US Open Military Appreciation Day - A Story About “Two Joes” - UBITENNIS
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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.

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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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Numbers: On The Unpredictability Of Women’s Grand Slam Tournaments

Over the past four years, every major tournament has been a hunting ground for new players, a sign of discontinuity at the top.

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54 – the number of WTA players who’ve reached the quarterfinals at least once in the past 12 Slam tournaments. 

Tennis experts and fans have often pointed out that men’s tennis hasn’t had much of a change of the guard in terms of big tournament winners, generally providing the same face-offs between players in the final rounds. At the same time, the last seasons of the WTA Tour have repeatedly been criticized for not providing any champions the public could become used to due to the steady turnover of winners and players competing in the last rounds of the most prestigious tournaments. To better understand if these assumptions are actually justified, we analysed the Slam draws from the past three years (starting with the 2018 US Open) and listed all the players (male and female) who reached a Major quarterfinal at least once, in an attempt to understand the differences between what’s going on the ATP and WTA tours.

 

41 male players have reached the quarterfinals of a Slam, while on the WTA circuit the 96 available slots have been occupied by no fewer than 54 different tennis players. We can also see this same discrepancy by looking at some other stats on the number of players to make it through only once to a Major quarterfinal: on the male tour, in the timeframe considered (the last twelve Slams played), there were 17 players, while in the female one the number rose to 21. The women whose only accomplishment was to reach one semi-final are over twice as many as the men who did the same: some of the male players are Pouille, Karatsev and Hurkacz, while the women’s list includes Sevastova, Anisimova, Strycova, Podoroska, Zidansek and Kerber.

The greatest difference between the two tours, however, can be found in the number of players who get past the semi-finals. There have only been four major tournament winners among ATP players in the past three calendar years: Djokovic (the Serbian won 7 times), Nadal (2), Thiem, and Medvedev. Among WTA players, on the other hand, there have been as many as eight different Slam tournament champions:  Osaka (a four-time winner), Barty (2), Halep, Andreescu, Kenin, Swiatek, Krejcikova, and Raducanu.

Del Potro, Zverev, Federer, Berrettini and Tsistipas were the only male players to get to the finals, but there were no fewer than nine female players achieving the same result: Serena Williams (three times), Kvitova, Vondrousova, Muguruza, Azarenka, Brady, Pavlyuchenkova, Pliskova, and Fernandez. “One-time-winners” aren’t easy to find among male players, since all four major tournament-winners (Djokovic, Nadal, Thiem and Medvedev) have done well in several other Slams, which isn’t the case amongst the female players. In the eleven Slams that we’re analysing, two players (Andreescu and Raducanu) didn’t get any other important results other than their wins; in their case, if truth be told, the explanation to this probably lies in their very young age, and in the injuries they sustained, making their “isolated” wins more than understandable.

This fact should, however, be considered together with the cases of three other female players (Krejicikova, Swiatek and Kenin) who, in addition to their finals victory, only reached the quarterfinals once. The absence of continuity in today’s strongest female circuit-players can be inferred from an additional statistic:  among male players in the past three years, Djokovic (10 times), Nadal (9), Federer (5), Thiem (5), Zverev (6), and Medvedev (5) got through to Major tournament quarterfinals at least five times, but amongst the female players only Serena Williams (6) and Barty (6) did the same.

Further confirmation of what we uncovered can be found by looking into the players in the top positions of the ATP and WTA rankings. Among the men, after the 2018 US Open, the only players who reached the first position are Djokovic and Nadal; meanwhile, Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Rublev have reached the Top 5 for the first time in the past three years. And let’s not forget Berrettini, Schwartzman, Bautista Agut, Shapovalov, and Ruud, who also made their debut in the Top 10.

In the WTA rankings, on the other hand, these past 36 months have seen Halep, Osaka and current number 1 Barty pass the queen’s crown around; compared to the men’s circuit, even more players have ascended to the Top 5 for the first time: Sabalenka, Andreescu, Bencic, Kenin. There are “only” two players, Swiatek and Krejcikova, who’ve gotten through to the first ten positions of the ranking in the time frame we’ve been looking at.

In conclusion, the tennis élite has a very different profile in the two tours. It’s a difference that is bound to be reduced as the likes of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic get older: but will the advent of new rivalries at the top be able to preserve the sport’s popularity?

Article by Ferruccio Roberti; translated by Giulia Bosatra; edited by Tommaso Villa

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US Open, Steve Flink: “Djokovic’s loss had more to do with fatigue than pressure”

A recap of the last Major of 2021, from Raducanu’s triumphant journey to Berrettini and Zverev’s improvements. What was Rod Laver’s prediction for the men’s finals?

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The 2021 US Open was historical from many points of view, starting with the full-capacity crowd coming back to Flushing Meadows. On court, we witnessed Djokovic’s bid for a Calendar Year Grand Slam fall short against Daniil Medvedev in the final, while Emma Raducanu took the tennis world by storm, winning as a qualifier and without dropping a set. These were just some of the topics of the tournament recap by Hall-of-Famer Steve Flink and Ubitennis CEO Ubaldo Scanagatta. Here’s their chat:

 

00:00 – Emma Raducanu’s historical feat: “She had an easier draw than Fernandez, who had to defeat many great players, but she was very impressive nonetheless!”

