Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Sporting Legends - Evonne Goolagong Cawley

Evonne Goolagong was perhaps the most graceful of female Grand Slam champions, as well as one of the most talented, and the fact that this talent was frequently undermined by a tendency to switch off in mid-match only served to endear her even more to tennis fans.

Her transition from the daughter of a sheep shearer to world No.1 tennis player and a winner of seven Grand Slam titles, including two Wimbledons, is one to which even the tag of “fairy tale” hardly does justice.

As 1977 Wimbledon champion Virginia Wade so succinctly put it: “Evonne played with a kind of giddy pleasure. She was not playing foranything. She played because she loved it.”

Goolagong was brought up in the New South Wales town of Barellan, the third of eight children. She was spotted peering through the fence at the local tennis courts and encouraged to come in and try the game. Her potential brought Vic Edwards, the proprietor of a Sydney tennis school, on a 650-mile round trip to Barellan on a tip-, and having seen her play, he sought, and was given, permission from Evonne’s parents Kenny and Melinda to take her to Sydney. He became her legal guardian, installing the 15-year-old at his home and covering the costs of her education and tennis as he undertook what he deemed an “interesting” challenge - “to see how she would go in tennis if properly handled”.

She made her Wimbledon debut at the 1970 Championships, aged 18, and such was the interest that her match against the American Peaches Bartkowicz was scheduled for Centre Court. “I thought it was fine until I got out there,” she said after she had lost.

The following year could not have been more different. Goolagong came back to Europe, won the French Open and then went on to win Wimbledon too, defeating fellow Australian and childhood idol Margaret Court, 6-4, 6-1 in the final.

She was an instant darling of the crowds, not only because of a sunny disposition but because her play was so natural and carefree. That sometimes it was too carefree did not seem to matter - people wanted her to win because they were witnessing spontaneous tennis played by someone who did not have a Plan A, let alone a Plan B.

This inconsistency is starkly set out by Goolagong’s Grand Slam record. She claimed seven singles titles but was runner-up in 11 others. Four times in a row she won the Australian Open (1974-77), but she also lost four finals in succession (1973-76) at the US Open, the only Grand Slam where she never became champion.

At Wimbledon from 1972 to 1976 (the year she was briefly ranked world No.1) she was three times runner-up and once a semi-finalist. On the eve of the 1975 Championships she married the Briton Roger Cawley, a union which caused an immediate fracture with Vic Edwards and which might have been a reason for the enormity of her loss to Billie Jean King in the final, 6-0, 6-1.

After missing out the 1977 season to give birth to a daughter, Kelly, Goolagong’s return to the court climaxed with Wimbledon victory at the age of 29 in 1980, 6-1, 7-6 over Chris Evert. “I had something to prove I guess,” she said. “When I won my first Wimbledon I thought that’s nice. But winning for the second time meant more because I was a lot more professional then.”

A year later her son Morgan was born and she retired in 1983, with an impressive Wimbledon singles record of 49-9. She also won the women’s doubles in 1974 alongside Peggy Michel and made the final of the mixed doubles with Kim Warwick in 1972.

Post Playing Career
Evonne became increasingly involved in Aboriginal issues and a rediscovery of her own extended Wiradjuri clan family prompted the Cawley's to leave their American base in Florida and return to Australia to live.

In 1993, Evonne's autobiography 'Home! The Evonne Goolagong Story' was published and became an immediate best seller.

In 1995/6 she was a board member of the Australian Sports Commission then in July 1997, Evonne signed a contract with the Federal government to become a consultant in the area of indigenous sport and the 'Evonne Goolagong Sports Trust' was formed.

In 1998, Tennis Australia appointed Evonne as a special 'Ambassador' and together they formed the 'Evonne Goolagong Getting Started Programme' to increase overall female participation in tennis.

In December 1998, the 'Goolagong Cup' was piloted in Ballarat, Victoria. Run by the Federation Cup Foundation this is a Fed Cup style competition based in country areas with each Country Tennis Association sending a team of girls. The 'Goolagong Cup' is now contested in Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales.

Since 2000, Evonne has made an increasing commitment to Australian Women's tennis, and was captain of the Australian Fed Cup Team in 2002/03.

Singles Champion:1971, 1980
Singles Runner-up:1972, 1975, 1976
Singles Champion:1971, 1980
Singles Runner-up:1972, 1975, 1976
Doubles Champion:1974
Mixed Doubles Runner-up:1972