs, surmounting a dark blue skirt. Lottie stood a litte over medium height, was of strong physique and had jet-black hair and soft eyes.

The outstanding feature of her stroke repertoire was her forehand drive, which she wielded with great pace and accuracy. Her backhand was suspect at first but this improved considerably with the passage of time. Whenever possible she sought the net position, where she was able to volley with deadly precision. Her service, always delivered underarm, possessed the essential quality of good length. She was also proficient with the smash and above all had an excellent temperament for the game.

Lottie's first appearance, at the age of eleven, was during the summer of 1883 at the Northern Championships, Manchester, where she competed in the doubles with her sister Ann, but following a bye they succumbed in the second round to a local pair. However, they went on to take the first prize in the consolation doubles. A report of the play stated: 'Miss L. Dod should be heard of in the future as, though only 11 years old, she showed really good form, and not only served well, but displayed tactics worthy of much older players. She played from the back of the court with both skill and judgement.'

The following year Lottie played in only two tournaments, at Waterloo and the Northern Championships, staged that year at Aigburth, Liverpool; but on each occasion restricted her entry to doubles events. With Ann she reached the final of the doubles at both meetings and partnered her brother Anthony in the mixed at the Northern, without success.

The "Little Wonder"

During 1885 Lottie competed in the same two tournaments as the previous year, but with the addition of the singles. She was an instant success at Waterloo, winning the singles by beating the older Margaret Bracewell in the final, 6-4, 6-2 and completing the "triple" by capturing the doubles and mixed doubles. An the Northern meeting, eyebrows were raised when she eliminated Miss Lilian Watson, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, and then extended her sister Miss Maud Watson, the Wimbledon champion, to two advantage sets in the final, 8-6, 7-5. Lottie also won the doubles title with Ann. At 13, Lottie had captured the imagination of the press, who quickly labelled her the "Little Wonder".

Lottie began the 1886 season sensationally, by defeating Maud Watson, 7-5, 6-4, in the final of the West of England Championships at Bath. This was a result which Lottie must have cherished for the rest of her life, for Maud Watson had never before been beaten in open singles since she entered the lawn tennis scene of 1881. Apparently, Lottie was able to return her opponent's severest services with ease and her driving to all parts of the court won the admiration and applause of onlookers. Lottie won a second title in partnership with Ann.

The remainder of that season must have been to some degree an anti-climax for Lottie. A few days after her triumph at Bath she suffered defeat at the hands of the hard-hitting Miss Blanche Bingley in the second round of the Cheltenham tournament, winning only one game in each set. At the Northern Championships, held at Liverpool, Lottie defeated a nervous May Langrishe, the Irish Champion, in the final, 6-2, 6-2, and so won the right to challenge the holder, Maud Watson. Over 1,500 spectators assembled to witness this match, which developed into a fierce struggle. When Lottie reached 4-2 in the first set there appeared to be every possibility of her repeating her Bath victory, but Maud Watson, determined as ever, fought back to take revenge, 7-5, 6-3. Lottie managed to retain the doubles with Ann and reached the final of the mixed doubles with Harry Grove.

Later in the year Lottie entered the Derbyshire Championships at Buxton, where she narrowly lost in the third round to May Langrishe, 6-5, 3-6, 6-4. They then partnered each other to win the ladies' doubles, which at that time also carried the prestigious All England Championship title. During the meeting a novel cricket match was played between a team of ladies and men, the latter batting left-handed and with broomsticks. The ladies won an exciting finish, within two minutes of time, to the delight of some 2,000 spectators. Lottie, who batted in only one innings, scored 14, and produced a "hat trick" when bowling.

Unbroken success

1887 was a year of unbroken success for Lottie, who clearly established herself as the leading player. During May she travelled to Dublin for the Irish Championships, which, although small in entry, was of high standard. A huge crowd flocked to the Fitzwilliam Club [actually to Fitzwilliam Square] to see her second round match against the Irishwoman Miss Louisa Martin, who possessed a fine all-round game. For six games they were equal, but then Lottie gained control and won the last nine games in succession. In the title round she dominated Maud Watson, winning 6-4, 6-3. Lottie also won the mixed doubles crown with Ernest Renshaw, the final being settled over the best of five sets.

