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

Grand Slam

Foreign Visitors To 2021 Australian Open Unlikely, Says Tennis Australia

The latest plans for Melbourne Park have been discussed by tournament director Craig Tiley.

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The organisers of the Australian Open have revealed details of their plans for next year’s event with the wide expectation being a substantial cut in visitors to Melbourne Park.

 

Tournament director Craig Tiley has shed light on the event amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought the sport to a standstill since March 9th. Under the current plan officials are expecting half the amount of visitors to be allowed to attend the main show court, which has a capacity of more than 14,000. Exact details on numbers could vary in the coming months depending on the COVID-19 case levels. Furthermore, it is doubtful that foreign visitors will be allowed to attend the event. Last year, more than 100,000 people visited the tournament from outside of Australia.

“We made that decision this week, to go with that scenario from a number of options,” Tiley told The Associated Press.
“We will not hit the numbers we had last year, a record 821,000 through the gates. Our fans will be from Melbourne and Victoria state, interstate, as well as potentially New Zealanders, if they lift border restrictions. But the 15% we get from overseas will likely not be here.”

Victoria, which is the state the Australian Open is held in, reported 10 deaths related to COVID-19 on Sunday in what is their highest daily toll to date. Overall, there are 459 new infections in what is the 21st consecutive day the figures have been increased in three digits, according to data published by The Guardian. Greater Melbourne, which has a population of roughly five million people, is currently in a lockdown

Despite the concerns Tiley had previously stated that he has no intention of relocating the Grand Slam to another part of the country. Instead, he is hoping to learn lessons from both the US Open and French Open, which will get underway later this year. In New York, their event will be held behind closed doors for the first time in history with players being placed under restrictions such as where they can stay and go to.

“They are both exploring mandatory testing, varying levels of quarantine and limited entourages,” he said. “Of course we are looking at all these options, and more, as part of our scenario planning.”
“If conditions improve and the US Open and French Open goes well and they have positive events, it will build the confidence of the players and help us here in Melbourne next year.”

The Australian Open is set to get underway on January 18th next year. Novak Djokovic and Sofia Kenin are the reigning champions.

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US Open Not Giving Up On Staging Tournament, For Now

A key lead up tournament has been axed and the USTA faces a 80% drop in their net operating income, but optimism over North America only Grand Slam remains.

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Officials have insisted that the US Open will be held in safe conditions and is currently not in danger of being cancelled despite the American hard court series suffering a significant blow on Tuesday.

 

The United States Tennis Association has insisted that the New York major will create a ‘safe and controlled environment’ for players. Their assurance comes after the Citi Open in Washington was cancelled due to concerns over travel and a recent trend in COVID-19 outbreaks. America is currently dealing with a rise of cases across the country. According to the New York Times, as of July 21st the seven-day average of new daily cases is 66,406.

Washington was set to be the to be the tournament that would have kick-started the ATP Tour, which has been halted since March 9th. Instead, the Tour is now set to get underway with the Western and Southern Open, which has been moved to the same location as the US Open this year due to the pandemic. In a statement from the USTA, they insist that plans for those two tournaments are still on track.

“The USTA will create a safe and controlled environment for players and everyone else involved in both tournaments that mitigates health risks,” the statement reads.
“We constantly base our decisions regarding hosting these tournaments on our three guiding principles that include safe and healthy of all involved, whether hosting these events are in the best interest in the sport of tennis and whether this decision is financially viable.
“We are confident we remain in-line with all three guiding principles.”

This year’s US Open is set to take a huge financial hit with no fans being allowed to visit the tournament for the first time in its history. Mike Dowse, who is the head of the USTA, has previously said that the net operating income ‘looks’ to be down approximately 80% on the previous year. Nevertheless, they are still committing 91% of their prize money from 2019.

Despite the prospect of losing money, the prospect of not hosting the tournament all together would have even more of a significant financial impact. This is because the USTA is relying on broadcasting deals with TV networks around the world that are worth millions.

“Keep in mind, we have 850,000 fans who attend, but we’ve got hundreds of millions of fans who still watch the Open around the world and will never step foot on the grounds. … We had to adjust ourselves and I think the times have adjusted as well,” USTA chief revenue officer Lew Sherr told Sports Business Daily back in May.

