With Wimbledon Win, Ashleigh Barty Continues Mentor’s Work

With Wimbledon Win, Ashleigh Barty Continues Mentor’s Work
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With Wimbledon Win, Ashleigh Barty Continues Mentor’s Work

With Wimbledon Win, Ashleigh Barty Continues Mentor’s Work

WIMBLEDON, England – Long before Ashleigh Barty became Wimbledon champion, Evonne Goolagong Cawley believed Barty could be a Wimbledon champion.

“I think it’s possible for her,” Goolagong said in a 2017 interview in Australia. “She has a game that can give so many players a hard time.”

At this point Barty was still out of the top 10 and still working to come back after his 17 month hiatus from tennis to play cricket. But Goolagong Cawley, who won the Wimbledon singles title in 1971 and 1980, spoke from experience and also from heart.

Barty is not just a talent. She is a truly modest person: down to earth in a nation that always appreciates and sees herself in that trait. Goolagong Cawley, like so many Australians, finds her accessible, but their connection runs deeper – texting, phone calls, face-to-face conversations, mentoring.

Australia has no shortage of former tennis stars. The sunburnt nation has been one of the dominant forces in the sport since the turn of the 20th century and has produced talents like 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 to Barty the most. His father Robert is one of the Ngarigo people, and Barty has embraced this heritage as well as Goolagong Cawley’s long-standing project to bring tennis and inspiration to indigenous youth.

Their paths converged on Saturday again when Barty won the Wimbledon singles title on the same lawn where Goolagong Cawley first won 50 years ago.

“They are culturally bound, and Ash’s victory connects the generations,” said Billie Jean King, who lost to Goolagong Cawley in the semi-finals in 1971 and was in the Royal Box on Saturday. “It was great that Ashleigh’s dream came true and very special to honor Evonne’s legacy.”

Barty succeeded by fending off Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-3 in the final, overcoming a major hip injury that knocked her out of Roland Garros last month and kept her from playing on grass previously. Wimbledon. She said her team hadn’t told her how long the odds were to recover quickly.

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“They kept a lot of cards close to their chest,” she said. “There weren’t 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 most of the 2020 season due to the pandemic, she came back with full commitment and turned out 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 the first time on clay in Paris, before triumphing at Wimbledon a few weeks later in 1971. Recognizing the full circle of their accomplishments, Barty broke down on the court when asked about his mentor. But his voice was loud and clear when I asked him about Goolagong Cawley later that afternoon.

“Evonne is a very special person in my life,” Barty said. “I think she was iconic in paving the way for Aboriginal youth to believe in their dreams and pursue their dreams. She did exactly that for me too. I think that I can share that with her and share some pretty special victories now with her, being able to create my own path, is really amazing.

Their games have little in common. Women’s tennis has changed dramatically in 50 years, adding power and rhythm and becoming a game dominated by the end lines, even on grass.

Goolagong Cawley, like most of his generation, served and stole consistently, even on second serves. Barty, although he has some of the best volleys on the tour, has not served and flown once this year at Wimbledon. Goolagong Cawley was notoriously light on his feet, but his footwork was quietly compared to Barty’s explosive movement and ability to run around his backhand to rip an open forehand with a big lift. And although Barty hits her backhand with both hands, she and her model have both leaned heavily on a one-handed backhand.

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It’s a shot that was essential in the Goolagong Cawley days, when tennis was played mostly on low rebound grass courts, and Barty has proven that he remains a great weapon on any surface.

The 6-foot-2 Pliskova spent much of the game leaning lower than she would have liked to face the shot, but she made it a game. Barty started the final at full speed, winning the first 14 points and opening four games while Pliskova struggled to move her feet and swing freely. She admitted she was looking back on her 6-0, 6-0 loss to Iga Swiatek in this year’s Italian Open final.

Pliskova was not the only one with such thoughts. There is a special pressure that is created when a major finale starts off so lopsided, a pressure not to spoil the occasion for fans and viewers who watch with high expectations.

“I was thinking about the final in Rome,” Pliskova said. “I thought, ‘No it’s not possible, it can’t happen again. “

She didn’t, which ultimately softened the blow for a woman who remains the untitled, most successful active player in the Grand Slam.

She cried during the awards show, which is rare for Pliskova, who prefers to save her post-game tears for the locker room or hotel room. But the disappointment would surely have been greater if she hadn’t recovered from her shaky beginnings.

Barty, who couldn’t serve the match in the second set, understands the challenge of mental play all too well. After winning the women’s title at age 15, she failed to make it through the fourth round in her first four appearances at Wimbledon. His potential was clear on the grass. Its results were disappointing.

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But with defending champion Simona Halep out of the tournament with a calf injury, Barty received the honor that would have been reserved for Halep, playing the first match in the women’s singles on center court.

Call it a foreshadowing, just like its 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 final victory there, Australia have yet another women’s singles champion at Wimbledon, and it was anything but a coincidence as Barty performed in an outfit inspired by the one the trailblazer wore. in his first championship race at the All England Club. .

It was the tournament Goolagong Cawley cared most about winning, the one the Australians spoke of with special respect due to their multi-level history with England. But it was the tournament Barty, icon of a more multicultural Australia, was also considering, when she closed her eyes and let her imagination run wild.

“For Australians there is such a rich history here,” Barty said. “For tennis players around the world, I feel like Wimbledon is essentially the birthplace of tennis. This is where it all started. This is where so many hopes and dreams were born. .

With the singles trophy in hand and struggling to keep his cool, Barty walked through the clubhouse after his victory. She first exchanged pleasantries with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

The duke noticed that she hadn’t seemed to have nerves.

“Oh no, I did! Barty said.

Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova were waiting nearby. King punched him. Navratilova gave him a message.

“Evonne is very proud,” she said, raising two thumbs.

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