TIBOR HAZI--PART IUSATT Hall of Fame Inductee (1981)
by USATT Historian Tim Boggan, USATT Historian - © 2000
Tibor Hazi, the Hungarian International who became a U.S. Hall of Famer, was born Feb. 9, 1912. His real name was Hoffman, but as Hungarian society was anti-Semitic (hence Braun became Barna, Klein became Kelen), he used the name Hazi. Thus he was "in compliance with a Hungarian law requiring Hungarian contenders in government subsidized international sports to use Hungarian names." Hazi, who’d had previous contact with U.S. players at World Championships, came to the United States in 1939. He’d seen the handwriting on the Budapest wall--for the Hungarian government had forced him go to Gdansk-cum-Danzig to play at an S.S. club where of course Hitler’s picture hung threateningly over him. "Do you eat pork?" asked his host. Even if it would take an Act of Congress, the U.S. would just have to become home and refuge for Tibor and his wife Magda (nee Gal), a former World Women’s Singles finalist.
The first American to play in the World Championships--he went to Paris, in Dec., 1933--was Marcus Schussheim (later Matthews). Although he doesn’t specifically mention Hazi on being met by and in his brief practice play with the Hungarians, Mark certainly would have been introduced to him, for Tibor had already been a Singles quarterfinalist at Prague in 1932, where he lost to Austria’s Erwin Kohn deuce in the 5th, and here at Paris would reach the semi’s before losing in 4 to Barna.
In the winter of 1934-35, four-time World Singles Champion Barna and his Hungarian teammate Sandor Glancz, also one of the world’s best players in the late ‘20’s and early ‘30’s, came to the U.S. for a very successful Coleman Clark-promoted Tour that had as one of its mainstays the #1 man on the 1935 U.S. World Team, Jimmy McClure. When it came time for the mid-Feb., Wembley World’s, Glancz decided he liked it in the States and didn’t want to get deathly sea-sick going back across the Atlantic, so, at Barna’s suggestion, McClure took Sandor’s place in the Men’s Doubles--teamed up with Hazi.
Glancz and Hazi had gotten to the final of the Doubles at the last World’s--but, because they didn’t win, perhaps Tibor thought that Sandor had let him down in that final match? At any event, Hazi would later say that Glancz, though obviously accomplished, didn’t really have the competitive spirit--meaning, presumably, a through-the-years, unrelenting, all-sustaining competitive spirit. Here in London, considering that Tibor and Jimmy (the only English word Hazi knew) were total strangers to one another, they did as well as could be expected: they lost in 4 to the Defending Champions Barna and Szabados, who would go on to retain their title.
At the 1936 World’s in Prague, Tibor and Jimmy were again on court in Men’s Doubles--but this time with different partners and on different sides. Current Hungarian Champ Hazi was teamed with the "cocky" young man Tibor was now mentor to, Ferenc Soos (pronounced SHO-sss), who had a "quick half-volley defense and a lot of confidence." McClure was paired with St. Louis teenager Robert "Bud" Blattner. In a center-court semi’s, played on the last night of the tournament, Hazi and Soos, up 2-1 and 19-11 in the 4th, seemed to have a lock on the match. But then--with Tibor urging his young partner to hit, and Soos refusing to--the steady topspinning Americans came back to win at deuce, then win the 5th from 18-all, and, afterwards, take the Championship itself. This was a bitter loss for Tibor, for, aside from his 1933 Men’s Consolation title, he was never to win a World Singles or Doubles Championship, and he’d had an excellent chance to do that here.
In World Singles play, Hazi, who over the years had a number of European titles to his credit, was usually a threat. In 1935 he’d gotten to the eighth’s, in 1937 to the quarter’s, and now in 1938, after he’d helped Hungary regain the Swaythling Cup title, he’d advanced to the quarter’s again--this time to meet the only U.S. survivor, Sol Schiff. Tibor felt that Schiff, the more so after Sol’s incredible 21-1 Swaythling Cup performance in ‘37, was a stronger, steadier player than the more fervidly brilliant McClure--though he’d have little to choose from in later watching Sol and Jimmy pair up to win the Doubles here at Wembley.
