Though it's never fair to compare tragedies and therefore diminish the genuine pain of any individual, like all fields, tennis has seen its share of misfortune. Here are just a few:
He'd beaten future world No. 1 Jack Kramer to win the U.S. National Singles (now known as the U.S. Open) in 1943. Drafted into the Air Force the next year, Hunt was proud to serve his country. In February 1945, on training mission in Daytona Beach, Fla., the likeable Californian's navy fighter plane crashed into the ocean.
At the height of her powers, having won an astounding nine Grand Slam singles titles in less than three years -- including a calendar year sweep in 1953 -- 19-year-old Maureen "Little Mo" Connolly came home from Wimbledon to her native San Diego in the summer of 1954 hoping to enjoy her favorite form of relaxation: riding a horse. But one afternoon, while on a thoroughbred colt named Colonel Merryboy, an encounter with a concrete mixer truck greatly alarmed the horse. As the horse slammed against the truck, Connolly's right leg was crushed, her muscles and tendons deeply gashed. Although she'd hoped to recover, by the next winter she'd announced her retirement. Connolly died of cancer in 1969 at the age of 34.
Considering how often tennis players have hopped on airplanes all over the world since the beginning of the Jet Age in the early '60s, it's amazing there haven't been more plane-related tragedies. But on June 4, 1969, an airplane crashed into a mountain as it neared Monterrey, Mexico. One of the 79 passengers killed was Mexican hero and 1963 U.S. singles champion, 30-year-old Rafael "Rafe" Osuna. He was enshrined in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1979.
A top-10 player in 1970, this classy Australian was forced to take 18 months off the tour when she discovered she was hypoglycemic. Never quite able to regain her best form, she fought hard and reached the Australian Open semifinals in 1977. But then, in April 1977, while playing the Challenger circuit in the U.S., she suffered a fatal heart attack while jogging. In her honor, the WTA created the Karen Krantczke Sportsmanship Award.
A heart attack ended his playing career at 36 years old in 1979. In 1988, though, Ashe discovered he had contracted HIV while receiving blood transfusions during one of his two heart surgeries. For four years, word of Ashe's condition remained discreet, known only to a few tennis insiders. But in April 1992, when reports that USA Today was going to go public with the news that Ashe had AIDS, Ashe opted in trademark style to tackle the topic on his terms, calling a news conference and instantly becoming a highly public AIDS activist. He died on Feb. 6, 1993.
He'd lived the go-go life of tennis player by day and party animal by night through the '70s, and faced some rough personal moments as he segued out of his playing life in the '80s. But by the early '90s, the highly popular Gerulaitis seemed on his way to better times. He'd emerged as a superb analyst for CBS, ESPN and USA Network. The substance abuse seemed over. But then, while staying with a friend in Southampton, Long Island, the 40-year-old Gerulaitis was found dead. For a short period, the question surfaced: Had it been the drugs? Soon enough, it was revealed that a malfunction in the heating system caused odorless, poisonous carbon monoxide gas to seep into the guesthouse where Gerulaitis was sleeping.
Joel Drucker is based in Oakland, Calif., and writes for Tennis Magazine and Tennis Channel.