At first triumph followed triumph, with the 1966 U.S. Championships at Forest Hills as one of the highlights. There he beat Tony Roche and won the first two sets against John Newcombe before losing in the quarter-final. In 1967 he was less successful, and by the end of that year he considered quitting.
"But I love the challenge of tennis, so I continued," he explained. He did not improve noticeably until the Caribe Hilton tournament in Puerto Rico in early April, where wins against Jim McManus and Allen Fox gave him the title.
Arriving at Bournemouth with confidence rising, Cox saw that he was scheduled to play Pancho Gonzalez in the second round. Uncertainty about the implications of playing for hefty cash prizes instead of for ILTF-specified expenses had led countless friends to advise Cox to accept the $120 legitimate expenses assured by his nomination for the official British team competing in Bournemouth. Now, seeing his name against Gonzalez', he felt this was doubly good insurance. "Never having seen him play except on television, I did not know what to expect," Cox explained thoughtfully. "I was very impressed when I watched him win his first round, and when we began our match I was very conscious I was playing the great Gonzalez."
"At the start I tried to do too much, which is always the case when you are playing someone who you think is vastly superior to yourself. When he took the first set at love, I felt humiliated and thought I was in for a 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 whitewashing. Then I hit a few shots in, he began to make errors and he grew less and less sharp as the match wore on. I was aware he wasn't very fit, but his shots are so perfect, so beautifully produced, I didn't think I would win until he hit the last ball out."
Ironically, Gonzalez had talked, 24 hours earlier, of the inevitability of an amateur beating a professional sooner or later. "It had to happen to someone so it might as well be me," he now philosophized. "This fellow played really well."
Rod Laver, who lost to Ken Rosewall in the finals, said at the start of the week, "It's great to be back in the great tennis centers, but I think it unfortunate we haven't got a better draw of amateurs." Laver was so sure that Cox's win over Gonzalez was a fluke he didn't even bother to see Cox play Roy Emerson the next day. So he missed the tennis treat that thrilled a capacity 3,500 center-court crowd and countless millions on the television network.
Except for a spell in the third set, Emerson was never in the match. "I didn't know what was happening," Emerson said dejectedly. "He looked as if he had so much time and confidence he could have had a cup of tea and still had time to reach the ball and hit winners."
Cox remained cautious, saying, "I still don't know if I am in their league. The professionals are playing under so much pressure they must feel they have lead weights on their legs." His caution proved warranted the next day when Laver, concentrating fiercely from start to finish, ended Cox's days of glory, beating him 6-4, 6-1, 6-0. "He is a great player," Cox said admiringly. "It just shows how much I must learn if I am going to be able to compete in these standards."
Typically, Cox had not wasted any time. As they left the court he asked Laver what he might do next to improve and listened attentively to the 10-minute lecture that followed. Cox's prowess cost the professionals $600 in singles prizes, an amount promoter George MacCall will have to make good. "I usually sleep on the 10-hour air journey from Los Angeles to London," MacCall said on arrival in Bournemouth. "But when I read of Cox's win over Emerson just before boarding, I couldn't rest at all wondering what he might do to the others. But he has put tennis on the front pages of newspapers all over the world, and that's just great for open tennis."