The name Sterling Cooke is probably not one that is familiar to the vast majority of the new generations of tennis players. Only the older members of the national sporting fraternity would have some vivid memory of his participating role.
He was, though, one of the all-time Bahamian tennis greats. There was a time during the early/mid-1980s when he was almost unbeatable. Cooke was the local tennis rage before Roger Smith and Mark Knowles.
He was national champion multiple times and his third consecutive title came against an up-and-coming Mark Knowles. The two engaged in a thrilling first set tie-breaker, won 7-6 (7-4) by Cooke, who went on to clinch the match 7-6(4), 6-3, 3-6 and 6-2.
The contest marked a pivotal point in Bahamian tennis. Cooke was to soon leave the game to concentrate on law studies and Knowles was on the rise, headed toward an elite circle of world doubles players, but on that day back in June, 1986, Cooke demonstrated superb court skills and gave a clear indication of a lasting career at a high level. However, he opted to move away from the game. It was a huge loss for tennis and Bahamian sports generally.
He will forever be considered by some as the player who never really stayed around long enough to maximize his potential, but his contributions while he reigned supreme over local tennis enhanced the national sports brand.
Cooke was one of the true gentlemen of sports. He went about his on-court business sort of nonchalant at times, and did have matches, it was expected, he would have closed out earlier.
His success rate, though, compared favorably with the best of the best in Bahamian tennis, through the years.
During his years at the top, he was as dominant as George Carey in a much earlier era; as consistent as the one who spawned three decades of greatness, Leo Rolle; as tough as the mercurial Ed Archer who preceded Rolle; tenacious like John Antonas who overlapped Rolle’s glittering career; stylish as Smith who represented The Bahamas superbly and later became a noted trainer/mentor in the world of tennis; and fundamental as Knowles, the grand slam doubles winner.
Yes indeed, Sterling Cooke is cemented among the great tennis players in Bahamian history. Despite his star status three decades ago, he was humble and not a big fanfare item, other than when he was making shots down the line, or nifty returns.
At the very least, now, having taken a trip down memory lane with me to focus on Cooke, many will recall his exploits; and still many more will now become knowledgeable of yet another Bahamian sporting icon in the forgotten category.
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