From Navratilova To Nadal: Tennis Legends And Coaches Pick Their French Open Favourites - UBITENNIS
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From Navratilova To Nadal: Tennis Legends And Coaches Pick Their French Open Favourites

Ubitennis has a closer look at the players who have been backed to win Roland Garros this year.



The women's French Open trophy (photo by Gianni Ciaccia)

With the French Open getting underway on Sunday, players are making their final preparations ahead of the start of the most prestigious event to take place on the clay.


Once again the usual suspects will be heading into the event as favourites to win. Although 2019 has been far from predictable with a series of different winners each week. On the WTA Tour, Karolina Pliskova, Kiki Bertens and Petra Kvitova has been the only players to have won multiple titles this season. Meanwhile, five players have achieved the accolade on the men’s tour. Including Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

With a grand slam title at stake, some are wondering if more surprises will be in store. Especially in the women’s draw with many still inspired by Jelena Ostapenko’s shock run to the title back in 2017.

Maybe the best indicator is to get the opinion of those who have been involved in the sport for the majority of their lives. Here is who some former players and coaches have backed to win the title this year.

Justine Henin

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Former Belgian player Justine Henin knows what it takes to win the Roland Garros title. During her career, she won the tournament four times and was undefeated between 2005-2007. In the Open Era only Steffi Graf (six) and Chris Evert (seven) have won the women’s French Open title more times.

Henin’s pick for the women’s title this year is reigning champion Simona Halep. The Romanian has featured in the Paris final three times since 2014 and it is currently the only grand slam where she has won 20 or more main draw matches. Her current win-loss record stands at 24-8.

“It is going to be a very interesting tournament. I think Simona Halep is going to be the favourite. I like her game, I like how she plays on clay because on clay you need to be a complete player, both physically and mentally,” Henin told the Indo-Asian news service on May 1st.
“Every grand slam, you get one or two surprises. So, I am expecting that also to happen,” she added.

During a recent interview with Digi Sport TV, Halep has dismissed the idea that she feels under pressure to perform at the French Open. Since winning her maiden major title 12 months ago, she has only won one additional trophy on the WTA Tour. Doing so at the Canadian Open last summer.

“I have no expectations because it’s the first time when I have to defend a trophy at a Grand Slam,Halep said. “(I just want to) be relaxed, enjoy the tournament and try to win some matches. Nothing more!”

Toni Nadal

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Uncle Toni, who is best known as the former coach of Rafael Nadal, believes there will be three key contenders for the men’s title. Besides multiple champion Nadal, Toni has named world No.1 Djokovic and 2018 runner-up Dominic Thiem as favourites.

“I do not know, Rafael has not played in a perfect way in Madrid, Monte Carlo or Barcelona, he reached the semifinals and I think here and in Paris, he will play well”, Toni told Tennis World USA shortly before the Italian Open.
“I think he is the favourite with Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem.

Federer has also been named as a potential threat. The Swiss player hasn’t played in the clay-court major since 2015 and it will be only his third tournament on the clay since June 2016. Federer’s first and only triumph at the French Open was a decade ago in 2008.

“Roger Federer too, he has won a record 20 Grand Slam titles, it’s normal he is one of the contenders, less than Djokovic and Rafael but if he plays well he can beat one of the top guys.”

Arantxa Sanchez Vicario

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In the Open Era, Sanchez Vicario in the only Spanish woman to have won Roland Garros on multiple occasions. The 47-year-old was victorious in 1989, 1994 and 1998. Placing her on equal ground with Serena Williams for most titles won at the event.

Unsurprisingly Sanchez Vicario lists compatriot Nadal as the man to beat, but says this year he will face a greater threat from his rivals. The King of clay has endured a mixed season on the dirt so far. Reaching the semi-finals at three consecutive events before going on to win the Rome Masters. His first ATP silverware of the season.