A week later at Bath, Lottie was supreme. She went through the singles without losing a set, defeating Lilian Watson, Margaret Bracewell and Miss Bee Langrishe before confirming her ascendancy over Maud Watson in the final, 7-5, 6-4. Lottie also retained the doubles with Ann and won the mixed event with the diminutive American, James Dwight.

Lottie's remarkable spell continued at the Northern Championships where in the singles she eased past Louisa Martin, May Langrishe and Margaret Bracewell without losing more than two games in any set. In the championship round Lottie had little difficulty in once more overcoming Maud Watson, 6-1, 6-2. For good measure Lottie, giving long odds, won the invitation handicap singles event, beating Louisa Martin in the final, and she captured the doubles with Ann for the third year in succession.

So to the "Blue Ribbon" of the game, The Championships, held in those days at Worple Road, Wimbledon. The absence of Maud Watson and Louisa Martin certainly eased Lottie's task. Following a bye in the first round she beat Miss B. James, 6-1, 6-1, and Edith Cole, 6-2, 6-3 to reach the championship round. Here she faced the holder, Blanche Bingley, who had beaten her so convincingly in their only previous encounter at Cheltenham the year before. This time Lottie completely controlled the play to the extent that after two-all was called she reeled off the next ten games for victory. The second set lasted just ten minutes, during which Blanche Bingley scored a mere ten points. Lottie had won the supreme title at the age of 15 years and 10 months - an unsurpassed achievement.

Lottie did not compete in any other open singles that year. She played handicap singles at Taunton, which she took in her stride, despite odds of owing 30, and rounded off the year at Buxton by retaining her doubles title with May Langrishe and winning the mixed with James Dwight.

High regard

In 1888 Lottie appeared in seven tournaments, but confined her singles appearances to three events. She was held in such regard at Bath that the committee decided she should owe 15 to all other competitors, but Blanche Hillyard (Bingley), whom she met in the opening round, preferred to meet on even terms. As it turned out Lottie lost the first set, 8-10, and stood at 3-all in the second before raising her play to such a pitch to win the next nine games. Lottie was not extended again and so registered her third victory in as many years. Lottie and Ann won the doubles title for the third year running.

Lottie renewed her partnership with May Langrishe at Buxton, taking the doubles title for the third year in succession and so retiring the trophy. In addition, she partnered [William] Drummond Hamilton to win the mixed. Lottie travelled next to Exmouth, where she won the mixed with Ernest Renshaw. She consented to play in the invitation handicap singles and for the fourth time in the season defeated Blanche Hillyard, although the score on this occasion was very close.

On the Monday following the tournament an unusual contest took place between the two Wimbledon champions, Lottie on one side of the net, and Ernest Renshaw, owing 30, on the other. A fierce struggle ensued before a tiring Lottie yielded, 2-6, 7-5, 7-5. After a short rest Lottie partnered Ernest Renshaw to a 6-4, 8-6 victory over Ernest Lewis and Blanche Hillyard. The large crowd was charged one shilling each for admission, which was donated to the Exmouth Dispensary.

At the Northern tournament, Lottie stood out to await her challenger in the singles. Blanche Hillyard emerged from the field and another spirited encounter took place, with Lottie winning, 6-3, 9-7. Lottie and Ann won the doubles for the fourth time. At the Waterloo tournamet, Lottie and Anthony entered the mixed doubles, but were eliminated in the second round.

At Wimbledon a record number of spectators attended the championship round to witness Lottie defeat the challenger, Blanche Hillyard. The spectacle was short-lived as Lottie won in 35 minutes, conceding only three games in each set.

Lottie concluded the season at Scarborough by winning the doubles with Ann, against the rising Steedman sisters, Bertha and Mary. She also accomplished a couple of remarkable wins in exhibition matches. Receiving half 30 she beat Harry Grove, 1-6, 6-0, 6-3, and at odds of 30 beat William Renshaw, 6-2, 6-4. A highly satisfactory conclusion to the year.