Hazi had a close-to-the-table chop; a good block; a European elbow-up forehand that because of Tibor’s unorthodox grip was struck from the backhand side of the racket; and, on moving his thumb into position, an excellent backhand flick. He hadn’t represented Hungary in Swaythling Cup play in ‘37 because, although he was both the Hungarian and Budapest Champion, he’d changed clubs--and the notion that one club could buy a National Team player from another had to be discouraged.
Regarding Hazi’s upcoming quarter’s match with Schiff, Nattan, the Hungarian Captain, made an unusual request. Tibor had apparently sprained his ankle, and since it was sure to give him more and more trouble, would Sol mind if, instead of playing the match as scheduled tomorrow, they played it today?
Sol talked this over with U.S. Captain Morris Bassford, whom he liked, and when Bassford suggested that maybe Sol was better off playing Tibor today, before the ankle could be given more attention and rest, Schiff agreed.
A big mistake. Hazi beat him 3-0. "I never saw a guy hop around so in my life," Sol would say later.
Next day, in the semi’s, Defending Champion Richard Bergmann romped over the bandaged-up Hazi who against his doctor’s orders had tried to play. Tibor said that prior to this match he’d had his leg in a cast, which Bellak cut off for him before he went out to play. Bergmann, seeing Hazi limp, moved him around, hit and dropped him.
Neither the U.S. nor Hungary played in the ‘39 World’s, but on Mar. 15, 1939, just two days before the start of the U.S. Open, the 27-year-old Hazi and his wife Magda, whom he’d married two years earlier, arrived in the U.S., and promptly came out to Toledo to compete.
Tibor had served in the Hungarian Army for eight months, then was released by special permission. However, his entertainment visa, arranged by British pharmaceutical philanthropist and table tennis benefactor H.N. Smith for Tibor’s Exhibition Tour with Bellak after the National’s, was good only for six months.
But if Hazi was worried about his future, as who in his position wouldn’t be, it didn’t stop him from (20, -11, 20, 18) winning the close ones against this season’s U.S. #2 Garrett Nash, who in the quarter’s had downed Schiff in 5.
In his final against Tibor, McClure said he was determined "to rush him off his feet" and, except for the third game, he succeeded. This final was broadcast by WTOL, and, as the cover of the Apr., ‘39 Topics shows, Jimmy is being interviewed on air after the match. Hazi is also pictured on that cover, looking, with a smirk, as if he knows something we don’t. The secret explanation is that Bellak, not caught by the camera, is whispering something into Hazi’s ear. Perhaps an intimate’s response to Tibor’s claim that Jimmy used illegal fingerspins against him? "I don’t say that’s why I lost," Hazi said many years later, "but he did use them at critical times." Of course Jimmy denied the charge.
Tibor, described as blue-eyed, stocky, "scholarly and ruddy," was not particularly athletic at the table. He had sedentary pursuits--had studied accounting (reportedly was a graduate of the University of Budapest) and enjoyed playing chess. But neither Patience nor Humility were his strong points. And, as he hated to lose, his exertions, his emotions, often brought a flush to his face. But win or lose this final, he was naturally on his best behavior, for as a newly arrived, very dependent guest in this country, looking for all the goodwill he could get as he and his wife tried to make a momentary living and maybe a future life here, it wouldn’t be to his advantage to protest and possibly cause an unpleasant scene.