“Nadal is the one to beat because of the success he has had on clay. Also, playing five sets is a different story compared to three sets,” Sanchez Vicario told Firstpost.
“This year, there are going to be more players who can challenge Rafa for the title. Novak Djokovic, obviously, is one of them. Dominic Thiem is a very good clay court specialist. Then we also have Roger Federer and Stefanos Tsitsipas. So it is wide open.”

The Spaniard has previously backed Halep to defend her title. Beyond that, she lists Petra Kvitova as a player to watch out for in the draw. The Czech is currently one of three players to have won multiple WTA titles in 2019. However, Kvitova hasn’t reached the French Open semi-finals since 2012.

“Kvitova is a very dangerous player and none of the players like to face her when she’s on top. The fact that she is left-handed gives her an advantage, so she’s definitely one of the contenders in Paris,” Sanchez Vicario said.

Vicario also lists Ashleigh as a threat because ‘players will struggle against her.’ She also described Naomi Osaka as a ‘worthy No.1’ and has shown that she can ‘play on all surfaces.’ Both Barty and Osaka are yet to win a trophy on the clay during their professional careers.

Mats Wilander

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Former world No.1 Mats Wilander said his dream final in the women’s draw would involve Serena Williams. The American has only played in one clay event this season heading into the major. At the Italian Open Williams defeated Rebecca Peterson before withdrawing due to a knee injury.

“It would be nice to see Simona Halep in the final, because she the most interesting character on the WTA (tour) and I’d like to see her in the final with Serena Williams, because it would be nice for people to see her come back and not stay with the remembrance of the (US Open) final. Halep – Williams would be my final dream.” Digi Sport quoted him as saying.

Whilst Wilander said he would like to see Williams in the final, during a separate interview he played down her chances.

“I do not think she can win the title. I would be very surprised if she won 7 matches on clay. She will win a Grand Slam, but not the French Open.” He said.
“The three favourites are quite obvious: Simona Halep, first, Naomi Osaka, second. Then I think it’s Sloane Stephens.” He concluded.

As for the men, his pick mirror that of Toni Nadal. Nadal is the front runner, followed by Djokovic and Thiem.

“Obviously he has already played much better in Madrid, he is 32 years old, 33 soon. He does not have to win every tournament to get a chance at Roland Garros. Yes, at 3 sets out of 5, it will be difficult to defeat him.” Wilander commented about Nadal.

Greg Rusedski

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1997 US Open runner-up Greg Rusedski believes Djokovic is on par with Nadal when it comes to his chances of winning. The Serbian is currently on a 21-match winning streak when it comes to the majors. Should he prevail in Paris, Djokovic would be the champion of all four grand slams at the same time for the second time in his career.

“For me joint-favourite is Djokovic and Nadal. Nadal announced himself. Before this match (Italian Open final) I was putting Djokovic as a slight favourite ahead of Rafa,” Tennis365 quoted Rusedski as telling Amazon Prime.

Interestingly, he didn’t mention Federer in the running. However, he listed both Stefanos Tsitsipas, who reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open, and Fabio Fognini as outside contenders.

“I look at the outside guys, Tsitsipas has said, ‘I’m coming to the party!’” He explained.
“He’s a guy we didn’t think was going to step up this quickly.
“If you took someone as the third favourite I’d have to say Dominic Thiem, after Djokovic and Nadal.
“The wildcards are Tsitsipas and Fognini. Fognini is probably fifth or sixth, because he can be brilliant or crash out early.”

Martina Navratilova

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This year marks the 35th anniversary of Navratilova’s last singles triumph at the French Open. Back in 1984 she defeated Chris Evert 6-3, 6-1, in the final. Earlier this year, the former world No.1 wrote an editorial for about Petra Kvitova. A player who has previously said she has been inspired by Navratilova growing up.

Looking ahead to the French Open, the 62-year-old believes Kvitova could win Roland Garros as long as the conditions are in her favour.