06:18 – Barty and Osaka’s premature exits: “Hadn’t she lost to Rogers, Barty would have won the whole thing…”

09:35 – Was Fernandez too tired during the final?

20:17 – The Canadian defeated Aryna Sabalenka, who once again missed out on a big chance: “She seems to have a split personality…”

25:24 – The men’s final – how distant was Djokovic from his best form?

28:59 – “Djokovic is the best at handling the pressure, I don’t think that was the main reason behind his defeat…”

35:05 – Was the crowd actually on Nole’s side or did they just want to witness history being made?

39:16 – What was the secret behind Medvedev’s winning tactics?

41:50 – Djokovic fell short of the Grand Slam in a similar way to Serena Williams – how similar are their performances?

50:16 – Rod Laver’s prediction for the final…

52:25 – Who is the best claycourt player, Djokovic or Federer?

55:05 – Carlos Alcaraz won over the hearts of the crowd – how quickly will he reach the Top 10?

56:29 – Is Zverev on the right track to win a Major? What about Berrettini and Sinner?

62:48 – The Canadians: who will have a better career between Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime?

Transcript by Giuseppe Di Paola; translated and edited by Tommaso Villa

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Dominic Thiem Hails Raducanu’s US Open Run, Backs Djokovic To Come Back Stronger

The world No.8 gives his verdict on the events which unfolded during this year’s US Open championships.

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Emma Raducanu reacts during a Women's Singles quarterfinal match at the 2021 US Open, Wednesday, Sep. 8, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Garrett Ellwood/USTA)

Dominic Thiem has described Emma Raducanu’s unprecedented run to the US Open title as a milestone moment in the history of women’s sport.

 

The British 18-year-old stunned the world of tennis in New York by becoming the first ever qualifier to win a major title. Raducanu entered the tournament ranked 150th in the world and was only playing in her fourth WTA Tour event. Nevertheless, she won 10 matches in a row without dropping a single set. During her run she beat top 20 players Belinda Bencic and Maria Sakkari. In the final she defeated fellow rising star Leylah Fernandez.

Reacting to Raducanu’s breakthrough performance, Thiem says it was ‘one of the greatest’ moments ever witnessed in sport. The Austrian won the US Open in 2020 but was unable to defend his title this year due to a wrist injury.

“For me, it’s one of the greatest achievements ever in women’s sports,” Thiem told Omnisport on Monday.
“It’s an incredible journey if you look at the stats. She didn’t lose one set the whole tournament. She came from qualifying and she didn’t even play one tiebreak.
“That’s simply amazing and something that probably was never witnessed before.
“And also the way she plays, her technique, the way she moves, somehow she brought it up to a new level for the whole game … it was great to see.”

Raducanu is the first female player from her country to win a major tournament since 1977. As a result of her New York triumph, she has surged up the rankings to a high of 23rd in the world and has an outside shot at playing in the WTA Finals later this year depending on her results at upcoming events.

Shortly after lifting the US Open trophy, Raducanu says she will continue to take things as they come and has vowed to stay grounded. Although that might be easier said than done for an athlete who has gone from being relatively unknown to becoming one of the most sought after athletes in the world in less than a year.

“For me, I don’t feel absolutely any pressure,” she said. “I’m still only 18 years old. I’m just having a free swing at anything that comes my way. That’s how I faced every match here in the States. It got me this trophy so I don’t think I should change anything.”

Djokovic was under pressure

Novak Djokovic in action during a Men’s Singles match at the 2021 US Open, Monday, Sep. 6, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Garrett Ellwood/USTA)

As for the events that unfolded in the men’s tournament at Flushing Meadows, Thiem believes nerves played a part in Novak Djokovic’s final performance. The world No.1 lost in straight sets to Daniil Medvedev who won his maiden major title at the age of 25. Djokovic was on the verge of achieving the Calendar Slam which hasn’t happened on the men’s Tour since in 1968. Following his defeat, the Serbian described the past few months on the Tour for him as ‘emotionally very damaging.’

Despite suffering a blow in his quest to become the most decorated Grand Slam singles player in the history of men’s tennis, Thiem believes Djokovic will bounce back even stronger in the new season.

“I expect him to be as strong as ever in 2022. I think after he won in Roland Garros, everybody was only talking about the calendar slam – first about the golden slam, and then about the calendar slam,” Thiem told Stats Perform on Monday.
“He [Djokovic] was under pressure. Nobody can feel that or anything like that because of it being the calendar slam.
“I can feel it in a smaller way, probably from last year’s final and from some other matches. And at some points it’s just getting to you. And so, I really felt for him as well towards the end of the match.
“So, it can happen that it also makes him even stronger next year when all these talks and all this pressure is not that big anymore.”

Medvedev’s win has raised questions once again about if there is a changing in the guard happening in men’s tennis with the next generation breaking through and ending the dominance of the Big Three. Djokovic, who is the youngest member of the Big Three, was the only member of the duo who played in New York this year. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal withdrew from the event due to injury.

For me, there are three GOATs in the game, and each of them has achieved something very unique,” Thiem commented.
“So it’s still the same for me as it was before. The three of them are the best in the history to me.
“And I’m only super happy to be in the same era with them and to be able to compete with them. Hopefully many more times next year again.”

Thiem is set to return to competitive tennis at the start of 2022 after ending his season early due to injury.

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