One of this year’s major US Open stories is in the numbers. The tournament is the fiftieth of the Open Era and the fortieth time it has been staged at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. But, for a select group of tennis devotees the August 27th until September 9th event is even more significant. It offers a “Lookback” opportunity, in truth a celebration, of Joe Hunt’s championship victory seventy-five years ago.
In 1942, Ted Schroeder slipped past Frank Parker in the US National Championships singles final, 8-6, 7-5, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2. A year later, Schroeder, in the military because of national preparation for World War II, was unable to defend his title. Joe Hunt took full advantage of the situation. In another All-American contest, on a brutally hot and humid afternoon, he defeated Jack Kramer for the title 6-3, 6-8, 10-8, 6-0 on the grass at the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, New York.
When Kramer’s last shot traveled long, Hunt collapsed on the baseline and simply sat there, because he had leg cramps. His opponent, who had his own issues dealing with food poisoning during the tournament, was similarly exhausted. He, none-the-less, hopped the net then sat down next to the winner, and shook hands with him. Many years later, Kramer jokingly commented that although he was weak, if he had been able to last a bit longer he may have triumphed by default.
Seventy-five years ago, the world was different. Beginning in 1939, World War II had devoured borders and changed Europe and Asia, (and not for the better). There were food and production shortages, and lifestyles were frequently altered. From a tennis standpoint, the annual fortnight in New York became a six-day tournament. The singles draws featured 32 players while the doubles had 16 tandems. Since many of the men were involved in military service, those participating in the event were not “match fit”. They hadn’t been competing since it was next to impossible to get leave from military commitments and, coupled with travel and gasoline restrictions, players were not focused on playing tennis tournaments. In fact, the US National Championships, (the only one of the four majors to be held during the war), had to rely on the government to release “limited amounts” of reclaimed rubber so that tennis balls could be made.
(Hunt would subsequently die fifteen days shy of his 26th birthday on February 2, 1945 when his Navy Hellcat, a WWII combat aircraft, crashed into the ocean while he was on a training flight off the coast of Daytona Beach, Florida.)
Hunt’s great-nephew, Joseph (Joe) T. Hunt grew up playing tennis in Santa Barbara, California. He is now an attorney practicing in Seattle, Washington and he takes advantage of opportunities to get on the court regularly. More important, he has led the family’s effort to ensure that Joe Hunt isn’t forgotten.
“I have to really spend some time to gather my thoughts on what the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of Joe’s victory means,” he said. “I have so many of them. Joe was a patriot from what is considered the greatest generation of our nation. He is the only American tennis champion to lose his life serving his country in a time of war. We lost him so early and so young. He never had a chance to reach his full potential, yet he accomplished so much by the age of 25. He was a remarkable young man, devoted to tennis, devoted to his family and devoted to his country. The family lost him, and tennis lost him. Over time, while the family continued to grieve the loss of our uncle, brother and son, tennis seemed to forget and not consider the meaning of this loss to the game.”
Tennis historians credit Kramer for developing the “Big Game” – meaning being a serve and volleyer. According to Bobby Riggs, a contemporary of his, Hunt used the tactic before the iconic Kramer.
“As maybe the first true serve and volleyer, Joe was changing the game itself,” his great nephew said. “He never had a chance to tell his story from his perspective. I feel I have been his only voice in trying to tell the tennis world who he really was and what we all lost.”
The original Joe Hunt was one-of-a-kind not only because of his athletic ability, but also because of his blond good looks and his marvelous charisma. As a junior, he was a star, winning the National Boys’ 15 and 18 titles. By the age of 17, his success on court earned him a US Top 10 ranking. In 1938, he was USC’s top player and didn’t lose a singles or doubles match. He enlisted and transferred to the US Naval Academy. In 1940, he was a halfback (American football) and played against Army that season, earning a game ball for his outstanding performance. The next year, he became the only competitor [ever] from the Naval Academy to win the NCAA singles championship.
