It was a moment Australia will never forget—Ash Barty’s final point to secure the Australian Open women’s singles title for 2022.
The look on her face said it all after she’d charged through to beat the US’s Danielle Collins 6-3, 7-6 (7-2), as Barty roared, Australia did with her—but there was one woman in particular whose cheers were more meaningful than any other.
Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Australian tennis champion and now a mentor for Barty would have seen herself in that very moment. She was the last Australian woman to win the tennis major back in 1977. Barty’s win on January 29, 2022 marked the end of a 44-year drought.
And then, the moment Barty could’ve only dreamed of after such a milestone win—her mentor walked out to present her with the coveted Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.
“I thought she wasn’t coming,” Barty told media following the moment.
“I’d spoken to her earlier in the week, and she was staying at home and not being able to travel down this year.”
Goolagong Cawley pulled off her secret entry into Melbourne’s Rod Laver arena with some help from Craig Tiley, Chief Executive of Tennis Australia, who had originally accepted that Goolagong Cawley would be unable to make the final due to being unwell.
But after watching the breakout tennis champion power through each of her rounds, Goolagong Cawley couldn’t not be there for the historic moment.
She decided to travel to Melbourne, but on the condition that Barty wouldn’t know she was there until after the match in case the presence of her mentor distracted her, per The Age.
Goolagong Cawley, who won four Australian Open titles between 1974 and 1977 managed to sneak into the stadium via back entrances. She watched the match unfold on a television in a private room, before being whisked onto centre court where she and an emotional Ash embraced for the first time in a year.
“To have that surprise was amazing,” Barty explained.
“It was really special just to be able to give her a hug. It’s the first time I’ve seen her in 12 months.”
Barty, a Ngarigo woman, became Australia’s second First Nations woman to win the trophy after Goolagong Cawley.
“To be able to experience that together on such a big occasion, on such a beautiful court, and in a tournament that means so much to both of us,” Bart explained.
“She’s an amazing human being, and I’m very lucky to be able to call her a friend. I’m very lucky to be able to give her a hug in some of the biggest moments in my life.”
Barty has spoken previously of the close relationship the two women share. Goolagong Cawley became her mentor almost 10 years ago as the up-and-coming player started to pave an impressive winning streak in the Australian—and then global—tennis circuit.
Speaking to marie claire Australia last year for our Next 25 issue, Barty said Goolagong Cawley was her biggest inspiration.
“Evonne Goolagong Cawley is a very special person in my life. I think she has been iconic in paving a way for young Indigenous youth to believe in their dreams and to chase their dreams. She’s done exactly that for me as well.”
In 2021, Barty told The Australian Women’s Weekly how lucky she felt to be able to call Goolagong Cawley her own mentor.
“She treated me as an equal, and now I’m very lucky to be able to call her a friend,” Barty explained.
“She is only ever a phone call away. She’s been through the same phases and feelings that I’m going through, and I know if I need that shoulder to lean on she is always there.”
Interestingly, Goolagong Cawley was also there for Barty when she briefly played professional cricket in 2014. At the time, Barty wanted to try a team sport after feeling overwhelmed by the huge mental toll tennis can take on individual players due to its siloed nature.
As she explained to The Weekly, Barty turned to Goolagong Cawley at the time, who told her to “drop a line”, go fishing, take a break – that there is more to life than tennis.
“It was a reinforcement—to make sure I was happy, to find out what my real passion was, the true love, and to find the drive again,” Barty explained.
That she did. After playing for the Brisbane Heat in the Big Bash (and proving herself as an incredible cricketer), Barty returned to tennis in 2016.
“It took some time,” Barty continued.
“I went the squiggly way around I think—but it has all led me to this point in my life. Every day I try to learn from [Goolagong Cawley’s] career.”
That she has—and with the Australian top gong now under Barty’s sleeve as well, the two women have made history together. We couldn’t be more proud.