As Juergen Hasenkopf picked up his heavy bag from the car boot, Bur Dubai’s streets were bursting with life in the middle of the night. In his trademark sweatshirt and shorts, and without an ounce of fat on him, the 73-year-old began walking at the speed of an Olympic race walker. “Oh, don’t worry, it’s only a few minutes walk to my hotel,” Hasenkopf affirmed when I asked him if he needed a ride to his hotel at Al Fahidi.

Hasenkopf loves walking. He effortlessly climbs the stairs at the world’s most iconic tennis stadiums while carrying his heavy camera lens and tripod, the beating heart of his life as a globe-trotting sports photographer. It's a journey that started in 1968, 18 years after his birth in a nondescript German town near Dusseldorf, when an apprenticeship under a German photographer inspired him to board a ship to Australia.

“When I was learning the craft from the German photographer, I saw on his walls the black and white photos of Australia that he had taken. He travelled through Australia a lot. Those pictures fascinated me; so I thought that’s where I must go to escape the boredom of my home town,” he said.

He landed in Australia after a six-week-long voyage only to discover that life was not a bed of roses in a new country. “It was rough, I was on my own and they put me in a camp with other migrants,” he recalled. But the teenager battled the vagaries heroically, and worked in factories and a darkroom in the forensic department of Melbourne Police before earning a chance to become a sports photographer.

He made his debut as a Grand Slam-covering photojournalist at the 1973 Australian Open and hasn’t looked back since. In these five decades, Hasenkopf has rarely missed any of the four Grand Slams and he has covered every edition of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships since 1994.

Now, Hasenkopf has a digital database of exclusive and priceless pictures of iconic tennis players. But what is even more remarkable is his zeal to continue travelling in his 70s, carrying all the heavy equipment to take tennis pictures. “Oh, I can do this for another 10 years, not a problem,” he smiled before revealing the secret of his longevity.

“I walk a lot, I am the Mahatma Gandhi of Munich. Like Gandhi did the Salt March, I can walk everywhere. I also do yoga. The first yoga retreat I did was in 2010 at Varkala Beach in Kerala (India). I had a fantastic two weeks of yoga. I felt like a new person. So I keep going to India every year.”

Old is gold

For a man who has covered every epic battle featuring Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, it’s the laidback stars from the previous eras that make him smile. “I once took a picture of all the ATP players that were here at the Dubai Tennis. In one photo, I had Boris Becker, Tim Henman, Goran Ivanisevic, Richard Krajicek. In those days, there were great opportunities for photographers to take pictures of the players. Now it’s very tough, the rules are very strict,” he said. “But back in the day, you just approach the players and do an outdoor photoshoot if the player agrees. I remember doing a photo session once with Nicolas Kiefer (a former world number four from Germany) and his then-girlfriend at the Gold Souq (in Dubai). We had an amazing time. It was so easy to approach players those days.”

‘Becker knows me’

Hasenkopf has not only built a digital library of exclusive images, he also has stories that can make tennis aficionados drool. He saw John McEnroe implode several times from the courtside and he had a ‘I was there’ moment when the volatile American was famously disqualified from the 1990 Australian Open for an expletive-ridden rant at match officials. Being a German, Hasenkopf also had the pleasure of Boris Becker’s acquaintance. “I once got his pictures with his then-girlfriend, Barbara, by the poolside, those pictures were exclusives. I sent them to a German agency by courier, and the money was great,” he smiled.

“When Becker was at his peak, the tennis business was great in Germany. Everyone wanted to be involved in tennis, everyone wanted a piece of the cake. I have done things with him, he knows me, but I don’t try to be friends with people like him because I am a professional. It’s a job for me.”

An angry icon in New York

But the passion for his job also landed him in trouble sometimes. He remembered how once his presence in New York brought the worst out in Steffi Graf. “I was once asked to go to Long Island (New York) by Bunte magazine. She was practising there before the US Open, so I went to the place. I knew I wouldn’t get anything there, but I went, anyway. When her mother saw us, she said, ‘Steffi won’t talk to the German press’. We could see her playing in the background,” he said.

“And then after the US Open started, a German reporter and I went to the China Town to do some shopping and I knew where her penthouse was in New York. So we just took a walk, carrying our shopping bags and we saw some people coming out (of the penthouse), it was her brother and her then-boyfriend, the racing driver (Michael Bartels).

“And all hell broke loose when Steffi came out and saw us. She started screaming at us. I was like ‘What’s wrong with you? We are just here, we don’t have cameras'.She was having some trouble with her father during that time, and she was always worried that journalists would ask her about her personal life. Many of them did actually.

And she spoke about us later at the US Open press conference, that the German press was hounding her. I thought that was rubbish, we just walked past her house with shopping bags in our hands!”

Allure of travelling

Long after Becker and Graff rode into the sunset, Hasenkopf continues his march towards iconic stadiums for compelling tennis pictures. But tennis is not the only reason he travels around the world. “Now I am based in Munich, but every January I travel to Australia for the Australian Open, it’s a country that warms me up for the year,” he said. “Then I come to Dubai in February. I live in Bur Dubai. I love that place, I enjoy the hustle and bustle of the place. It gets me into the mood for India.”

There are no elite tennis tournaments in India, but he loves to visit the country every year. “It’s one of my favourite countries as a traveller. I also do travel photography, and India is a great place for that because it has everything, the scenery, culture, and people, there is never a dull moment. You are always on the edge,” he said.

“Then one year I came early (to Dubai) and did a trip to Iran. I travelled from Tehran to Tabriz (in the north) and back again. I loved the cities, Isfahan, Yazd and Shiraz. Fantastic country and fantastic people.”

It seems this septuagenarian will never get tired of travelling and walking in crowded streets. “I had a flair for travelling even when I was a small kid,” he said. “When other kids used to cry on a trip, I always looked forward to them. I always loved travelling. It's something I can never stop."

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