SYDNEY (Reuters) – Evonne Goolagong Cawley led the way as Australia hailed their new Grand Slam tennis champion Ash Barty on Sunday after the proudly indigenous 23-year-old ended the country’s 46-year wait for a French Open women’s singles champion.
Margaret Court and Goolagong Cawley between them won four of the first six titles at Roland Garros after the dawn of the open era and the lack of Australian success since has reflected a wider decline of the women’s game Down Under.
That Barty’s victory over Marketa Vondrousova on Saturday was only the second for an Australian in a Grand Slam women’s final in the 39 years since Goolagong Cawley won her seventh major at Wimbledon made the outpouring all the more understandable.
Goolagong Cawley, Australia’s first indigenous global sports star, was Barty’s role model as a child and the 67-year-old said she was delighted not only at the breakthrough but also the style of game the Queenslander displayed in her win.
“What a wonderful result for Australia and how exciting that another Aboriginal has won at the French,” she said on Sunday.
“Tennis Australia and all lovers of tennis here and around the world will be delighted by the natural skills and flair Ash possesses.
“Now they have developed into a beautiful game full of artistry, movement and power. It was there for all to marvel at in Paris.”
The decline in the Australian men’s game from the dominant days of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s came more slowly than in the women’s but has been no less marked with no Grand Slam champions since Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon in 2002.
Most concerning for some in Australia has been the on and off-court antics of the two men who at various times have looked most likely to break that drought, Bernard Tomic and Nick Kyrgios.
Court, a Christian minister whose record 24 Grand Slam singles titles spanned the end of the amateur and start of the professional era, said she was particularly delighted at Barty’s demeanor.
“She is a very good role model,” the 76-year-old told the Western Australian newspaper.
“She is good for our nation. I think she is very refreshing. I was always taught when I was young that I was a role model for the young, a role model for the game and a role model for our nation. I was taught that.
“It was always our nation first and I think it’s so sad to see some players in the men’s side with such great talent, thinking they are bigger than the game. It’s sad.”
Sunday was a day of rejoicing rather than recriminations for most Australians, however, and 11-times major champion Rod Laver, Hewitt and Kyrgios were among a plethora of former Australian number ones to post their congratulations.
There was also a heartfelt congratulatory note from Australia’s most recent Grand Slam champion Sam Stosur, the 35-year-old who won the 2011 U.S. Open but was unable to build on that success.
“So happy and proud of you,” the world number 96 posted on Instagram next to a picture of Barty nursing the Suzanne-Lenglen Cup.
“Always knew you would achieve this incredible success! You have such a gift and determination and now the trophy to show …”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Greg Stutchbury)