Tibor’s wife, Magda, had been born into a banking family, and, well-educated, was quick to learn English. When she was younger, she’d been very sports-minded. At the University of Szeged she was the "only woman competitor" on the table tennis team--and she also enjoyed "swimming, fencing, and rowing." Laszlo "Laci" Bellak, Hazi’s friend and teammate, might have been thinking of her when he advised ambitious table tennis players, men or women, to take up other sports as well. A former Hungarian superstar, Magda, from 1929-34, was a five-time World Singles semifinalist, in ‘35 a finalist, and, in addition (did anybody ever have a better second place record?), was a five-time World Women’s or Mixed Doubles finalist.
But Magda would not add this U.S. Singles Championship, or any other, to her many European titles. Here at Toledo, in the twilight of her career, she was attacked and beaten in 4 in the quarter’s by Indianapolis teenager Sally Green who would soon become the dominant U.S. woman player. And although in the quarter’s of the Mixed the Hazis outlasted Schiff and his good friend Ruthe Brewer, 19 in the 3rd, they couldn’t win the close games in their semi’s and (17, -20, -13, -19) fell to the eventual Chicago winners, Al Nordhem and Mildred Wilkinson.
Following the ‘39 National’s, Hazi and his friend Bellak were off on their Spring Tour --out to Kansas and Colorado and from there to the Pacific Northwest. Their start-off point the last week in March had been the Alcazar Gym in Baltimore and Heurich’s Gym in Washington, D.C. where they’d played exhibition matches against Schiff and Philadelphia defensive star Izzy Bellis, who’d been the #1 Men’s seed at the Toledo National’s.
After several days of traveling, Hazi and Bellak could be seen at a Congregational Church in Topeka where a local sports columnist said they seemed to make the ball "squat down flat like a poached egg or squirm over the net as if pulled by an unseen thread."
Then they continued on to reach Denver in time to put on an Apr. 8 Saturday night exhibition at the "new $230,000 Lincoln Room of the Shirley-Savoy Hotel," not coincidentally while Colorado TTA prexy was running his State Closed there. They drew 800 spectators, whereas a week earlier a Fred Perry vs. Don Budge tennis match drew only 500.
First stop in the Pacific Northwest was the Crystal Garden in Victoria, British Columbia. One reporter, after seeing the first of two evening performances, said that Bellak "was the whole show....Blowing the ball back over the net, striking it with the edge of the paddle, juggling ball and paddle, actually playing a game all by himself...." Hazi, however, was "a favorite with the women fans."
In Portland, where Hazi and Bellak played before going back to Canada and finishing their Tour in Calgary, local enthusiast Don Vaughan bragged he’d blanked Bellak, 3-zip. Turns out this was in a fishing contest. Don had caught three, and Bellak, who’d paid $3 for an Oregon fishing license, had caught 0....Who ate the fish? Hazi.
On returning East, Tibor found that he wasn’t the only one who’d been working an audience. In mid-April, at a Greater N.Y. Fund Sports Show at the N.Y.C. Hippodrome, site of what would become Madison Square Garden, wrestlers and boxers were among those posturing and performing, and so were table tennis players. Years later, Tibor was telling me proudly how, when his wife Magda and Bernie Grimes had finished their 11-point exhibition game, the audience had cried out, "More! More!"
Both Tibor and Magda then played in the mid-May Master’s Invitational at the Dan Klepak-managed 5th Ave. Courts. Again Tibor was thwarted in a close match--was beaten in the semi’s (18, -18, 19, -24, -17), after a "wild 4th game," by "Little Dynamite" Lou Pagliaro, called "the most spectacular player in New York," one who never failed to have the crowd with him.
Magda, however, won the Women’s--though she was no more an overly intimidating figure than her husband. In the quarter’s she -17, 18, 20, 19 almost came to grief against Helen Germaine, then 19, 18, -16, 20 had more anxious moments with Brewer, and finally had to keep winning close ones against Mae Clouther, whose husband Jim had just become President of the USTTA.
The uncertainty of their future had to take a toll on the Hazis. At the May 27 Connecticut Open at Bridgeport, Magda lost in straight games to Brewer, and Tibor was knocked out early by New England’s best, Les Lowry (who went on to upset Schmidt and Grimes). The Hazis also lost in the Mixed Doubles--in two deuce games to Grimes and Germaine.