“I would love to see Petra punctuate her comeback by winning a major this year, adding to the Wimbledon titles she took in 2011 and 2014.” Navratilova wrote.
“She is a threat on any surface, and could even win Roland Garros for the first time this year, though much will depend on the speed of the playing conditions in Paris, which can vary quite a bit. When Petra is on, she can beat anybody.”

Paul Annacone

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Finally, Paul Annacone has described Nadal as the ‘clear favourite’ to win. Saying the Spaniard knows what it takes to overcome his previous disappointments on the tour. Annacone is a former world No.12 player who went on to have a successful career as both a coach and commentator. He is best known for his work with Pete Sampras (1995-2002) Federer (2010-2013).

“Nadal knows what he has to do,” he said.
“One of the most impressive things about Rafael Nadal and so many great players is their ability to sift through the emotional responses and be really pragmatic about where they are in their game. He knows where he is and he knows how to win on clay.
“And I still think there is no tougher test in men’s tennis than beating him three out of five on red clay.
“So for me he is the favourite for Roland Garros, the clear favourite, not even close.”

Current odds to win

Nadal – 9/10
Djokovic – 12/5
Thiem – 6/1
Tsitsipas – 16/1
Federer – 18/1
Zverev – 20/1

Halep – 7/2
Bertens – 8/1
Osaka – 10/1
Williams – 12/1
Kvitova – 12/1
Stephens – 14/1

Source –

Grand Slam

Daniil Medvedev Gave Rafa Fans The Scare Of A Lifetime

Charleston Post and Courier columnist James Beck reflects on the US Open men’s final and what the future might have in store.



NEW YORK — Rafa, you gave your followers quite a scare.


No. 19 looked like it was in the books when you got the first break point of the ninth game of the third set. But it wasn’t, and the second break point flew by as well.

Oh well, it was just 5-4, Daniil Medvedev. There was still time to close out the match in three sets. But after deadlocking the set at 5-5, you won only one point in the last two games of the set.


Settle back, Rafa Nadal fans. It might be a long night.

The men’s final of Sunday’s U.S. Open was going the distance, even though Nadal served with double game points in the decisive 10th game of the fourth set, but still lost the set.

Nadal even served for the match with a 5-2 lead in the fifth set. He lost that one on a time violation first-serve penalty leading to a double fault to end the game.

Was it time to get worried about Rafa getting No. 19 this night? Was this going to be a Serena-like  case of bad fortune for Nadal? Of course, Serena Williams one day earlier had failed again for an all-time tying No. 24 Grand Slam title.

It could have happened to Nadal, too. Anything could have, judging from the way his tall and amazingly agile and quick Russian opponent was playing.


Nadal looked like he had a lock on No. 19 again before wasting two match points with Medvedev serving the ninth game of the fifth set.

Rafa even had to fight off a break point in the 10th game before ending the nearly five-hour marathon with a perfectly place serve down the middle.

He went flat on his back in disbelief, and Medvedev went around the net. The two embraced.

It, indeed, was one of the most memorable moments in the history of Grand Slam tennis.

Finally, a 7-5, 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4 victory that pushed Nadal’s Grand Slam championship total to within one of Roger Federer’s all-time record.


This was simply an amazing match that left a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium, mostly of Nadal supporters, drained. It was that riveting.

This had to be one of the greatest U.S. Open finals ever.

Medvedev put on an unthinkable display of grit and talent, a sheer desire to win. Medvedev and Nadal  were like acrobats at times as they moved around the court to pull off amazing tennis stunts. Anything was possible because of the two players’ athletic abilities.

Nadal is definitely for real. But if his 23-year-old Russian opponent is for real, as he certainly appeared Sunday night, the Australian Open isn’t going to be a picnic for Federer, Nadal or the injured Novak Djokovic, or anyone else.

And then there’s the French Open where Rafa will be heavily favored to get No. 20 if he fails in Melbourne. Of course, if Rafa plays the way he did in the first two sets on Sunday, he may notch No. 20 Down Under.


What happens if both Nadal and Federer are tied for the all-time lead with 20 Grand Slam titles each?