Hunt continued, “Joe went out for football at the Naval Academy because he loved that sport too. He also wanted to be part of a team. He was the most famous player on the football team by a mile, and it wasn’t for football.” But, with all his stardom, he spent the hot summer and chilly fall getting pushed into the mud by seasoned players who wanted to make sure he knew he was no ‘star’ on their field. And he was fine with that. When he had the choice of skipping football practice so that he could play Forest Hills and possibly win it, he went to football practice. He would not let his teammates down, even though he was destined to spend more time on the bench than on the field as a backup running back. But, those on the football team respected him for it. They knew Joe’s tennis hands and legs were Davis Cup commodities and they saw Joe give them up for the team they were on. That is why they gave him the game ball for the 1941 Army Navy game, and every teammate signed it for him.
“Now, after seventy-five years, the last remnants of the greatest generation are bidding farewell, and we as a nation are at a moment of moral truth. How are we to say goodbye to them? How are we to remember and honor them? How are we to protect their legacy of saving the world for future generations? Each soul lost in the war effort is a part of that legacy. How will tennis address this? We just saw a great remembrance of the return of the bodies of men who gave their lives in the Korean War. Bringing home, the bodies after so many years was hugely significant to the families and the nation. I think of Joe’s body, never recovered, at the bottom of the Atlantic with his plane. It’s a sadness our family still bears.”
The times were unparalleled, which makes it no surprise that an unmatched backstory resulted. “I know that Joe was not the only player to not have a chance to defend his title, because Ted (Schroeder) won it in 1942 and was not able to defend in 1943,” Hunt pointed out. “They both were Navy fliers stationed in Pensacola, Florida. Neither was granted leave to play Forest Hills so they both entered the local Pensacola tournament held at the same time as the National Championships. Of course, the local tennis community couldn’t believe their lucky stars to have the 1942 and the 1943 champions playing in the tournament. It was billed as the ‘Clash of Net Champions’ and would supposedly determine the true No. 1 player in the country, despite that ‘other’ tournament taking place in New York. Joe and Ted both reached the final where ‘urban legend’ has it that they played their match in front of thousands on September 4, 1944, while Frank Parker was playing Bill Talbert in the final of Forest Hills (and winning 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3). I have spent hours trying to vet the truth of this story. I know that it is true, I just don’t know if it is 100% true that the two finals were played simultaneously. In any event, Joe beat Ted 6-4, 6-4. Despite what many have written, this was, in fact, the last tournament match of Joe’s life.”
Seventy-five years was too long ago to remember for most of us. Memories and treasures from that time are scattered here and there. Some are lost forever. In the case of Joe Hunt, his accomplishments, along with the individual himself, should not be left covered in dust and diminished by the passage of time.
Great nephew Joe Hunt said, “I think of a young man who stood for literally everything that is true and good in sport. An amateur who wasn’t seeking to profit off his game. He left his immensely successful life in Southern California to enter the Naval Academy, knowing that it would literally make it near impossible to achieve his dreams as a tennis champion. He intrinsically understood sportsmanship, camaraderie and good will. Everyone loved Joe. He played for all he was worth, but never took a ‘win at all costs’ approach to tennis. He put the right things ahead of the game.”
Australian Open Day 5 Preview: Five Must-See Matches
Friday will be highlighted by two of the sport’s brightest young stars meeting for the second consecutive Major.
At the US Open last summer, Naomi Osaka easily dispatched of 15-year-old Coco Gauff. But it’s what happened after the match that warmed the hearts of the tennis world. Seeing her younger opponent was upset after the loss, Osaka encouraged Gauff to join her for the post-match interview, in a touching display of kindness. Five months later, Is Coco ready to compete with Naomi? That’s only one of many appetizing third round matches today. Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Ash Barty, and the retiring Caroline Wozniacki will also be in action.
Naomi Osaka (3) vs. Coco Gauff
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Gauff only managed to take three games from Osaka in New York. And she struggled at times against Sorana Cirstea two days ago, squeaking out a victory 7-5 in the third. But I think she’ll be much more ready for the challenge of playing Osaka today. Since their US Open match, Gauff won her first title in Linz, and spent time training in the offseason with Serena Williams. However, no one has played better since the US Open than Osaka. She’s won 16 of her last 17 matches, claiming titles in both Osaka and Beijing. While I expect a more competitive match between these two today, Naomi remains the favorite.