By August, however, they’d doubtless made fall Tour bookings--and so could combine business with pleasure by playing in the annual Provincetown, Massachusetts tournament and relaxing on the beach at Cape Cod. Magda won the Bronze Dolphin Women’s Singles Trophy over Brewer, 3-0, and the Women’s and Mixed Doubles as well. But Tibor’s Doubles victories were offset when, in the unique Quiniela format, he lost a decisive 19, 20 match to "unseeded and unsung" Eddie Pinner, who upset Schmidt as well.
With the onset of the new season, the Hazis wasted no time--immediately started Touring. First, with Barna and U.S. Women’s Champ Emily Fuller, in the Northeast--beginning at Hartford, Sept. 26 and ending at Philadelphia Oct. 13. Topics reported some unusual dramatics at their final "City of Brotherly Love" engagement:
"BARNA BEATEN, BELLIS BOOED
The first defeat met by 5-times world champion Victor Barna in America, in 5 years of playing here, was administered to him in Philadelphia by Izzy Bellis, U.S. No. 3 player, on Friday, Oct. 13, in what was supposed to be an exhibition. After the first game it developed into a dog-eat-dog battle, in which the famed Barna flick finally succumbed to the poisonous Bellis chop, 2-1. Barna’s Hungarian compatriot, Tibor Hazi, thereupon challenged the Philadelphia star, and his attack likewise was muted, 2-1, after he had held impressive leads. However, Bellis’ double victory was Pyrrhic, as his own home town’s fans applauded the sensational hard-hitting game of Hazi and booed Bellis for his monotonous defensive play. They even hurled a shower of programs into the arena---just like baseball fans---to indicate their disgust with ‘chiseling’ tactics. The finale, a marvelous exhibition by Barna and Hazi, was what the cash customers wanted."
Bellis later defended his "defensive tactics," said he didn’t know the matches were supposed to be exhibitions, and therefore he played to win. But this defense was greeted with much scepticism.
Following this Tour, "the dashing couple" immediately hurried out to the Midwest --to Kansas City, Omaha, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Toledo--where they’d stay "about a week in each city to play exhibitions and give lessons." Sixty years later, Tibor would still remember the windy, mid-fall exhibition match he’d played in Omaha at a half-time college football game.
Afterwards, back East and competing in the Dec.9 Pennsylvania Open, Tibor (on just getting by Charlie Schmidt 19 in the 5th) got slapped in the face, turned red, when leading Pinner in the final, 19-18 in the 5th, he served three times and watched three times as Eddie blasted in winning returns. Magda, meanwhile, won a close 24-22 in the 4th Women’s final to again top Brewer.
At the Feb. 3-4, 1940 Reading, PA Eastern’s, in the quarter’s, Tibor, down 2-0, lost 18 in the 5th to Schiff. However, he took the Men’s Doubles, with Ham Canning, Pennsylvania #1 for the season, and the Mixed, with Magda, who won the Women’s over New Rochelle, N.Y.’s Mae Spannaus.
A month later, the peripatetic twosome were up in Rochester, N.Y. for the Northeastern’s. Magda again won the Women’s over Brewer, and, with Tibor, the Mixed over Schiff and Brewer, 19 in the 5th.
Cincinnati was their next stop--and if it wasn’t surprising that Tibor outlasted his pal Bellak to win the Men’s, it was surprising that Magda (21, -20, 21, 6) defeated Sally Green, for the following week Sally would become the U.S. Champion.
At this Apr. 5-7, 1940 Indianapolis U.S. Open, Tibor suffered another disappointing 5-game loss to Schiff. And Magda, too, had to be down after her quarter’s loss, for 1938 U.S. World Team member Mildred Wilkinson clearly outplayed her. But the Hazis, having braved out a -12, -8, 19, 19, 16 quarter’s win over Bellak and Reba Monness, did go on to win the Mixed, and, though they weren’t eligible for any U.S. ranking, this current U.S. title had to add to their Exhibition stature.