If they’re deadlocked in another year or two, it might be time for a permanent dual timeout for both players. As sad as such a day would be, it would be a day to celebrate. Co-record holders wouldn’t be a bad way to go since retirement is inevitable for these two great players.

Although Federer demonstrated at Wimbledon and Nadal showed Sunday night, they can still rival the best tennis has to offer, but the rest of the men’s tennis game isn’t going to take a break waiting for these two greats to retire. Medvedev and his likes will continue to close the gap until there isn’t one.


As a result of what happened in Sunday’s U.S. Open final, the days ahead will add even more pressure for both Nadal and Federer each time a Grand Slam rolls around.

Federer already has felt that pressure, both here and at Wimbledon, as he tried to widen his lead over Nadal and Djokovic. Even Nadal seemed to feel some of the same pressure Sunday night while trying to close out Medvedev.

After defeating Federer in the Wimbledon final, Djokovic called Federer “one of the greatest ever” in his acceptance comments after the match. Federer frowned, but Djokovic was right.

Djokovic knows, because he’s not out of the all-time race just yet.

It would be nice if Federer and Nadal could/or would retire at the same time, and join Rod Laver as the greatest men’s tennis players ever. But just not quite yet.


James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at See his Post and Courier columns at

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Grand Slam

US Open A Ratings Hit In North America

Both the men’s and women’s finals managed to attract some record TV viewing figures.



Bianca Andreescu’s win over Serena Williams in the final of the US Open was the most watched women’s final on ESPN of all time, according to official figures.


The Canadian 19-year-old rallied to a 6-3, 7-5, win over the former world No.1 to claim her first grand slam title. Her triumphed attracted an overnight rating of 2.7 million on ESPN. A 13% increase on last year (2.4) when Naomi Osaka defeated Williams. At its peak, which was towards the end of the second set, the rating was as high as 3.9. ESPN has also confirmed that the 2019 women’s final was their joint-highest US Open rating of all time.

Across the border, Andreescu’s win also made history in her home country of Canada. An average audience of 3.4 million watched her match on TSN and RDS with a peak of 5.3 million. Making in the networks most watched tennis match in history. It is also the most-watched broadcast since the Toronto Raptors won the 2019 NBA Championships. TSN has also noted that Andreescu’s run has helped them achieve a 69% rise in views compared to 2018 to 10.7 million people watching the grand slam at some point. Meanwhile, their digital platforms have achieved a 145% year-on-year rise with 13 million impressions on TSN’s social media platforms.

There was also success for the networks with the men’s final. Rafael Nadal edged out Daniil Medvedev in a dramatic five-set encounter. The Spaniard was leading by two sets, before his opponent drew back to draw level. Forcing a tense decider. Their encounter was ESPN’s most popular men’s US Open final since 2015 and a 33% increase on 12 months ago. It attracted an overnight rating of 2.0. The 2015 clash between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer scored a 2.4 rating.

The strong broadcast numbers coincide with what has been a record year for the New York major. A record 737,872 fans attended the event over two weeks with the Arthur Ashe Stadium managing to have 23 out of 24 sell out sessions. The number doesn’t include the ‘Fan Week’ that took place before the start of the main draw. 115,355 people attended that to bring the overall figure to 853,227.

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Grand Slam

US Open Military Appreciation Day – A Story About “Two Joes”

Annually, the US Open celebrates Military Appreciation Day on what is known as Labor Day, the first Monday in September. This year, the tournament honored a former champion. In 1943, Joe Hunt won the US National Championships singles title. In 1945, as a Navy pilot, he was killed in a WWII training mission becoming the only US champion to die while servicing his country. Recognition as a player and individual has long been overdue, which makes it fitting that there now is Lt. Joe Hunt Military Appreciation Day.