Stefanos Tsitsipas (6) vs. Milos Raonic (32)
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Both men should be fully fresh for their first career meeting. Neither has dropped a set through two rounds, and Tsitsipas received a walkover on Wednesday as Philipp Kohlschreiber retired with a back injury. The 29-year-old Canadian has battled a plethora of injuries throughout his career, and again missed significant time in 2019. But he’s managed to perform very well at this event despite the injuries, reaching the quarterfinals or better in four of the last five years. While Tsitsipas is coming off the biggest title of his career at the ATP Finals, he went just 1-2 at the ATP Cup, and is only 1-3 in his last four matches at Majors. In what could easily become an extended affair, I’m tipping Raonic to continue serving well and pull off the slight upset.
Roberto Bautista Agut (9) vs. Marin Cilic
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This is a rematch from last year’s Australian Open, which Bautista Agut won in four hours and five sets. That was the third of three five-set wins for the Spaniard here a year ago, as he also outlasted Andy Murray and John Millman. That was the start of Roberto’s best season to date, reaching the quarterfinals here and the semifinals at Wimbledon. By contrast, 2019 was Cilic’s worst season since his drug suspension in 2013. Marin has crumbled in pressure situations all too often, though he showed some great grit by taking out Benoit Paire in a fifth set tiebreak on Wednesday. But that had to take a lot out of Cilic, and he’s now faced with one of the ATP’s strongest competitors. Bautista Agut has won his last 10 matches, dating back to the Davis Cup in November. He should be favored to extend his winning streak to 11.
Petra Kvitova (7) vs. Ekaterina Alexandrova
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It’s the 2019 finalist against one of the hottest players on tour. The 25-year-old Alexandrova is on a 12-match winning streak, including her ITF title run last month at Limoges and her first WTA-level title two weeks ago in Shenzhen. She’s now the Russian No.1, and looking to reach the fourth round of a Major for the first time. Kvitova survived a tight match two days ago against another up-and-coming player, Paula Badosa of Spain. Petra fought through hot and windy conditions in that match, and she’ll be pleased to find the weather cooler and calmer today. In their first career meeting, Kvitova should be able to control play and advance to the Australian Open round of 16 for the fourth time.
Roger Federer (3) vs. John Millman
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At the 2018 US Open, Millman took advantage of Federer’s suffering in extremely hot and muggy conditions, defeating Roger in four sets. That victory propelled the 30-year-old Millman to his first Major quarterfinal. John would struggle mightily over the next 12 months under the weight of new expectations, but finally rediscovered some confidence after last year’s US Open. He won a challenger event in Taiwan, and was a finalist at the ATP event in Tokyo. And Millman already has six match wins in 2020, with notable victories over Felix Auger Aliassime and Karen Khachanov. All that being said, he’ll still be a considerable underdog against the 20-time Major singles champion. Federer took both of their other previous meetings, and looked extremely sharp in his first two matches here. As Chris Fowler of ESPN highlighted, Roger has broken his opponent’s serve at the beginning of all six sets he’s played this week. Despite the lack of a warmup event, Federer is in fine form, and should advance comfortably against an opponent like Millman who does not possess any big weapons.
Other notable matches on Day 5:
- Serena Williams (8), who displayed intense anger with her form on Wednesday, vs. Qiang Wang (27), who lasted only 44 minutes against Serena at last year’s US Open in a 6-1, 6-0 pummeling.
- Novak Djokovic (2), who lead Serbia to the ATP Cup two weeks ago, vs. Yoshihito Nishioka, who has reached the third round of a Major for the first time.
- Australian Ash Barty (1) vs. Russian teenager Elena Rybakina (29), who won a total of 57 matches at all levels last season.
- Diego Schwartzman (14) vs. Dusan Lajovic (24). When they played in Melbourne two years ago, Schwartzman survived 11-9 in the fifth.
- Caroline Wozniacki, who pulled off impressive comebacks in both sets against Dayana Yastremska in the second round, vs. Ons Jabeur, who loves utilizing the slice against her opponents.