Providence also favored them at the May 1 R.I. Southern New England Open, where Tibor won the Men’s over Johnny Abrahams and Magda the Women’s over local star Priscilla Woodbury.
Perhaps the biggest win of their lives, however, occurred in the winter of 1940-41 when Topics reported that..."Through the efforts of Dr. Harold Dudley, Secretary to Hon. James J. Davis, Senator from Pennsylvania, a ["private"] bill was recently passed by Congress admitting Tibor and Magda Gal Hazi as [U.S.] citizens." This bill wouldn’t be formally approved (and signed by President Roosevelt) until Nov., 1941. But on Jan. 14, 1941, the Hazis "met with a number of Senators and other officials in the rotunda of the Capital," publicly affirmed their wish to be citizens, then were feted at the Shoreham Hotel at a dinner attended by Senator Davis, Dr. Dudley, and USTTA and DCTTA officials, among them USTTA Treasurer Morris Bassford.
Along the way to citizenship, Tibor remembers he was once given a hard time. A Texas Congressman apparently found it very Un-American that Hazi had brothers who were officers in the Hungarian Army. He began grilling Tibor with repulsive questions--asked, for example, "If the U.S. asked you to serve and you fought the Hungarians, would you kill your brother?" Tibor’s response was blunt, "I’d be happy to serve, but I wouldn’t kill my brother."
The Hazis were helped in part because Carl Zeisberg, former USTTA President, introduced them to Washington, D.C. table tennis official, Lt. Col. George Foster, who worked in the Assistant Secretary of War’s Office (Foster urged the Hazis to move to Washington), and also because they drew the attention of President Roosevelt’s (1941-45) Vice President, Henry Wallace. Wallace had visited Hungary as a young man, had always enjoyed playing table tennis, and would soon become a friend of Tibor’s.
Buoyed of course by the attention shown them in Washington, and feeling free from all the immigration insecurity that had weighed heavily on them, the Hazis must have floated up to New York on a great wave of relief. There, at the Jan. 16-17 Metro Open, played in the Western Union Gym, Pinner beat Tibor in the semi’s, and Reba Monness rallied to defeat Magda in the final. However, Hazi and Schiff did prevail in 5 to win the Doubles from Pinner and Sussman.
At the Feb.1-2 Washington, D.C. Eastern’s, Magda again faltered and, after leading 2-0, was upset by Woodbury in 5 in the semi’s. Tibor also fell in the semi’s--to the increasingly invincible Pagliaro. He and Magda won the Mixed, but, partnered with Schiff, he lost the close Doubles match they were of course expecting from Pinter/Sussman.
The Hazis had to have had mixed feelings about their showing at the Apr. 2-4 New York City National’s. In the Singles, Tibor, seeded 6th, defeated Grimes in the quarter’s in 4. Then, after leading #3 seed Billy Holzrichter in the semi’s 2-0 and getting -7, -11 annihilated in the 3rd and 4th games, he recovered to win in 5. Which put him into the final against Defending Champion Pagliaro--Tibor’s second U.S. Open final in three years. But though he forced the match into the 5th, he lost it at 18. Hazi pummeled away at Paggy’s backhand corner, but Louie took the offense too and caught Tibor "with perfectly executed drop shots." "Pagliaro always had such good self-control," Tibor said.
In the Men’s Doubles at last year’s National’s, Hazi and Bellak had lost in the second round--this time they were knocked out in the quarter’s by Chicago’s Holzrichter and Bob Anderson, 19 in the 5th. Perhaps knowing one another’s faults as well as virtues, Tibor or Laci, or both, were prone to be a mite critical, and this negativity, however slight, made a difference?
