Goolagong Cawley inspires Barty in Paris

·3-min read

The spirit of Evonne Goolagong Cawley will drive Ash Barty's push for back-to-back French Open crowns on a special anniversary for Australian tennis.

After sitting out her official title defence during a COVID-hit 2020, Barty has arrived back Roland Garros two years on as world No.1 and in red-hot claycourt form once again.

Poignantly, Barty's return marks 50 years since her idol and Indigenous inspiration Goolagong Cawley won the 1971 French Open as a teenager destined for super stardom.

The breakthrough half a century ago was the first of seven grand slam titles from 18 finals for Goolagong Cawley.

Barty, the 2020 Young Australian of the Year, has always viewed Goolagong Cawley as not only one of her trusted mentors but a role model, maintaining that playing happily and sportingly was more important than winning or losing.

"It is hard to put into words just how special Evonne's career was, not just on impacting me personally but impacting an entire nation, an entire culture," Barty said from Paris.

"That is a real testament to her character that she is the most incredible person you will ever come across and it is really special to have that kind of 50th anniversary for her.

"It is a shame that she can't be here at the moment with what is going on in the world - hopefully as Aussies all of us can do her proud.

"She has been an incredible person in allowing growth and guiding so many young Indigenous players, boys and girls and the indigenous youth all around the country, in the way that she conducts herself.

"I think people remember her tennis of course - she was such an incredibly elegant player and the way she graced the court was remarkable - but people remember her more for the person that she is."

Barty is the top seed for the fifth time at a grand slam after making a stellar return from almost a year off the tour, winning a tour-best three titles and 27 matches.

After mentally and physically freshening up in the south of France, the 25-year-old declared herself back to 100 per cent fit after withdrawing mid-match from the Italian Open quarter-finals with a recurring arm injury.

Barty said that retirement was more precautionary following a gruelling workload of 20 matches in less than a month.

"I feel great," she said.

"I feel like we have been able to practice well, control what we have needed to do over the last kind of 10 days or so. Now we're looking forward to starting.

"I'll be excited to play and get out there for that first round."

Barty opens against American left-hander Bernarda Pera, the world No.70, saying the tournament marks a "clean slate" and that her 2019 triumph doesn't guarantee her a thing.

"It is completely different. It honestly feels like 2019 was a lifetime ago," she said.

"A lot of the site has changed, it has adjusted in some of the structural stuff, some courts have just disappeared - the bull ring is gone, a few other bit and bobs.

"It feels like a completely new tournament."

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