Swiss Alexander Ritschard is not only lucky to be playing tennis, but also fortunate to have his right arm, which was almost amputated when he was 22.
Following a career-best season on the ATP Challenger Tour, the 29-year-old is set to compete in his second tour-level event of the year at this week’s ATP 250 event in Munich, where he advanced through qualifying and will meet Jan-Lennard Struff in the opening round.
Eight years ago, everything wasn’t so smooth for Ritschard. While studying studio arts and enjoying a standout collegiate career at the University of Virginia, professional tennis didn’t seem likely as Ritschard dealt with a scary situation.
“I was in the gym, working out, and I felt a sting in my shoulder,” Ritschard told broadcaster Chris Bowers on the ATP Tennis Radio Podcast in October. “I was like, ‘Maybe I pulled a muscle.’ It turned out to be this huge deal where my artery clogged up and [there was] no more blood flow to my arm. It was just a big, crazy couple months.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to play [tennis] because I have a stent in the main artery to keep it open so that the blood flows through. I couldn’t train more than 90 minutes after the surgery so I was like, ‘I don’t think I can go professional with only training 90 minutes at a time.’”
What initially didn’t seem like a major problem, turned out to be an issue that almost saw the Zurich native lose his arm. With no prior signs of injury outside of not being able to properly stretch his right arm over his head, Ritschard carried on with life as usual until the freak incident.
How close was Ritschard to having his right arm amputated?
“I can only go by what they told me, they said they had to make a decision within the next five minutes and it wasn’t opening,” Ritschard said. “I guess I got lucky, it opened, and blood started flowing again. That was the first operation where they made sure just to open up the artery.
Alexander Ritschard during Sunday’s Hamburg Challenger final.” />
Alexander Ritschard at the 2022 Hamburg Challenger, where he was crowned champion. Credit: Witters Sportfotografie
“I had a total of three [operations]. One just to get the artery open, the second one to remove the problem, which was the rib that was too tight and then my lungs just filled with blood and I had to pump the blood out.”
While Ritschard was recovering, he was forced to limit his training, which put doubts in his mind as he contemplated professional tennis. The Swiss helped the University of Virginia win three straight NCAA team titles (2015-17) and with Thai-Son Kwiatkowski, they set a single-season school record for doubles winning percentage, boasting a 25-1 record in 2017. Giving up his talent wouldn’t have been easy.
“I was thinking about quitting right after college,” Ritschard said. “I was telling my parents, ‘I can’t do more than 90 minutes, it doesn’t make sense.’ But then I stuck to it. I felt like I invested my whole life into this and it would be too quick to give up. And here we are.”
Last season, Ritschard enjoyed a professional breakthrough. He won his first Challenger Tour title in Hamburg, advanced through qualifying at Wimbledon and the US Open, and earned his maiden Davis Cup win in September.
Ritschard drew tough first-round opponents in his Grand Slam appearances, facing Stefanos Tsitsipas at the All England Club and Felix Auger-Aliassime at Flushing Meadows. Ritschard took a set off both Top-10 players.
The World No. 209 Ritschard stated that he’s recently begun to treat his job more professionally with help from his coach, Juan Ramirez, who has instilled a new life perspective in him that has produced on-court results.
“He’s really helped me off the court as well,” Ritschard told ATPTour.com. “Nothing too crazy, just help keep some things in perspective and get me motivated. I bought into a process mindset that he introduced and a work ethic he introduced. I was always a very impatient person and he taught me how to think more process oriented and more long term.
“Also he just helped me organise my life outside the court and that would then help me on the court. I feel like I’ve only really started doing things right and professionally about two years ago. I feel like I wasted time, if I’m honest.”
If the arm injury had spoiled Ritschard’s professional tennis career, perhaps he would be in the music production business or working as a disc jockey, a hobby he picked up while recovering in 2015.
“I couldn’t play tennis so I put myself together with a friend of mine in college who liked to DJ,” Ritschard said. “Started getting into music and just DJ’ing all year. We actually got pretty big, it was pretty funny. We started playing festivals, night clubs, and stuff. I ended up enjoying it.
“I like DJ’ing more as a hobby, but I really enjoy music production. It’s mainly electronic, dance music. Sometimes hype or techno. I kind of really fell down the rabbit hole there when I was recovering.”