This summer, Ashleigh Barty got serious about studs and skirt edges. At first it was a rather strange topic. Ashleigh Barty, 25, number one in the world, is known to be able to give a live demonstration of the benefits of chopping backhand kicks or hitting corners. Until now, she was considered reassuring, as a fashion fan, as one Fashion designer, say the Australians, even to worry about the colors of their tennis socks. But now it was important for her to explain what this outfit was all about. And she told Ashleigh Barty: of the dress by Evonne Goolagong Cawley, of the white dress with a curved hem that changed the whole continent.
This dress served as a model for her own dress. Barty will wear it again in honor of Yvonne Gulagong Cowley Thursday afternoon (2.30 p.m.) in the semi-final against Angelique Kerber.
This July, it will be fifty years since Yvonne Gulagong of Parilan, a village in the Australian Outback, won Wimbledon grass. She was 19 years old at the time and had previously won the Paris title. Ashleigh Barty says it has given “a way for all Australians”. “But it showed us, the Aboriginal families and the cultural district that there is an opportunity to make your dreams come true.”
Yvonne Gulagong explained to Australians the meaning of equal opportunity
Seldom was the path to pastures at Wimbledon, to Royal Boxes and manicured places, more complicated for an athlete than Yvonne Gulagong, the third of eight children of the Aboriginal Weraguri family. It was a trip to one hemisphere and another world. Her first tennis racket was stringless, and her father saw it in one piece of wood from an old fruit tray. Little Evonne hit balls on the walls of the house. One day, when she was looking longingly through the fence of the local tennis club, the club president invited her in. This invitation could not be accepted in Australia in the 1950s either.
She later moved to Sydney, where she found personal sponsors that shaped her career. Evonne Goolagong has won seven Grand Slam singles titles, including two at Wimbledon. The most recent in 1980 against Chris Evert of the United States, when she was married and mother to the British Roger Cowley. But it was especially the first final in 1971, when Goolagong, “The Sunshine Supergirl,” beat fellow countryman Margaret Court 6:4, 6:1 with style and elegance. In a dress that inspired the whole of Australia.
She played with light feet, with blows and guns, and without any apparent effort: “I wanted to enjoy life,” she later said, “and I wanted to smell the flowers along the way.” The white dress was her favorite dress. She had ordered the cut herself from Ted Tinling, the former referee who, in those days when there were no backed clothes, became the fashion designer for the big players. She is pleased that Ashleigh Barty, part of the Ngarigo family, reminds us today of what has been woven into the layers of shared history.
They have known each other for years because the world number one holds a large stake in the Goolagong Foundation, which aims to train girls from indigenous families to play tennis and as coaches. And the replica outfit made by Party Apparel takes, strictly speaking, only some of the elements of the original. But the message remains the same.
Barty is still chasing a big dream
Yvonne Gulagong made it clear to Australians fifty years ago what equal opportunity really means, according to Barty: “The way she handled Wimbledon was a brave step into the unknown,” she says, “No one in her cultural heritage did before she made it clear to us: No matter what. People say, you can believe in your dreams, you can put your dreams into the universe. Because you never know what will happen if you are willing to work on making it happen.”
Barty is still chasing a big dream: she won the French Open in 2019, but the Wimbledon gates always closed behind her early. She’s now playing in the semi-finals for the first time, and when she faces Angelique Kerber, 33, who is enjoying that fun for the fourth time (2012, 2016, 2018) and won Center Court three years ago, she’ll need all the inspiration she can capture. “This is the ultimate test,” Barty thinks, as she plays against an opponent who can rely not only on her experience, but also know him as one of the strongest. “Angie’s greatest strength is that she runs, she chases the ball, and in dangerous situations she can neutralize my aggressive strikes,” Barty says. At Wimbledon, you feel challenged like never before.
On the other hand, Angelique Kerber is looking forward to a duel. She looks to the turf, the opponent, the certainty of facing the challenge that she feels after the successes in the previous five games. “I have to play my best tennis and she’ll push me to do it,” she says. And when Ashleigh Barty feels empowered by the layering of a cut, Kerber has her own motive in her white dress: She already saw that she could win a dress like that.