Joe Hunt and Jack Kramer Photo International Tennis Hall of Fame Museum Newport Rhode Island

In early July, the USTA announced that it would recognize a former champion on the day it annually fetes those who have dedicated portions of their lives to serving the country. There is a great deal more to story about the decision for the US Open to celebrate Lt. Joe Hunt Military Appreciation Day. It is much bigger than resolving to honor the 1943 US National singles champion whose extraordinary accomplishments have, for the most part, been lost to all, but a few who cherish the game. 


In truth, this is a story about two “Joes”. But, it is much more meaningful then the days when “Joe” was slang for a good guy. It is more significant than a reference to an American soldier, and it surely does not relate to a mere cup of coffee. These Joes are special. They are distinctly different, yet very much alike. One easily could be a movie character straight out of Hollywood’s “Golden Age.” The other seems to be a regular Joe but has proven to be much, much more.

The first Joe is Joseph (Joe) R. Hunt. He was born in San Francisco, California but raised in Los Angeles. He had it all. Based on his looks alone – he was blond and blue-eyed and built like he worked out at Muscle Beach in Venice, California rather than on the Los Angeles Tennis Club courts-he was ready for the “Big Screen.”

However, there was a problem. He was also a great athlete. He won the National Boys’ 18 and 15 titles. By the time he was 17, his playing ability earned him a 1936 US Men’s Top 10 ranking. Playing No. 1 for USC, in 1938, he never lost a team singles or doubles match. He rounded out the season taking the NCAA Doubles Championship with teammate Lewis Wetherell.

He teamed with Jack Kramer in the 1939 Davis Cup against Australia. With the US leading, 2-0, the youngsters came up short in the critical match. John Bromwich and Adrian Quist, a veteran duo, triumphed 5-7, 6-2, 7-5, 6-2. (Australia, in the only time the country ever trailed 0-2 in the final, ended up claiming the Cup, 3-2.)

At the US National Championships played in Forest Hills, New York, that same year, Hunt was a singles semifinalist losing to Bobby Riggs, the tournament winner, 6-1, 6-2, 4-6, 6-1. In 1940, he was again a semifinals and Riggs again ended his run, narrowly slipping past him, 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4.

Hunt was almost too good to be true. Besides his good looks and being a stellar player, he had charisma. And, people really liked him. What’s more, he was exceedingly realistic. He was aware of what was taking place in the world during the late ‘30s. His concerns led him to leave USC and transfer to the Naval Academy in 1939.

Two years later, Hunt was able to garner time from his duties and became the first (and only) player from the Naval Academy to win the NCAA Singles title. His military commitment kept him from participating in the US Nationals later in 1941 and again in ‘42.

But, he returned to Forest Hills in 1943. World War II was ravaging Europe and the Far East, so the US was only Grand Slam tournament held that year. As it turned out, the final between Hunt and Jack Kramer was a contest between two players on “leave”. Hunt represented the Navy and Kramer, the US Coast Guard.

On a brutally hot and humid day, the Naval Lieutenant downed the Coast Guard Seaman 6-3, 6-8, 10-8, 6-0. For both players, it was a heroic performance. When Kramer’s last shot sailed long, Hunt collapsed on the baseline of the worn grass at the Forest Hills with leg cramps. His opponent, who had suffered a bout of food poisoning during the tournament, slowly made his way to where the winner was sitting to shake his hand. It was a dramatic end to an unforgettable match.

Jack Kramer and Joe Hunt Photo International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum, Newport Rhode

The second Joe is Joseph (Joe) T. Hunt. He is the great-nephew of the first Joe.  As is the case with almost all of those in the family, he grew up playing tennis. For him, it was in Santa Barbara, California. By trade, he is a lawyer, and practices in Seattle, Washington. He is also a member of the Pacific Northwest, (one of the 17 USTA sections), Board of Directors and serves as the Section Delegate. 

Whenever he has an opportunity, Hunt heads to the court – not the legal one – but the one where he can play. He is as passionate about the game as he has been in leading the family’s effort to ensure that the first Joe isn’t forgotten.

