Ashley John Cooper, one of the great Australians of Harry Hopman’s production line in the 1950s, was a serve-volleyer, renowned for playing solid tennis and his mental strength. In 1958 he was adjudged the world’s premier player.
As a junior the Victorian worked hard to develop his volley, which had been the weakest part of his game, and his physical conditioning. He possessed a superb backhand return of serve and was considered the smoothest player ever developed in Australia.
Cooper won the 1957 Australian Championships with a 6-3, 9-11, 6-4, 6-2 win over left-handed Neale Fraser before suffering a devastating 6-2, 6-1, 6-2 loss to Lew Hoad in the Wimbledon final. He also lost the US Championships to Malcolm Anderson 10-8, 7-5, 6-4.
Cooper bounced back the following year. Aged 21, the Melbourne-born right-hander won three grass-court majors at the Australian Championships (d. Anderson), Wimbledon (d. Fraser) and the US Championships (d. Anderson). He was also a semi-finalist at Roland Garros, where he lost to Luis Ayala 9-11, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5.
En route to the Wimbledon title, Cooper came up against local hope Bobby Wilson in the quarter-finals. The match stopped at 5-all in the fifth set when Queen Elizabeth II decided to move from Centre Court to watch proceedings on Court One. “The Queen came in, everyone stood up and we bowed,” Cooper recalled. “And then we continued to play and Bobby Wilson was shot to bits; he couldn’t handle it.”
Cooper progressed and in the third all-Australian final in as many years, he triumphed 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 13-11 over Fraser. He yielded seven sets in his seven matches and played a total of 322 games in all. This remains a record for any champion at the All England Club.
In a dominant Australian era, Cooper played in the 1957-58 Challenge Rounds against the United States. He won four major doubles titles, 1957-58 Roland Garros, 1957 US Championships and the 1958 Australian Championships.
Cooper was an Australian Davis Cup player as the team won the cup from '56 and '57, and finalists in '58.
He turned professional on 4 January 1959, joining Jack Kramer’s pros and give Pancho Gonzalez a new contender. He had married Helen Wood, the Miss Australia of 1957, only the week before.
In retirement, Cooper served as a Player Development Administrator with Tennis Queensland and he also sits on the Board of Directors at Tennis Australia. In 1991, Cooper was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. In the 2007 Birthday Honours List of Queen Elizabeth II, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for “service to tennis through a range of organisations that administer and promote the sport, and as a player, coach and mentor to junior players.
Source: James Buddell
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