Wimbledon 2021: Ashleigh Barty is an Australian inspiration, following in the footsteps of Evonne Goolagong-Cawley
World No 1 Ashleigh Barty beat Karolina Pliskova in three dramatic sets on Centre Court to become the first Australian women's Wimbledon champion for 41 years
By Paul Prenderville at Wimbledon
Last Updated: 11/07/21 11:04am
Ashleigh Barty paid tribute to Evonne Goolagong-Cawley after completing a fairytale journey from Wimbledon junior champion to Australia's first women's singles title winner at the tournament in 41 years.
Aged 15, Barty claimed the Wimbledon junior crown in 2011 and 10 years later - having starred on the doubles circuit, taken time away from tennis which included a spell playing in Australia's Big Bash League, and returned to win tournaments - she is now firmly established as the world no 1 and a two-time Grand Slam singles champion.
For the girl from Queensland, it's been quite a journey, her latest triumph coming at a time when bubble life on the tennis circuit has had her away from her homeland since March.
After her semi-final victory over former champion Angelique Kerber, Barty had said playing in the Wimbledon final would be a childhood dream, and a three-set victory over Karolina Pliskova on Centre Court gave it the best possible ending.
"It was the most incredible feeling I think I've ever experienced on a tennis court.
"There was certainly disbelief, I've worked so hard my whole career with my team and with people that mean the most to me to try and achieve my goals and my dreams.
"To be able to do that today was incredible.
Ashleigh Barty, Wimbledon Ladies Champion, 2021
Barty has made no secret about the trailblazer she idolised, and she now blazes a trail of her own. Having been inspired by Evonne Goolagong-Cawley throughout her career, she counts the Aussie icon as a friend and mentor. The pair spoke before the tournament and will no doubt speak again during the Barty party already underway Down Under.
The 25-year-old had to compose herself on court when asked about her inspiration, but with more time to gather her thoughts, she paid a fulsome tribute in her press conference.
"Evonne is a very special person in my life," said Barty. "She has been iconic in paving a way for young indigenous youth to believe in their dreams and to chase their dreams. She's done exactly that for me as well.
"Being able to share that with her and share some pretty special victories now with her, and to be able to create my own path, is really incredible, really exciting. She's just been an icon for years and years, not just on the tennis court. Her legacy off the court is incredible.
"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 cool."
The world no 1 now has two singles Grand Slam titles to her name, adding the Wimbledon triumph to her French Open of 2019. In fact, she has three Slams in total having won a 2018 US Open title alongside CoCo Vandeweghe during an impressive doubles career that started in 2013.
That doubles triumph - like most things Barty turns her hand to - is only one part of the story, part of the journey, part of the adventure.
After junior success, a break was in order, due to the toll that playing a globetrotting sport had taken on her mental health and how it had impacted time with her family. Not that Barty could rest - a stint in another sport followed, as she played for the Brisbane Heat in the 2015 Big Bash.
Cricket was a long way from her dreams as a youngster, and as she sat on Saturday evening in front of the world's media - virtually of course - she was a picture of composure.
"I feel like Wimbledon is where tennis was born, essentially. This is where it all started, where so many hopes and dreams were kind of born.
"Being able to understand that as I played here and played here as a junior, I 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. I think it's just an iconic venue. It's an amazing club. To be able to learn so much from this place, I think I'm a very lucky girl."
The last couple of years have established Barty at the top of her sport, but she had made an early impact, with a string of impressive doubles performances.
While Vandeweghe was her partner for her major breakthrough, it was a partnership with Casey Dellacqua which blossomed and laid the groundwork for an all-round game that is both easy on the eye and difficult to play against.
They reached four doubles finals, one in each of the Grand Slams, but lost them all. It was during a hitting session with Dellacqua that Barty's focus turned to singles, where she now has 12 titles and a perfect two from two in Grand Slam finals.
It could have been different this week, though. She was forced to withdraw from the French Open with a hip injury that had put her participation at the All-England Club in doubt. Barty revealed afterwards that it was something of a minor miracle that she played.
"Even chatting to my team now, once we've come off the court, they kept a lot of cards close to their chest and didn't tell me a lot of the odds, didn't tell me a lot of the information that they'd got from other specialists.
"There weren't too many radiologists in Australia who had seen my injury. In a sense, it was a two-month injury. Being able to be able to play here at Wimbledon was nothing short of a miracle.
"Now to be playing pain-free through this event was incredible. It's funny, sometimes the stars align, you can think positively, you can plan, and sometimes the stars do align, you can chase after your dreams."
After her cricket hiatus, two years back in the sport had shown flashes. A 1000 level final in Wuhan in 2017 was followed by a couple of semi-finals at the same tier in 2018. But 2019 was the year something clicked for Barty.
A run to the Australian Open quarter-final was followed by a brilliant triumph in Paris, when she beat Marketa Vondrousova in the final.
Since 2016, when she returned to the sport, Barty has won 12 titles. When she lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish on Saturday afternoon in front of a sell-out Centre Court crowd, it was the next step of not just one, but several journeys.
"To be able to be successful here at Wimbledon, to achieve my biggest dream, has been absolutely incredible,
"The stars aligned for me over the past fortnight. It's incredible that it happened to fall on the 50th anniversary of Evonne's first title here too."
She left Australia in March, quarantine rules meaning she has had to stay away from home to make these last few months work for her as a tennis professional.
Already a national hero, when she does eventually return, she'll do so as a multiple major winner - joining Margaret Court and Goolagong-Cawley in that bracket - and as a hero and inspiration in her own right.
By the time she clinched victory, it was the early hours of Sunday morning back home in Queensland. But thousands of young girls and boys across Australia will now see the highlights and watch her lift the trophy - a childhood dream fulfilled.