Visit to Scotland

Supporters of the game in Scotland were delighted when Lottie decided to open her 1889 campaign in Edinburgh, where she played in two tournaments. At the Whiteside meeting she played in three events. In the handicap singles, odds of owing 40 proved rather too severe and she was forced to submit in the final to Miss Lottie Paterson in two sets of ten games each. She won the handicap doubles with Ann, after fighting a rearguard action, but lost in the opening round of the mixed with A.J.N. Storey. A few days later Lottie moved over to the Dyvour Club where the Scottish Championships were being decided. On this occasion she participated only in the handicap mixed duobles which she won with A.J.N. Storey. Lottie also played numerous exhibition matches.

At the Northern Championships, Lottie won the single title for the third year in succession, her opponent in the challenge round again being Blanche Hillyard. After losing a long fluctuating first set, 6-8, Lottie settled down to win, 6-3, 6-3. In the doubles Lottie and Ann were forced to relinquish the title, which they had held for the past for years, to Bertha and Mary Steedman. Lottie won the All England Mixed Doubles Championship with John Kay by defeating the holders, Ernest Renshaw and Blanche Hillyard in the title round, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3.

The tennis fraternity were highly disappointed when Lottie decided not to defend her Wimbledon title. Why she did not do so is unclear, but what is certain is that during the period of the meeting, she and Ann were yachting off the west coast of Scotland.

Lottie did compete in two other tournaments that year. At Newcastle, she won the handicap ladies' doubles with Ann, but failed at the last stage of the handicap mixed doubles with her brother William. At Darlington, Lottie entered only the mixed doubles which she won with K.R. Marley.

Towards the end of 1889, Ann married Ernest Taylor Worssam and retired from competitive play. This may have had some influence on Lottie who, tiring of lawn tennis, did not compete in any tournament the following year, but instead turned her attention to golf. However, in 1891, without any tournament play behind her, Lottie challenged at Wimbledon. Her form was so dynamic that she regained the crown with loss of only seven games. Following a bye in the first round, she beat Mrs Roberts, a visitor from India, 6-0, 6-0, Bertha Steedman, 6-3, 6-1, and then in the final her old adversary, Blanche Hillyard, with surprising ease, 6-2, 6-1. Miss Lena Rice of Ireland was unable to defend, so Lottie became champion by default. She played no more that year.

Upset of the year

In 1892, Lottie entered two tournaments in preparation for the defence of her Wimbledon title. Her early season visit to Dublin produced the upset of the year, for in the second round she fell to Louisa Martin, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5 - this being her first defeat in open singles since 1886. The court, which was extremely slow and heavy, admirably suited Miss Martin who, serving and volleying to perfection, soon captured the opening set. Lottie improved in the second and with the Irishwoman noticeably tiring, led 2-1 in the decider, when a heavy shower caused play to be suspended for 20 minutes. On resumption a refreshed Miss Martin found her best form again and edged out the victor. Lottie won the doubles with Bertha Steedman and reached the mixed doubles final.

Three weeks later, in the final of the Northern Championship, Lottie gained her revenge over Louisa Martin in devastating style. The match lasted just 30 minutes and, after losing the opening game, Lottie won the next twelve. Her forehand drives, volleys and smashes had the crowd spellbound. Lottie won the championship when Miss Florence Stanuell defaulted. Further success came Lottie's way when she won the doubles with a new partner, Miss Helen Jackson, and the mixed doubles with Anthony.

At Wimbledon, Lottie was again in scintillating form. Blanche Hillyard won through the challenge round, but on the day was outclassed as Lottie powered her way to victory in straight sets, losing only one game in each.

The following year, 1893, Lottie won the Northern Championships for the fifth time, but was given a tremendous struggle in the championship round by Blanche Hillyard, who held three match points in the deciding set, before winning 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. In the mixed doubles Lottie and Anthony were defeated in the challenge round by Wilfred Baddeley and Blanche Hillyard.

