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A rich tradition renewed: Ash Barty joins gallery of Australian greats to win Wimbledon
“She doesn’t worry at all. She just goes out there and plays,” Rod Laver told TENNIS.com after the world No. 1 defeated Karolina Pliskova in Saturday's final at the All England Club.
Published Jul 10, 2021
MATCH POINT: Barty clinches her second major singles crown
It wasn’t the preferred route, but Ash Barty knew it was necessary. In the end, perhaps for an Australian, the path comparable to Barty’s playing style: logical, flexible, poetically fitting.
In her childhood, Barty watched Wimbledon in the middle of the night, thousands of miles across the globe from the sport’s mecca. Ten years ago, as a teenager, she won the Wimbledon junior title. This March, Barty and her team hit the road. Amid the pandemic, there would be no return trip home until after the US Open. The journey took Team Barty to Miami, Charleston, Stuttgart, Madrid, Rome, Paris, London. And these days, the stress of travel has been compounded by tests, bubbles, and shifting protocols. Said Barty’s coach, Craig Tyzzer, “Look, because we missed all of last year, in the end Ash really missed playing tennis, the competition, that side of it, she really put her head down and said, Okay, if this is what we have to do, this is what we have to do.”
All culminated today at the sport’s mecca, Wimbledon, where Barty became the first Australian woman to win the singles title since her hero and good friend, Evonne Goolagong, beat Chris Evert in the 1980 final. “I think for Australians, there is such a rich history here at Wimbledon,” said Barty. “For tennis players all over the globe, I feel like Wimbledon is where tennis was born essentially. This is where it all started. This is where so many hopes and dreams were kind of born. I think being able to understand that as I played here and played here as a junior, was able to experience that incredible week, and as I've said before, some of my toughest moments have come at Wimbledon. Now some of my most incredible moments have come here as well.”
Shortly after Barty walked off Centre Court, I spoke with two Australian icons, Barty’s fellow Queenslanders, Rod Laver and Roy Emerson. “She’s something special,” said Laver. “She doesn’t worry at all. She just goes out there and plays.” Emerson concurred. “She’s got her head together,” he said. “You see her play and you can’t tell if she’s winning or lose. She just gets on with it and that makes her a tough opponent.”
Fitting also that this year marks the 50th anniversary of Goolagong’s first Wimbledon win, a 1971 run that saw her take out Australian legend Margaret Court in the final. Barty has spoken frequently about Goolagong’s strong impact on her, in everything from her smooth movements and elegant all-court playing style, to the social consciousness that comes with being an indigenous Australian, to sportsmanship of the highest order, to a delicate fashion homage in the form of the scalloped pattern on the dress Barty has worn during the Wimbledon fortnight.
Said Barty, “I think if I could be half the person that Evonne is, I'd be a very, very happy person. I think being able to have a relationship with her and talk with her through my experience, knowing she's only ever a phone call away is really, really cool.”
During their golden era of dominance, back in the ’50s and ‘60s, when the Australians were gobbling up one major title after another, they would purchase one round-the-world ticket, slice it up one leg at a time and be gone from March to October. To “come across” was the term used for heading out from Australia into the ocean and off to foreign lands, equipped in those days with little more than a suitcase, 3-4 frames and, most vital of all, your mates.
Tennis, inherently a lonely sport, was never that way for the Aussies, rough-and-tumble competitors who looked out for one another in the heat of battle, practiced together like gangbusters, and savored many an evening in shared reverie for a life as an athlete and the chance for yet another day of competition and camaraderie. The archives are filled with photos of sun-drenched Australians as they exit an airplane at the dawn of the Jet Age, racquets in tow, smiling alongside one another. “When you’re out there on the road like that, you’re around tennis all the time,” said Laver. “So you better ask yourself: Do you like the game? Do you like to compete? Do you enjoy competition? Let’s hope so.” According to Emerson, “It may have been advantageous for Barty, to have had the chance to just keep competing week after week.”
Barty too has followed the Aussie tradition of treating tennis less as solo grind and more as a collaborative endeavor. Granted, the days of a single piece of luggage are gone. Nor do the Aussies travel with fellow players. But as Barty noted earlier in the tournament, “I have a very large team. I know not everyone is here with me this week. I've got obviously my family at home, I mean, trainers, physios back in Australia. I also have my trainer and physio this week as well as Tyz and Garry. It's nice to be able to share some of these awesome moments with those that put so much time and energy into my career and allow me, encourage me, help me kind of work and figure out a plan and a way that they try and achieve our dreams. I think being able to share that with them is really special.”
Barty now joins one of tennis’ most-layered pantheons, the gallery of Australian greats who have won the world’s most-cherished tennis tournament. Australia is a nation of champions constantly aware of what has come before them, mindful that their singular achievements spring from a communal sensibility and the collective’s demands for tranquility under pressure—nowhere more eloquently than on Centre Court. As the poet T.S. Eliot wrote, “at the still point of the turning world . . Where past and future are gathered.”