After recently dropping out of the French Open in the second round with an injured hip, a devastated Ashleigh Barty insisted on staying sanguine: “There will be a silver lining in this eventually. Once I find out what that is, it will make me feel a little bit better. But it will be there, I’m sure.”
Five weeks later, that silver lining has materialised. It was 1980 when the last Australian woman walked onto Wimbledon’s Centre Court to compete for the highest honour. Evonne Goolagong Cawley won that year, her second victory at Wimbledon after first triumphing as a 19-year-old in 1971.
Ashleigh Barty after her semi-finals victory over Angelique Kerber this week. Credit:Getty Images
It’s a fact well known by Barty, who has been mentored by Goolagong Cawley since she was a young teenager. “I think for her to be able to share knowledge with me from such a young age was incredible,” Barty said last month in Paris. In a sartorial nod to her mentor’s legacy, she chose to re-create elements of the outfit worn by Goolagong Cawley during that first Wimbledon win. Look out for the laser-cut flowers and scalloped hemline on Barty’s skirt.
But it is more than a love of tennis and style elements that they share; both proudly celebrate their Indigenous heritage. While Goolagong Cawley grew up in the small NSW town of Barellen in fear of being forcibly removed from her family by the government, Barty learnt of her Indigenous links as a teenager. Her great-grandmother, on her father’s side, was a member of the Ngaragu people from southern NSW and north-eastern Victoria.
Barty’s tennis story began in the Queensland town of Ipswich, when she found an old wooden racquet in the shed and started whacking a ball against a brick wall at home. “I used to hit the ball against that wall every day after school, for hours on end,” she once said. “It used to do Mum and Dad’s heads in.” We assume all is forgiven.
From those humble beginnings, Barty has now twice held the world No. 1 title, the latest stint beginning in September 2019 (although rankings were frozen for nearly five months last year because of COVID-19). She is best known for what’s called a complete “all court” game, with her trademark serve and volley, single slice backhand and kick-serve, which were instilled into Barty by her junior coach Jim Joyce.
It’s also her determination and focus that has made her stand out. She met Joyce aged four: “The first ball I threw to her, bang!” he said. “She hit it right back. The whole time I was talking to the other kids, twice her age, she was just staring at me. She never took her eyes off me once.”
All eyes will now be on her, as she takes on eighth-seeded Czech Karolina Pliskova for the Wimbledon title. She will go in as favourite, having a 5-2 win/loss record over her opponent. This would be her most significant victory (her only grand slam victory so far is the French Open in 2019), so nerves and the pressure of the big arena are sure to play a role.
In a welcome change, that arena will be at full capacity. Wimbledon’s Centre Court holds about 15,000 spectators, each of whom must give proof of their COVID-19 status, showing they have been vaccinated, have a negative test result or an antibody certificate. It will be a wonderful glimpse of a future world relatively free of COVID-19.
The occasion will also hopefully be a glimpse of the world No. 1 at her best. It would be a memorable tribute to the 50th anniversary of Goolagong Cawley’s first Wimbledon win to have Barty hold aloft what is known as the Venus Rosewater Dish. And then the Barty party can begin.
Gay Alcorn sends an exclusive newsletter to subscribers each week. Sign up to receive her Note from the Editor.
Most Viewed in Sport
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article