Over in the Women’s Singles, Magda, seeded 5th, was beaten three straight in the semi’s by Helen Germaine, seeded 8th. Back in 1934 Germaine had been runner-up in the first USTTA National’s even though as the National Public Park Women’s Tennis Champion she always considered tennis her first love. Since at these ‘41 N.Y. National’s, Helen had gone through Woodbury and #4 seed Mae Clouther in straight games, Magda’s loss wasn’t a bad or perhaps even an unexpected one. What was most disappointing to her had to be the relinquishment of her U.S. Open Mixed Doubles title. This year Bellak and Monness, out to avenge their 1940 loss to Tibor and Magda, beat them in 5 in the final. One analyst inferred that it was Reba’s hard drives rather than Magda’s safe placements that made the difference.
Oh well. Post-tournament gossip had the Hazis "at 3 A.M." mixing with other players at the Hotel New Yorker cocktail bar either drowning their sorrows or, more likely by then, congratulating themselves that at least they’d put up stiff resistance in two finals.
For 1940-41 Tibor was ranked U.S. #4, Magda U.S. #5. But then we don’t hear anything of the Hazis in Topics--which probably means they were off Touring--until we read that Tibor posted a 12-4 record as part of New York’s winning Intercity Team Christmas weekend at Chicago.
After that, the Hazis established Washington, D.C. as their home, and Tibor became Manager of the Columbia Courts. Wasting no time, he and Magda began giving exhibitions --at high schools, universities, a Boys’ Club, the National Press Club--before "well over 30,000" people in just the first month after their arrival. As the Mar. 14-15 Eastern’s would be held at Tibor’s Columbia Courts, his picture graced the cover of the Mar., ‘42 Topics. This photo, one of the best ever taken of him, shows him about to serve, illegally, fingers clawing the ball as he readies to throw it into his racket.
At these Eastern’s Tibor of course had responsibilities--though he had support with B.R. English as Tournament Chairman (that would be Beryl English, owner of the Columbia Courts) and Lt. Col. Foster as Referee. And considering, too, the pressure on him to maintain his star status that he might the more encourage new players to come to his club, he did well. Beat Pinner in 5 before losing to Pagliaro in the final. Then he teamed with Eddie (since Sussman wasn’t available) to win the Doubles over Paggy and Miles. Although the Hazis lost the Mixed Doubles final in 5 to Lowry and Clouther, Magda won the Women’s, beat Mae in a sensational 26-24-in-the-5th final.
When Vice President Wallace found out that Hazi had moved to Washington, he asked him to come for a visit. "Don’t stay for more than 15 minutes," Tibor was advised. But he and Wallace hit it off so well that Tibor stayed 2 and a 1/2 hours. Afterwards Tibor saw him two or three times a week, occasionally had dinner at his home. ("The Vice-President’s wife washed dishes," he said, "I was amazed--I dried.") Hazi and Wallace played tennis together, and Wallace even came to Tibor’s Columbia Courts ("Never asked for a favor")--and the hype was that the V.P. would play in the Veterans at the next Hazi-run Eastern’s.
At the Apr. 10-12 Detroit National’s, Tibor went down in the eighth’s in straight games to last season’s U.S. #20 Chuck Burns (formerly Bernstein), who surprisingly reached the final, upsetting McClure, and then Pinner, before losing to Pagliaro. Tibor, paired with Lowry, also lost in the semi’s of the Doubles--to Paggy and the unorthodox but effective former Parker Brothers’ APPA Champion, Jimmy Jacobson, who’d later become the owner of Pocket Books, Inc.
Magda didn’t play in these National’s--abruptly retired from competitive play. She was what her husband wanted in a wife: "the cosmopolitan woman who knows how to maintain her poise both in the home and out in the world." Tibor himself became an accountant for the Charles H. Tompkins Co., builders, by day, and continued managing his Columbia Courts by night.
As we’ll see in Part Two, he’ll play competitively for another 30 years.
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