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U.S. Open Tennis • Military Appreciation Day Honors Joe Hunt, Grand Nephew Joins Nadal For Coin Toss

(L-R) Marin Cilic of Croatia, Vice Admiral Sean S. Buck and Joe Hunt and Rafael Nadal of Spain pose before the coin toss after a ceremony recognizing the change of the name of the annual Military Appreciation Day to ‘Lt. Joe Hunt US Open Military Appreciation Day’ on the eighth day of the US Open Tennis Championships the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, USA, 02 September 2019. The US Open runs from 26 August through 08 September.  EPA-EFE/JOHN G. MABANGLO

By Ricky Dimon

The USTA announced last weekend that its annual Military Appreciation Day at the U.S. Open would be renamed in honor of Lt. Joe Hunt, the only U.S. Nationals or U.S. Open champion to lose his or her life in service to their country. Held annually on Labor Day at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, it was officially renamed the Lt. Joe Hunt U.S. Open Military Appreciation Day on Monday in its seventh year since beginning in 2013.

Born on Feb. 17, 1919 in San Francisco, Calif., Hunt played college tennis at the University of Southern California as a freshman went undefeated in singles and doubles play in 1938. After winning the intercollegiate doubles title he enlisted in the United States Naval Academy and joined the Navy football team as a running back during the 1940 season. He was given the game ball for the 1941 Army–Navy Game. Hunt made the semifinals at the 1939 and 1940 United States Singles Championships (now the U.S. Open) at Forest Hills. He won the title in 1943, doing so in dramatic fashion while cramping on match point against Jack Kramer.

Hunt was the top-ranked American in 1943 and was ranked as high as No. 5 overall in the world.

He was unable to defend his title in 1944 due to obligations with the Navy. At 25 years old, Hunt was killed when his fighter plane crashed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Daytona Beach, Fla. He was inducted posthumously into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1966.

Hunt is the only player in history to win the U.S. national boys, junior, collegiate, and men’s singles titles.

“He was in active service as a lieutenant when he won the U.S. Open,” great nephew Joe Hunt noted. “He left USC after two years of school; he decided to start over with school at the Naval Academy. I think that shows a lot of what he was about; he was about wanting to serve the country. When he did that, everyone in tennis understood that he was pretty much sacrificing his tennis career for service. He probably would have done more in tennis…but he did enough.”

The U.S. Open welcomed members of the Hunt family, including great nephew Joe Hunt, for a ceremonial coin toss at the start of Monday’s night session. They were joined by Vice Admiral Sean S. Buck, the 63rd Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy and Navy men’s tennis coach Chris Garner for an on-court tribute to the late tennis champion. Rafael Nadal and Marin Cilic, who were contesting their fourth-round match, posed for photos following the coin toss.

“It’s an enormous honor for the family,” the younger Joe Hunt assured. “It’s to the USTA and U.S. Open’s credit that they have taken the life of Joe Hunt, taken his story, and truly understand what it means to have a national champion who gave his life to the country. The family is incredibly grateful to the USTA and U.S. Open for honoring Joe in a meaningful and lasting way.”

“He would be overwhelmed. I don’t think he was ever one to seek honor, glory, or attention. But I’m hoping that he feels something powerful in the fact that people remember him and remember what he gave to tennis and the country.  I believe that he does see it and I believe that he does feel it.”

The U.S. Open did a commendable job of making sure fans felt the importance of Military Appreciation Day, and not just right before the Nadal-Cilic match. Videos were shown on all of the three main courts during various changeovers and in between matches. The National Anthem was sung by Tony Award-nominated actress and recording artist Melissa Errico, who has starred in seven Broadway shows and TV shows including Showtime’s “Billions.” Prior to the nightcap featuring Bianca Andreescu and Taylor Townsend, 13-year-old Daniel Wright of West Point, N.Y. was one of 12 winners selected to sing patriotic-themed songs and he performed “America The Beautiful.”

In support of the day’s celebration, Chase–a main U.S. Open sponsor–provided tickets for various military-affiliated organizations, including military service men and women from New York.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

Editor’s Note: The team here at Tennis Balls | 10sBalls applauds Joe Hunt.We go back about 5/6/7 years now.
We also applaud the USTA. The suits all did right by this tribute. We go back about 50 years now. We all love tennis. We all want peace. The world could learn a lot about how all these different nations involved in tennis are living and working together in peace weekly. Daily. Hourly. Yearly. They all are different but make a way to love and like each other. They respect their cultures.
We always said tennis is a microcosm of the world. Maybe it should be the other way around. The world could learn from our sport. 
We applaud Joe Hunt from Seattle. A very kind and gentle man. I think he got mad at us recently when we said Jimmy Stewart would play him in the movies. He never stopped believing that someday somehow his uncle would get the Honors • Joe from the time he was playing as a kid would always ask do you know of my Great Uncle Joseph Rafael Hunt? He asked everyone, always wondering if somehow in his own lifetime he’d see his uncle honored. He never gave up. He sent out letters and letters and letters for years. He never gave up. Luckily the whole Hunt family all supported him. Then one day as BUD would say. The gin (we prefer vodka) would find that catalyst of vermouth and watch out world. Joe is working hard on the book. He is way past the half way point. He is still hoping that Robert Redford. Yes, that Robert Redford from LATC would make it into a film… even a fun short… (LJ)

Members of the family of Lt. Joe Hunt react during a ceremony recognizing the change of the name of the annual Military Appreciation Day to ‘Lt. Joe Hunt US Open Military Appreciation Day’ on the eighth day of the US Open Tennis Championships the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, USA, 02 September 2019. The US Open runs from 26 August through 08 September. S EPA-EFE/JUSTIN LANE

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