At just 12 years of age Jade Hopper was making history both on and off the tennis court as Australia fell in love with the gutsy blonde poppet who seemed wise beyond her years.
A tennis prodigy alongside sister Skye in the early 2000s, Jade shot to instant fame after she appeared as the youngest ever person to be profiled on the ABC’s Australian Story.
The daughter of famed coach Gavin Hopper – who at the time counted Pat Cash and Mark Phillipoussis in his high-powered stable – Jade seemed destined for greatness as her junior ranking rocketed and apparel giant FILA signed her to a two-year deal – making her the youngest player to ever do so.
Prodigy: A young Jade Hopper, pictured with Aussie tennis legend Pat Cash, was destined for greatness
Now 30, she has hung up her racquet and is a partner in a prestigious law firm
Disgraced dad: Gavin Hopper was sentenced to almost three years in prison
But in 2004 it all came unstuck after her father was found guilty of three counts of indecent assault and six counts of gross indecency after a former student claimed they had a relationship when she was only 14.
Hopper, who was a high school P.E teacher at Melbourne’s Wesley College during the late 80s, was 29 at the time of the offence.
The victim, who was 33 when the case was finally heard, told the court they had sex about 300 times over four years at their homes, at school and in hotels.
Hopper sought her out, initially flirting and being “overly friendly” after volunteering to partner her during tennis lessons.
Aged 48 at the time of his conviction, Hopper was ultimately sentenced to 3 ½ years’ jail but served just the minimum of two years and three months.
For young Jade, it was a seismic blow to both her life and her tennis career and set in motion a tumultuous few years as she tried to deal with the fallout and also continue her tennis career without her coach and father.
Tenacious: Jade Hopper was known as being a gusty doubles contender before quitting tennis in 2010
Jade Hopper seen shortly before her retirement from tennis
‘I was spat on by people in the street,’ Jade now tells Daily Mail Australia exclusively from her newly adopted base in Melbourne.
‘So it’s fair to say it wasn’t all sunshine. And I definitely remember being a teenager… it was just just awful because, you know, when you’re travelling by yourself on a tennis tour, you’re, you know, you don’t have these people, your support network around you all of the time.
‘You’re kind of alone and exposed. So there’s definitely those memories, and it was not always been pleasant.
‘And I definitely avoided certain people or situations because of it very, very early on.’
Despite losing her coach and father at a crucial point in her career, Jade vowed to continue playing and, with the help of family friends, remained on the professional circuit for several more years.
But reaching age 20 and with her tennis career not quite reaching the global heights of a top-ten player, Jade then made a bold decision – she quit the tour to return to Australia where she set her sights on a career in law.
‘I was spat on by people in the street’: Jade said life after her dad’s conviction was difficult
Now 31, Jade Hopper has begun a new chapter of life as a partner in a law firm in Melbourne
Using all of the resolve she honed on the tennis court, Jade achieved the remarkable feat of completing both a law degree and a Masters degree and ultimately landed a spot at a major Melbourne firm Lorraine Jones and Associates.
Now, aged 30, she is a partner in the business which specialises in family law and, fittingly, sports law.
It is a remarkable turnaround for the former child tennis star who pulled the rare feat of proving there was life after a stint as a child tennis prodigy as well as the major public humiliation of her father’s high-profile case.
‘I look back and think that it could have all been so different because of course, being so young and being successful and then dad going to prison and then (me) not achieving success and also just being a teenager in general,” Jade said.
‘It was all really tough and could have easily gone another way.
‘But I really attribute any success I have had to my parents.
‘They are amazing support and amazing guidance. To this day, I still call them for every conference and every decision that I make in my life, and there are great guiding lights.’
Jade remains close with her father and describes herself as ‘extremely’ close with her mother Karen – who stood by Gavin throughout his trial and beyond – and who now resides in Queensland.
New start: Jade (right) with sister Skye and mum Karen are ‘closer than ever’ after high-profile case
Karen Hopper remains loyal to Gavin Hopper today and devoted to daughter Jade
All grown up: The one-time tennis prodigy is now an accomplished lawyer and legal firm partner
Jade stepped off the professional circuit when she was just 20
The shadow of her dad’s case has also started to recede.
‘If and when anybody ever recognises myself or they know of my family, it’s almost always handled in a positive light,’ she said.
‘Most of the time, it’s something along the lines of, ‘Oh you’re the little girl that was on TV playing tennis’.
‘Or, ‘oh isn’t your father Gavin Hopper? I remember him coaching’.’
‘So I’m fortunate now that it’s never really in a negative connotation. And I hope that has to do with my attitude.
‘I don’t shy away from anything that’s happened in the past. I’m very much like, ‘Yeah, you know, Gavin Hopper is my father and everything’ which it is.
‘And, you know, we’ve all moved on … but also accepted that this is part of our history and there’s no reason, you know, denying it or shying away from from anything that’s happened.’