Whilst the USTA is optimistic, the telling factor will be how many top names will play at the US Open this year given the current travel restrictions. The American government has already said players will be exempt from quarantine when entering the country, but the problem lies with what happens when they leave. According to one report from Opencourt, only four top 10 players on the WTA Tour have entered to play in Cincinnati and the US Open so far. They are Karolina Pliskova, Sofia Kenin, Belinda Bencic and Serena Williams. Although the entry deadline is next Monday. It is unclear as to how many top 10 players on the men’s tour have committed.

Amid the uncertainty, Citi Open tournament director Mark Ein believes there could be a silver lining to his event being scrapped. Saying he hopes the latest development will trigger a more rapid response over efforts to clarify the player quarantine rules. Spanish newspaper Marca has reported that the ATP are currently in talks with the country’s National Sports Council (Consejo Superior de Deportes) over their rules regarding players travelling from America.

“I do think the European events are definitely going to happen, and I think the U.S. Open has a really good chance to happen,” Ein told the New York Times. “I think our cancellation could accelerate the resolution of those immigration issues. I think that’s going to make it a focus. You can’t figure these things out the week before the event.”

The US Open is set to start on August 31st.

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Top Names In Doubt For Rest Of 2020 Season, Says Australian Open Chief

Craig Tiley has suggested that some players will soon end their 2020 campaigns and instead switch their focus to next year.

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The head of the Australian Open has said he believes some stars of the sport will choose to skip the two upcoming Grand Slam events and instead switch their focus to the 2021 season.

 

Craig Tiley said during an interview with The Age newspaper that he has spoken to various players who are looking to next year as ‘the new hope’ for the sport. The ATP and WTA Tour’s are set to restart in August after a five-month break due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the break, tennis’ governing bodies have been forced to adjust their schedules with some of those tournaments that have been confirmed still in doubt.

Amid the uncertainty, Tiley has claimed that some may travel to Australia as early as November in order to prepare for the start of next year. Out of the top 20 players on the men’s and women’s Tour’s, Roger Federer is the only one to have ruled himself out of playing again this year. Although his reason is due to recovering from knee surgery.

“Most of them – Roger Federer included – is not playing the rest of the year and is looking to the Australian Open to launch 2021,” Tiley told The Age.
“In fact all of them I’ve spoken to – there’s not one that hasn’t – are looking to the beginning of 2021 and the beginning of the new season as the new hope for tennis globally.
“I personally think that some of the top players will be in doubt [for the rest of 2020] and that’s simply because they may feel it’s too soon. It’s nothing against the US Open.”

The claim comes amid speculation surrounding the upcoming US events that are set to take place next month. This week it has emerged that the Citi Open in Washington could be axed due to the ongoing travel restrictions. Should that happen, it may have a domino effect on other events including the premier US Open. Furthermore, there are also doubts surrounding China and if they will hold any international sporting events that are not related to Olympic qualifying. Something that has been recommended by an official government report.

Various players have already voiced their reservations about travelling to America and risking the possibility of having to be quarantined during the process. Something that would affect their preparations for the European clay-court swing. Both Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep have said they are undecided. Meanwhile, Elina Svitolina recently told btu.org.ua her current plan is to return to competitive tennis after the US Open.

Australian Open fears

There are also questions about the Australian Open that will take place in January. Melbourne, which is where the tournament is played, recently introduced a compulsory mask policy to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The city has been placed under local lockdown for a second time.

Melbourne is the state capital of Victoria where there are currently 3147 active COVID-19 cases as of July 21st, according to figures published by 9 News. It has been suggested that should the situation not improve in the coming weeks, the Australian Open could be moved elsewhere. However, Tiley has come out against this motion.

“It hasn’t even crossed my mind,” he said.
“Heaven and earth will be moved to make it work in Melbourne. I don’t see any scenario possible where the Australian Open would move.”

Elaborating further, Tiley argues that Melbourne Park could operate as a ‘world-leading” quarantine venue for players to play safely.

“Melbourne Park itself is a massive quarantine opportunity for us,” he insists.
“The whole network and the whole hub being put next to the city, you can actually create a bubble over Melbourne Park to make it extremely safe. It will be world-leading.”

Sofia Kenin and Novak Djokovic are the current Australian Open champions.

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