Tennis comeback of Reynolds’ Cooper went just as planned

Tennis comeback of Reynolds’  Cooper went just as planned
April 30
00:00 2015
(Above: Photo by Craig T. Greenlee- Aaron Cooper has rekindled his passion for the game he learned to play at the age of 5.)

It was four years ago when Aaron Cooper inexplicably quit playing tennis. At the time, he was ranked among the state’s Top 20 junior players in the 12-year-old age group.

Cooper purposely stayed away from the game through his first two years of high school. He filled the void by running cross-country and track.

This year, Cooper, of Reynolds High, made a surprise return to the sport he learned to play as a 5-year old in the Young Folks Tennis Association. By his 10th birthday, Cooper was playing frequently on the U.S. Tennis Association’s junior circuit.

Although he hadn’t played competitively for two-and-half years, Cooper, a junior with a 4.63 weighted grade-point average, made an impact as the No. 4 singles player at Reynolds. He finished 12-0 in singles matches in the Central Piedmont Conference. Aside from that, he emerged as a key figure for the Demons, who won the conference tournament team title and advanced to the regional championships.

“I’m very pleased with Aaron’s progress,” said RJR Coach A.J. Highsmith. “It’s easy to see that he’s falling in love with the sport all over again. Even though he hadn’t played for almost three years, he picked things up very quickly. We’re super blessed. With Aaron on board, we became a better team instantly. Not only is there an excitement to his game, but he’s very well rounded. He has the confidence and the skill to hit a variety of shots. That’s not something you see all that often in high school players.”

Cooper, who likes to put a lot of top-spin on his shots, has a strong backhand, but admits that his forehand needs work. In assessing his overall game, Cooper isn’t satisfied with his serve, which he described as “very good at times and not so good at other times.”

In a one-on-one interview, Cooper talked to Sports Week about his return to tennis.


SW: What’s your comeback season been like?

Cooper: Overall, it’s been good. I’ve had my rusty spots and have gone through some rough patches. But it hasn’t been too much of a handicap for me. I knew I wasn’t going to be like I was when I was 13, when I was hitting all the time. Back then, I was a pretty solid player.

SW: What did you most want to accomplish this spring?

Cooper: I was hoping to take people by surprise. I wanted people to wonder about who I am and where I came from. That’s pretty much the reaction I got from everyone, so things turned out just like I hoped it would. Not too many people at Reynolds knew that I played tennis. When I showed up for try-outs, people thought I was joking. After I hit a few balls, they saw that I was serious.

SW: What caused you to want to play competitive tennis again?

Cooper: When I got that invitation to coach at Young Folks last summer, it got me to thinking about making a comeback. I went out and coached and got that racquet in my hand. From that point on, it was pretty much of a wrap. That same summer, I played against a good friend of mine, Wesley Moses, who tried to convince me two years earlier that I should concentrate on playing tennis instead of being a runner.

When I played against Wesley, I found out that I wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought I’d be. Since I had taken off for two-and-half years, I didn’t think I’d be able to play. As things turned out, I still had the ability to hit all the strokes and play the game. All I needed was some tweaking here and there, some oil for the rust.

SW: Why did you quit playing?

Cooper: When it comes to tennis, one of my weaknesses had been my mentality. I get down on myself pretty easily. If I messed up one time, I would yell at myself and I had a bad habit of slapping my leg really hard and it would leave a mark.

The summer before my eighth-grade year, I wasn’t hitting the ball very well. I would come to practice with the mindset that I would hit awful. That destroyed me. I came home crying after one practice and decided that I didn’t want to have anything to do with tennis any more. For a few months after that I was really relieved that I was no longer playing the game.

SW: Ever think about what it would be like if you hadn’t quit?

Cooper: I think about it a lot. The year before I stopped playing, I was ranked 18th in the state for 12-year-olds. So, I do wonder how much farther along I would be at this point because I’m bigger and stronger and definitely smarter.

SW: If you had it to do all over again, would you change anything?

Cooper: I wouldn’t have taken those two-and-half years off. It’s unfortunate that I let a few bad months mess me up in the head. But that happens. I’m not the first person who has suffered burnout from the sport. Other than that, I did everything the way I should have. I had fun with it and met a lot people. Playing tennis has been a great experience for me.

SW: Looking back on what happened, do you feel you learned any lessons?

Cooper: I learned that I needed to stop being so hard-headed. There were a lot of people who were very skeptical about me quitting. I didn’t want to be wrong, so I just stayed out. If I had just gotten over my pride, and accepted the fact that I was wrong, I believe it would’ve been very helpful. Now I see it. I’m less hard-headed and more open to things. It helped develop my character.

SW: Are you interested in playing college tennis?

Cooper: No, and that’s because college sports requires a lot more commitment. Running high school cross-country and track consumes a lot of time – a lot more than high school tennis. When it comes to college, I think the level of commitment (to play tennis) would be far more than it would be for high school.

I just can’t see myself wanting to stress over school and tennis when the (academic) workload is going to be enough. Plus, I want leave room for other extracurricular activities in college. There are other things I want to experience. I’ve had my time to experience competitive sports.

SW: What keeps you motivated to achieve as an athlete and as a person?

Cooper: I’m naturally self-motivated. I get a lot of that from my father (Sam Cooper), who comes from a family of farmers in Hemingway, South Carolina. Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, he and the family have been through a lot and they’ve seen it all and they’ve persevered. He’s worked very hard for a very long time. One of the things that I really admire about him is that he never lets anything faze him.

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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