Evonne Goolagong: An Aussie with a Difference

Rohini IyerSenior Writer IAugust 28, 2009

Debating, discussing and gauging the potential and the achievements of the likes of Billie Jean Kings and Martina Navratilovas, who formed the pivot of women's tennis of their era, there is one such player in their midst, whose name deservedly merits a mention and is seldom done.

The name of Evonne Goolagong or Evonne Goolagong-Cawley, which though isn't a likely one to strike an immediate chord in the minds of more recent tennis aficionados, is still a name with laurels and labels attached to it.

And while, her professional graph might not show victories left, right and centre for her, Evonne was still one of the most formidable rivals of the early and mid-seventies, especially between 1971-1976 which could be regarded as her golden professional period.

Evonne's career graph and statistics, however isn't the intended topic construing as an article; her professional tennis accolades just form a tangent to the player that evolved from a society and community that formed a lower rung when colour of the skin was taken into consideration- a factor given importance, more than anything else.

Hailing from an Aboriginal background, in a family not very well defined in terms of money, Evonne's early acquaintance with the sport started at the age of five, as a ball girl for the local tennis club in her hometown of Barellan.

What started as an interest escalated into passion in her growing years as her ability to play excellent tennis began garnering the attention of many famous tennis coaches of that time to Barellan.

Especially, of Vic Edwards, who was instrumental in nurturing and honing Evonne into a successful tennis pro right from the time he took her under his wing at the age of 10. 

Edwards, played not only the role of her mentor and coach, but was also Evonne's legal guardian, as she took her fledgling steps from being a small town girl into a potential tennis cynosure.

Under his tutelage, Evonne turned pro at the age of 19 and after winning several tournaments made her first slam appearance at the 1970 Wimbledon. Her performance, however was greatly disappointing as she bid an early adieu, losing in the first round itself.

By 1971, however, Evonne was more than ready to make her mark at the slam level and working along those lines, she notched up her maiden slam victory at Roland Garros, and iced the cake by grabbing the Wimbledon crown, just a year after she was made to bite the dust unwillingly at the same venue.

Evonne's success at the French Open was, in essence a first time- a first time that an Aborigine Aussie woman had achieved the title, and more importantly, the first time that a native Aborigine had won any event for the nation, outside of football and boxing. 

This achievement was further accentuated, when Evonne was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth in the year 1972; 10 years later, Evonne would go on to receive the Order of Australia [AO] for her meritorious contribution in her chosen professional field.

In 1988, Evonne was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, five years after she bade her goodbyes to the sport that had helped to shape her life, in a manner that she could have ever imagined and believed to be possible.

In a world full of prejudices and unimaginable beliefs, Evonne Goolagong, demonstrates a perfect example of "you are where you are, because you choose to be there" not only as a player, but also as a person!