Last tournament

At Wimbledon, Lottie yet again met Blanche Hillyard in the title round and was forced to call upon all her reserves to win through by 6-8, 6-1, 6-4. At the beginning of the third set it appeared Lottie might have to retire when she fell heavily, but after a short rest was able to continue. This was the last occasion she played in any tournament. At twenty-one she had won every principal meeting, including an illustrious five Wimbledon singles titles.

Lottie's career had spanned eleven seasons, during which she was defeated only five times in open singles - twice to Maud Watson and once to Blanche Hillyard, May Langrishe and Louisa Martin. Afterwards, from time to time, she was persuaded to take the court again, but it was always on strictly an exhibition basis, as for example when on holiday at Saint Moritz in 1896 with Anthony she agreed to play a series of matches. On another occasion she consented to play during the Roehampton tournament of 1929 when she partnered Amy Ransome against Miss J.F. Ramsey and Mrs Charlotte Sterry, the latter also a five-times Wimbledon champion. By all accounts Lottie's forehand was still functioning well at the age of 58.

In 1926, Lottie was present on the opening day of the Jubilee Championships at Wimbledon when past champions paraded on the Centre Court and received commemorative medals from King George V and Queen Mary. Lottie always took an interest in the game and was a frequent visitor to Wimbledon, even in her twilight years. Occasionally she expressed her opinions in print and could be critical of players and spectators alike for bad behaviour.

Other sports

Lottie once said, "the great joy of games is the hard work entailed in learning them". Her own example confirmed these words as she moved from the pinnacle of success in lawn tennis to similar achievements in other fields of sport.

Golf was Lottie's next attraction. She became a member of the Moreton Ladies' Club at Birkenhead and in a short while emerged as a proficient tournament player. In 1894, when she made her initial appearance at the Ladies' Open Championship, a newspaper wrote:

'Now Lottie Dod, so neatly shod
Steps forth upon the tee -
On Tennis Green, she is the Queen,
At Golf what will she be?'

Lottie reached the semi-final of the Open in 1898 and 1899, and won the Championship in May 1904 at Troon, beating Miss May Hazlet in the final, before a large and unruly crowd, by one hole. Over the period of a decade she represented England in numerous international matches, including those against Ireland, Scotland and the United States, and on several occasions captained the side. Her counsel was held in high esteem, for she served as a member of the committee formed to establish county golf in England.

For a few winters Lottie turned her attention to hockey and was so successful that she was chosen to represent her country in the matches against Ireland in 1899 and 1900.

Another sport at which Lottie excelled was archery. She reached her peak in 1908 by winning the silver medal at the Olympic Games held in London and it is of interest to note that her brother William captured the gold medal in the men's event. The same year Lottie won the South of England title at Beddington Park. In 1911 Lottie took second prize at the Archery Grand National. She played regularly for her club, Welford Park, and represented England at international level.

Lottie was an expert skater. She passed both men's and women's tests at Saint Moritz and later became a judge. To have done the Crest Run was another of her achievments. Other sports which she mastered were rowing, sculling, horseriding, mountaineering and billiards.

Music played an important part in her life and she possessed a good contralto voice. For many years in the twenties she was a member of the London Oriana Madrigal Society and was their Honorary Secretary for a long period. She was also an accomplished pianist.

Before the First World War she took up home nursing and for her services during the war was presented with the Red Cross gold medal. Later she assisted in running a girls' club in East London.

Lottie remained unmarried throughout her life and for many years lived in London before moving to the south coast at Milford-on-Sea. She died aged 88 at the Birchy Hill Nursing Home at Sway, Hampshire, on the 27th June, 1960, with a string of sporting achievements unlikely ever to be equalled by one person.

Last edited by newmark401; Jun 3rd, 2014 at 07:38 PM.
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post #2 of 2 (permalink) Old Apr 20th, 2012, 07:42 AM
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Re: Lottie Dod - Wimbledon Champion and all-rounder extraordinary

Hi Mark,

Thanks for sharing this biography with us. Perhaps it will help others to realize there were extraordinary players even in the 19th century.
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