Dubai: At first sight, Ashley Cooper looked like someone who was always in a hurry.
That was the first impression — and mind you, first impressions do linger — I got when a bunch of journalists were introduced to him and another legend Rod Laver, on the sidelines of the China Open in Beijing a decade ago.
Here was this sprightly man, at best having the looks of someone who’s just about crossing his 60s. The smile was wry, but the charm wasn’t. “How do you do, mate?” was followed by a firm handshake as we settled in for a Q&A session with two of the biggest tennis legends of all time.
The session was meant to last 20 minutes, but went way over time as both gentlemen recounted tales and episodes from their playing days, even as the few who were present debated whether this should have been a ‘bigger session’ reaching out to a wider audience.
“I have no doubt that at the same time tomorrow, there will be many more who will have listened to all that we are saying now,” Cooper chipped in with a smile that brought some of his wrinkles into a facial dimple.
But that was Cooper. He lived a life that had hurry written all over. In a brief, three-year span, a true serve-and-volleyer, Cooper managed to jam what today would feel like the equivalent of three decades of a productive career.
Melbourne-born, but raised in Queensland, he was known to be an attacking player with smooth ground strokes and a certain uncanny poise at the net — not something that would be all that familiar among a majority of the modern-day players.
The 5ft 10ins Cooper, a disciple of coach Harry Hopman’s endless array of great Australian players in the 1950s, he played in an impressive 13 major finals, winning four singles and four doubles titles while rising to World No. 1 in 1957 and 1958.
In the same year, Cooper won the Australian, Wimbledon, and US Open in 1958, becoming one of only eleven men in tennis history to achieve that feat.
In 1958, his only loss in the Grand Slams came in the semi-finals of the French Open. He won back-to-back Australian Open titles in 1957 and 1958, while featuring in Australia’s Davis Cup team in both years.
In 1957, the Aussies beat the US 3-2 and the following the year, the Americans reversed the result. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1991, and five years later, he got a similar honour of being in the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame.
After a back injury ended his professional career in 1959, Cooper returned to Brisbane to run a business and work as an administrator in the sport.
In the Queen’s Birthday Honours List of 2007, Cooper was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his service to the game.
Cooper died on Friday, and leading the tributes was Australian tennis great and close friend, Rod Laver. “Ashley was also the most humble of champions and a great family man. He was a wonderful champion, on and off the court. And what a backhand! So many cherished memories,” Laver wrote.
“Farewell my friend,” he added.