WIMBLEDON, England — Long before Ashleigh became Barty Wimbledon champion, Evonne Goolagong Cawley believed that Barty could become Wimbledon champion.
“I think it’s possible for her,” Goolagong said in a 2017 interview in Australia. “She has a game that can make it difficult for so many players.”
At the time, Barty was still outside the top 10 and still working her way back after her 17-month break from tennis to play cricket. But Goolagong Cawley, who won the Wimbledon singles title in 1971 and 1980, spoke from experience and also from the heart.
Barty is not just any talent. She is a genuinely humble person: down to earth in a country that still values and sees itself in that quality. Goolagong Cawley, like so many Australians, finds her recognizable, but their connection runs deeper: text messages, phone calls, face-to-face conversations, mentorship.
Australia has no shortage of former tennis stars. The sun-burnt nation has been one of the dominant forces in the sport since the early 1900s, and has spawned such talents as Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, John Newcombe and Margaret Court.
But Goolagong Cawley, a native Australian with an elegant game, is the former champion whose story spoke most powerfully to Barty. Her father Robert is part of the Ngarigo people, and Barty has embraced that heritage, as well as Goolagong Cawley’s long-running project to bring tennis and inspiration to the indigenous youth.
On Saturday, their paths came together again as Barty won the Wimbledon singles title on the same turf where Goolagong Cawley first won 50 years ago.
“They are connected by culture, and Ash’s victory connects the generations,” said Billie Jean King, who lost to Goolagong Cawley in the semifinals in 1971 and was at the Royal Box on Saturday. “It was great that Ashleigh’s dream came true and extra special to honor Evonne’s legacy.”
Barty managed to hold off Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3 in the final, overcoming a significant hip injury that knocked her out of last month’s French Open and prevented her from entering earlier. play grass. Wimbledon. She said her team had not told her how long the chances of a speedy recovery were.
“They kept a lot of cards close to their chests,” she said. “There weren’t too many radiologists in Australia who had seen my injury. In a way it was a two-month injury, being able to play here at Wimbledon was nothing short of a miracle.”
After missing almost all of the 2020 season due to the pandemic, she has returned with full dedication and has proven to be a true No.1. She now has a second major singles title after winning the French Open in 2019.
Goolagong Cawley also won first on red clay in Paris, before triumphing at Wimbledon a few weeks later in 1971. Barty acknowledged the full circle of their achievements and collapsed on the track when asked about her mentor. But her voice was strong and clear when I asked her about Goolagong Cawley later that afternoon.
“Evonne is a very special person in my life,” Barty said. “I think she has been iconic in paving the way for Indigenous youth to believe in their dreams and pursue their dreams. That’s exactly what she did for me. I think it’s really incredible to be able to share that with her and now be able to share some great special wins with her, to be able to forge my own path.”
Their games have little in common. Women’s tennis has changed dramatically over the past 50 years, adding more power and speed and making it a baseline dominated game, even on grass.
Goolagong Cawley, like most of her generation, served and volleyed regularly, even on the second serve. Barty, despite possessing some of the best volleys on tour, did not serve and volley once at Wimbledon this year. Goolagong Cawley was known for being light-footed, but her footwork was relaxed compared to Barty’s explosive movement and ability to run around her backhand to rip an open stance forehand with heavy topspin. And while Barty hits her two-handed backhand drive, she and her role model have both relied heavily on a one-handed slice backhand.
It’s a shot that was essential in the era of Goolagong Cawley, when tennis was mainly played on low-bounce grass courts, and Barty has proven that it remains a great weapon on any surface.
The 6-foot-2 Pliskova spent much of the game bending less than she would have liked on the shot, but she made a match of it. Barty went into the final full blast, winning the first 14 points and opening four games, while Pliskova struggled to move her feet and swing freely. She admitted she looked back on her 6-0, 6-0 defeat to Iga Swiatek in this year’s Italian Open final.
Pliskova was not the only one with such thoughts. There’s a special kind of pressure that builds when a grand finale starts off in such a lopsided way, a pressure not to spoil the opportunity for fans and viewers watching with great expectations of their own.
“I was thinking about the final in Rome,” said Pliskova. “I thought, ‘No, this can’t happen, this can’t happen again.'”
It didn’t, which ultimately softened the blow for a woman who remains the most successful active player without a Grand Slam title.
She cried during the awards ceremony, which is rare for Pliskova, who prefers to reserve her tears for the locker room or hotel room after the game. But the disappointment would certainly have been greater had she not recovered from her shaky start.
Barty, who was unable to serve out the match in the second set, understands the challenge of the mental game all too well. After winning the girls’ title at the age of 15, she did not get past the fourth round in her first four appearances at Wimbledon. Her potential was evident on grass. Her results were disappointing.
But with reigning champion Simona Halep out of the tournament with a calf injury, Barty got the credit that would have gone to Halep when she played the first women’s singles match at Center Court.
Call it a foreshadowing, as is her connection to Goolagong Cawley.
“I think if I could be half the person that Evonne is, I would be a very, very happy person,” Barty said.
Forty-one years after Goolagong Cawley’s last win there, Australia still has a Wimbledon women’s singles champion, and it felt anything but coincidence when Barty played in an outfit inspired by the one the pioneer wore to her first championship run at the All England Club. .
This was the tournament Goolagong Cawley cared most about winning, the tournament Australians spoke of with particular reverence because of their layered history with England. But this was the tournament Barty, icon of a more multicultural Australia, also envisioned when she closed her eyes and let her imagination run wild.
“For Australians, there is such a rich history here,” said Barty. “For tennis players around the world, I feel like Wimbledon is the place where tennis was essentially born. This is where it all started. This is where so many hopes and dreams were born.”
With the singles trophy in hand and fighting to keep her composure, Barty walked through the clubhouse after her win. First, she exchanged pleasantries with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
The duke remarked that she seemed unnerved.
“Oh no, I have!” said Bart.
Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova were waiting nearby. King punched her. Navratilova gave her a message.
“Evonne is very proud,” she said with two thumbs up.