Australian tennis great and four-time grand slam champion Ashley Cooper has died aged 83. Image by AP PHOTO

tennis

Australian tennis great Ashley Cooper dies

2020-05-22 17:34:58

Rod Laver has led the tributes for fellow Australian tennis great Ashley Cooper AO following the former world No.1’s passing after a long battle with illness.

A four-time grand slam singles champion and Davis Cup winner, Cooper died on Friday aged 83.

Competing in Australia’s halcyon days against legends like Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall and Neale Fraser, Cooper won three of the four slams in 1958 – the Australian, Wimbledon and US championships.

He collected two Australian titles, as well as four grand slam doubles crowns.

In 1957, he led Australia’s Davis Cup team that included Mal Anderson and Merv Rose which defeated the United States in the Challenge Round at Kooyong.

The following year the result was reversed and Cooper was so upset by the loss he tried to withdraw from a professional contract he had signed with Jack Kramer because he felt he owed Australia.

His public profile rose even higher when he married Helen Wood, the reigning Miss Australia in 1959. Their wedding attracted more than 3000 spectators, some of whom clambered onto the car trying to get a closer look at the golden couple.

After a back injury cruelly cut short his professional career, Cooper returned to Brisbane where he had a successful business career and then served Tennis Queensland and Tennis Australia as an administrator.

During his tenure, the old Milton courts were demolished and a new tennis centre built on the site of an abandoned power station.

“We just kept working and working and working until we put it together,” Cooper said.

Throughout his life Cooper was honoured for the roles he played, including the Order of Australia.

He was also inducted into the International and Australian Tennis Halls of Fame plus the Queensland Sports Hall of Fame.

A walking bridge giving visitors access to the Queensland Tennis Centre is named in his memory.

“Ashley was a giant of the game both as a brilliant player and an astute administrator and he will be greatly missed,” Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said.

Laver took to Twitter to express his sadness.

“He was a wonderful champion, on and off the court. And what a backhand! So many cherished memories. Farewell my friend. My thoughts are with Ashley’s wife, Helen, and his family,” Laver posted after offering a statement to TA.

“You learn from the top. I am looking at Frank Sedgman and Ken McGregor and Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall and Ashley Cooper and all these guys.

“Neale Fraser, and they ruled the world in tennis, a whole group from the 50s to the 70s I guess and that was something that was part of the whole mould.

“Everybody respected everybody’s ability on the court and gave everybody the chance. If you win, you shake their hand. And if you lose, well then that is what happened.”

Rosewall remembered “Coop” as “a fitness fanatic”.

“He loved to play and do exercises. He had the type of game that was pretty dangerous, very solid in all areas of the game.”

Fraser said: “He knew how to get the best out of it and he was a pain in the arse as far as I am concerned – I lost too many finals to him: Wimbledon, the French, the Australian and US on grass but great fellow to be with.”

Roy Emerson, who held the all-time grand slam singles titles record for 30 years before Pete Sampras finally eclipsed him, recalled the special experience of joining Australia’s Davis Cup squad along with Cooper, Hoad, Rosewall, Fraser and Rex Hartwig under the legendary Harry Hopman.

“We were 17 and chosen as promising juniors,” Emerson said.

“The most important part of my career was making that team and travelling with that group and I learned so much.

“Coop and I played together – both 17 – but every time we went out to play Harry Hopman told us to make sure we played singles, doubles and mixed because you won’t win many matches but you will get experience and that is exactly what we did.

“Ashley came from Melbourne but he was smart enough to marry Miss Australia.”