His dedication to this quest has been “Clarence Darrow-like.” As the clever 20th Century lawyer, pointed out, “Chase after the truth like all hell and you’ll free yourself, even though you never touch its coattails.” 

Initially, Hunt sought to have “The Original” Joe’s name added to  the Court of Champions, located between the South Plaza and Courts 10 and 13 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. According to the USTA website, “The US Open Court of Champions celebrates the legacy of the greatest singles champions in the history of the US Open and US Championships. Each champion defines the essence of the talent and the character required to win at tennis’ ultimate proving ground. Inductees, selected by media from around the world, represent the tournament’s all-time greatest “the best of the best” whose electrifying performances have contributed to making the US Open one of the world’s top sporting events.”

The facts reveal that the Court of Champions was launched in 2004 and prior to 2019 only eleven more enshrinements had taken place recognizing ten men and eight women.

Joseph R. Hunt was killed on February 2, 1945, fifteen days before his 26th birthday. He was on a training flight when his Navy Hellcat, a WWII combat aircraft, went into a spin at 10,000 feet. It crashed into the ocean off the coast of Florida. His body and the plane were never recovered.

The second Joe has done his utmost to see that the first Joe would be remembered. It hasn’t been an easy. He has been focused on the task since 2013 and has been aided by the entire Hunt family. Still, it has been a slog. Borrowing from Navy slang, throughout it all, he has always been “Above Board.”

As an example of the way he is, Hunt delighted in revealing,  “I know that Joe was not the only player to not have a chance to defend his US National title. Ted (Schroeder) won it in 1942 and was not able to defend in 1943. They both were Navy pilots stationed in Pensacola, Florida.  Neither was granted leave to play Forest Hills in 1944 so they both entered a 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 a local event.  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 of spectators 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.”

Hunt pointed out, “Joe went out for football at the Naval Academy because he loved that sport too and wanted to be part of a team…”


Joe Hunt was a halfback on the Navy football team. Acme Photo

But, as it is with many of the stories about the first Joe, there is much more to the tale…Imagine, in 1939, being one of the best tennis players in the country and, in the world for that matter, then deciding to play football and being assigned to the junior varsity. That’s what happened to Hunt. The next year, he played halfback on the varsity and was good enough to help the team achieve a six win, two loss, one tie season. In 1941, he was a standout on a team that finished with seven wins, one loss and one tie, and ended up ranked No. 10 by the Associated Press. Hunt played so well in the game against Army, (the Midshipmen’s third win in a row over the Cadets) that he was given a game ball signed by the entire team.

As mentioned in the beginning of this piece, Joe R. Hunt’s life, ( his death aside), was fairytale-like. As the second Joe recalled,  “…He left his immensely successful life in Southern California to enter the Naval Academy, knowing that it would make it nearly impossible to achieve his dreams of becoming a great tennis champion… He put the right things ahead of the game.”

All of the Hunts are pleased that US Open Lt. Joe Hunt Military Appreciation Day will recognize a one-of-a-kind former tournament winner. Speaking for the Hunts the second Joe said, “The family of Lt. Hunt will be forever grateful to the USTA and the US Open leadership for taking this action to honor Joe by permanently assigning his name to the annual Military Appreciation Day.”

He further noted, “Connecting a real person to Military Appreciation Day will help the US Open achieve its inspiring purpose for the event, and there is no more fitting figure in the history of tennis to connect with the sport’s ideals of patriotism and sacrifice than Lt. Joe Hunt.”

Joe T. Hunt continues to believe that the first Joe’s life and the sacrifice he made for his country has earned him a place in the Court of Champions…and he also looks forward to collaborating with the USTA regarding how best to memorialize the lost aviator and other military service veterans at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Simply said. during a divisive period in the world, people like Lt. is Joseph (Joe) R. Hunt need to be remembered and not covered by the dust that results from the passage of time.

Lt. Joseph R. Hunt, USN, training at Daytona Beach, Florida, where he was killed when his fighter plane crashed at sea.
Cover of the March 1945 issue of American Lawn Tennis

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