Adult Spotlight — Lester Cook
Give Lester Cook a choice, and there aren’t too many places he would have rather spent his 31st birthday than where he did recently.
The former ATP World Tour pro and Texas A&M star originally from Calabasas, Cook was busy working, grinding out a tough three-set match against current USC player Connor Farren in the quarterfinals of the Men’s Open Singles on a Friday at The Ojai.
Ojai at the end of April is a special place for many, including Cook, who has been a mainstay in the Open divisions winning three Open singles titles and reaching the final four other times since 2005.
“We love going up there and seeing all the same faces,” said Cook, whose parents joined him, as well as wife Katie and infant daughter Marley. “We’ve been vacationing there a lot the past few years and have even talked about moving up there someday. It’s just a special place.”
Cook has been retired from the ATP Tour for more than three years now, but has been staying in shape coaching several UCLA players, as well as working on staff for the past year and a half at the Malibu Racquet Club.
“You want to have some fun but it’s also a real competition,” Cook said. “I always think I’m going up there for a nice relaxing weekend and I end up killing my body and pushing myself.”
He continued: “Before the tournament I always tell my wife I really need to prepare because I don’t feel like I did last year. And then this year I get caught up in coaching and I don’t prepare. Then I get on the court and I tell myself to relax and take it easy and something takes over and I can’t take it easy and I just go full bore. But I just get through it and I pay for it afterward. I’m in pain now but it’s totally worth it.”
Cook fell in the final to top-seeded Philip Bester in straight sets.
Cook said he woke up Sunday morning with the gratifying feeling of playing on another final day at Ojai. He was asked if he was surprised by his play.
“I never expect any result,” he said. “I go in with no expectations and I compete hard and have fun. And so I was surprised to be there on Sunday. I wasn’t shocked but I had no expectations.”
He did catch a glance at his infant daughter, experience the first of many Ojai trips.
Now the $2,600 runner-up singles prize money will come in handy, perhaps for a new pair of booties for the baby. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about (the money),” said Cook, who also cashed a check in doubles making the semifinals with Michael Lane. “I mean, there is a point or two during the match that can mean the difference between $1,000. Once I get onto the court you just have to have the best game plan to beat the guy you’re playing and try to block it out as much as possible.”
He added: “But you can’t think about it because you put too much pressure on yourself.
I didn’t feel extra stress because of the baby. They are there supporting me and they will love me win or lose.”
Cook has no regrets of his professional touring career. “When I retired I thought I was really old, but I realized I was only 27,” he said. “I didn’t hold back at all and I gave it everything I had. I felt like my body let me down and I couldn’t keep it going near the end.”
Cook said that playing all the Grand Slams was the highlight. “They’re all amazing. There’s nothing to describe the feeling in playing in one. You just get treated so well and the fans are so great. Getting to play Wimbledon for the first time stands out. That was the epitome.”
Cook knows he’ll stay in tennis, and said a head college coaching job would be the dream, although he would like to remain in Southern California.
As for futures Ojai tournaments, Cook sees no reason to stop now.
“If I’m still making the finals I got to keep going back,” he said.