Ashleigh Barty ‘made me proud the first time I saw her’, says tennis great Evonne Goolagong Cawley
Evonne Goolagong Cawley sent “little sister” Ashleigh Barty a message ahead of the Wimbledon final telling her that “dreams do come true”.
Fifty years after Goolagong Cawley’s first title at the All England Club and wearing an outfit inspired by that victory, Barty defeated Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3 to secure her first Wimbledon trophy.
She was the first Australian woman to hold the Venus Rosewater Dish aloft since Goolagong Cawley did it for a second time 41 years ago.
The impossible dream.
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 10, 2021
The two are very close and Barty became emotional when asked about her mentor during the trophy ceremony, saying: “I hope I made Evonne proud.”
“She certainly did,” said Goolagong Cawley from back home in Australia. “She made me proud from the first time I saw her.
“She must have been about 13 and she was playing at the Australian Open. Roger (Goolagong Cawley’s husband) and I saw one point where she showed all the skills. We both looked at each other and said, ‘She’s got it, she’s going to be our next champion’. Look at her now.”
Watching Barty’s victory brought back memories for Goolagong Cawley, who said of her win 50 years ago: “It didn’t hit me until later on because you actually turn numb, you’re in shock, just as Ash was at the end there.
“We were just so excited. Now I see the other side of my family and how they were when they were watching me win Wimbledon. They were jumping up, crying, screaming – exactly what we were doing. I’m just so very much proud of Ash, the way she handles herself, not just on the court but off the court, too.
“She’s a great Australian, everybody loves her, every time I go out shopping everybody asks me about Ash – ‘How’s Ash going? What’s Ash doing? Isn’t she wonderful?’. Yes she is. Ash to me is like a little sister and part of my family.”
Barty won the junior title at Wimbledon a decade ago but, feeling burnt out, took a lengthy break from tennis while still in her teens.
She won the French Open two years ago but it is only this year, after another year out due to the coronavirus pandemic, that she has felt able to really set out her goals publicly.
“I think, once you start verbalising it, then things happen, dreams do come true,” said Goolagong Cawley.
“That’s one of the last messages I sent to her. I said, ‘Dreams do come true. It came true for me’. I was just so chuffed when she wore that dress. I didn’t know what to say. I did say to her, ‘If it brings you luck, great’, because it brought me luck.”
As well as being champions on the court and national heroes off it, Goolagong Cawley and Barty are both indigenous Australians.
Barty’s triumph came during NAIDOC (National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) Week, where indigenous history and culture is celebrated.
— Cathy Freeman (@CathyFreeman) July 10, 2021
“All the way through I had the feeling that she’s going to win,” said Goolagong Cawley. “This is her time. Somebody up there’s looking down on us I think.
“She’s a very proud Aboriginal woman also, and what a way to celebrate. I know a lot of people are happy for her but I’m sure there’s elders past and present who have got a big smile on their face today during NAIDOC Week.”
Goolagong Cawley has spent the last two decades running programmes for young indigenous people teaching both tennis and wider life skills.
“I remember when I was growing up there were Aboriginal kids that weren’t allowed in clubs, so we’ve come a long way,” she said. “Through our programme we’ve developed a few up-and-coming tennis players and now they have an even greater role model in Ash.”
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