Order of play
Rod Laver Arena
A. Barty (1) versus E. Rybakina (29) Women’s Singles 3rd Round
Q. Wang (27) versus S. Williams (8) Women’s Singles 3rd Round
Y. Nishioka versus N. Djokovic (2) Men’s Singles 3rd Round
N. Osaka (3) versus C. Gauff Women’s Singles 3rd Round
J. Millman versus R. Federer (3) Men’s Singles 3rd Round
Margaret Court Arena
D. Schwartzman (14) versus D. Lajovic (24) Men’s Singles 3rd Round
E. Alexandrova (25) versus P. Kvitova (7) Women’s Singles 3rd Round
M. Keys (10) versus M. Sakkari (22) Women’s Singles 3rd Round
S. Tsitsipas (6) versus M. Raonic (32) Men’s Singles 3rd Round
S. Zhang versus S. Kenin (14) Women’s Singles 3rd Round
L. Hewitt (WC) J. Thompson (WC) versus J. Nam (WC) M. Song (WC) Men’s Doubles 1st Round
O. Jabeur versus C. Wozniacki Women’s Singles 3rd Round
M. Cilic versus R. Bautista Agut (9) Men’s Singles 3rd Round
G. Pella (22) versus F. Fognini (12) Men’s Singles 3rd Round
D. Jakupovic R. Olaru versus T. Babos (2) K. Mladenovic (2) Women’s Doubles 1st Round
M. Fucsovics versus T. Paul Men’s Singles 3rd Round
A. Riske (18) versus J. Goerges Women’s Singles 3rd Round
T. Sandgren versus S. Querrey Men’s Singles 3rd Round
Karolina Pliskova gets through to the third round
Karolina Pliskova beat Laura Siegemund 6-3 6-3 after 86 minutes. Siegemund went up an early break to take a 3-1 lead, but Halep came back by winning five consecutive games to win the first set 6-3.
Pliskova earned an early break at the start of the second set and won a long fifth game to come two games away from the win. Siegemund fended off a break point at 1-4 and held a break point in the sixth game. Pliskova fended it off and held on her serve to secure her spot in the third round on her third match point.
“I am not sure if it was really nice tennis today. I think she has a very ugly game for me, so I am never going to feel amazing playing her. I am just happy to be through because this was an ugly match for me. Last time we played was on clay, so I am just happy I am through and hopefully I can feel better in my next round”,said Pliskova.
Elena Rybakina reaches her second consecutive final in 2020
Elena Rybakina beat British qualifier Heather Watson 6-3 4-6 6-4 after 2 hours and 16 minutes in the Hobart International semifinal setting up a final match against China’s Zhang Shuai.
Rybakina has become the first player to reach back-to-back finals in the first two weeks of the year since Agnieszka Radwanska in 2013. The Kazakh player finished runner-up to Ekaterina Alexandrova last week in Shenzhen.
Rybakina earned the first break in the first game, but Watson broke back with two forehand winners in the fourth game to draw level to 2-2. Rybakina broke for the second time with a crosscourt forehand in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead and sealed the first set with another break on the first set point, as Watson hit her dropshot into the net.
Rybakina saved three break points with two aces and a service winner, but Watson converted her fourth chance with her forehand return winner.
Watson went up a double break with a forehand pass and held her serve to race out to a 5-1. Rybakina converted her second break point chance to claw her way back to 3-5.
Rybakina earned two break points in the 10th game, but Watson saved the first chance with a backhand winner before serving out the second set with consecutive service winners.
Watson saved a break point in the second game of the third set as Rybakina made a backhand error. Rybakina fended off a break point chance in the fifth game with a down-the-line backhand winner. Rybakina converted her second break point chance with a drop-shot winner on the match point.
“It was a really tough match. I was still missing all these balls in the second set. In the last few games I was playing really risky, and I am really happy that I won this match”, said Rybakina.
Rybakina set up a final against Zhang Shuai, who reached the third WTA final of her career after a 6-3 6-4 win over Veronika Kudemertova.
Zhang earned three break point chances at 2-1 with a backhand crosscourt winner and converted her first chance after Kudemertova sent her forehand wide. Kudemertova won two hard-fought service game at 4-2 and at 5-3. Zhang closed out the set on her second set point in the ninth game.
Both players held on their service games in the second set until 4-4. Zhang earned a break point in the ninth game, as Kudemertova made a forehand error. The Chinese player got the break, as Kudemertova made her forehand error. Kudemertova earned her first two break points of the match, as Zhang was serving for the match. Zhang held her serve at deuce, as Kudemertova missed returns on the next four points.
“The winter training went really good for me. Training with the national team, a lot of coaches helped me, so I was already ready before this tournament. I think all matches I played really well this week, and also a lot of the Chinese fans are coming to cheer for me, so I have had a lot of motivationto win”,said Zhang Shuai.
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