The stars aligned for Ashleigh Barty's storybook run to the one title she not only allowed herself to dream about, but to also say out loud for all the world to hear. On Saturday, the World No.1 steeled her nerves and held off a strong challenge from former No.1 Karolina Pliskova to win Wimbledon, beating the Czech 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3 to capture her the second major title of her career.
Was it destiny? Barty believes so. So does the woman whose name came up almost as much as hers over the fortnight, her friend and mentor, Evonne Goolagong Cawley. The WTA legend was home in Australia and rapt by every backhand slice and forehand drive off Barty's racquet. Despite the tight scoreline and pressure in the latter stages of the match, Goolagong Cawley never doubted her friend would come through.
"All the way through I had this feeling that she's gonna win," Goolagong Cawley said. "This is her time. Somebody up there is looking down on us I think.
"I'm a Wiradjuri woman from New South Wales and she's a very proud Aboriginal woman as well. What a way to celebrate, not just 50 years since my first win at Wimbledon, but it's also NAIDOC week, which is very important. I know a lot of people in Australia are very happy for her and they love her, but I'm sure there are elders past and present who have a big smile on their face today during NAIDOC week."
Barty's Wimbledon win was, for her, a fairytale fortnight. She won wearing a kit that served as a celebration and homage to Goolagong Cawley's first Wimbledon victory 50 years ago in 1971 and came 10 years after Barty's own breakout run to the Wimbledon girls' title as a 15-year-old in 2011.
"Ash to me is like a little sister and part of my family," Goolagong Cawley said. "I think we treat each other that way. It's amazing that she won her first Grand Slam at the French. That was my first Grand Slam. That same year, I won Wimbledon in 1971. It was such a thrill for me because I achieved my dream."
Barty's junior win put her face all over the Australian newspapers and thrust the introverted homebody into the spotlight. Overnight, Barty went from being a promising young junior to the great future hope of Australian tennis, and the pressure and expectation, combined with the grueling grind of the tour ultimately led to her two-year break from the sport from 2014 to 2016.
Barty returned to the tour during the grass season in 2016, playing on the ITF Circuit. Ironically, she bowed out of her second tournament to Pliskova in Nottingham. A week later, ranked No.335, she lost in the second round of Wimbledon qualifying. It's hard to believe that was just five years ago.
Since the start of the first full season of her return in 2017, Barty has now won more titles than any other player (12) and is second only to Serena Williams in match win percentage (76.2%). Having held off Aryna Sabalenka's push for the top spot, Barty is set to extend her stay at No.1 to 77 consecutive weeks, the ninth longest streak in WTA history.
After sitting on the sidelines of the tour for 11 months due to the COVID pandemic last year, Barty has returned as sharp as she was when she finished her incredible 2019 season by winning the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen. She already has more titles than anyone this season (4) and also leaves London with the most wins on tour (35-6).
When Barty was asked about winning in the 50th anniversary of Goolagong Cawley's initial triumph, she choked back tears. "I hope I made Evonne proud," she said, before backing from the microphone to compose herself.
"She certainly did," Goolagong Cawley said. "She made me proud from the first time I saw Ash. She must have been 13, she was playing at the Australian Open. Roger and I stayed to watch a bit. We saw one whole point where she showed all the skills. She did the slice, the volley, the smash, everything in one game. We both looked at each other and thought, oh, she's going to be our next champion. Look at her now.
"Dreams come true. That was one of the last messages I sent her. 'Dreams do come true. It came true for me.'"
Barty sat down with WTA Insider after her magical run to reflect on her struggles to get fit ahead of Wimbledon and explain why her serendipitous two weeks was, in her own words, "scary."
WTA Insider: In your press conference just now, you revealed that the hip injury you sustained in Roland Garros was more serious than you thought and that your team kept the severity to themselves. You described it as a "two-month injury." Do you think it would have put you off if you had known?
Barty: I think it certainly would have been a distraction without a doubt and maybe there's that sense of fear, of not knowing what could happen.
I think maybe there's a placebo effect in the fact that I was telling myself I felt great. I'm ready, I'm ready, I'm ready. I was trying to push the envelope and Mel, Tyz, and Matt were trying to hold me back and say hold up, it's alright, give it time.
I think for them, carrying that stress for me is just another thing where they are just the best of the best in the sense of knowing what is right for me as an athlete and right for me as a person, because I think probably as a person, I would have struggled to accept it, more than as the athlete. So I think that's just been incredible over this past three or four weeks.
To think of where we were two days before playing in Paris to where we are right now, it's chalk and cheese.
WTA Insider: This win comes exactly 10 years after your junior win as a 15-year-old in 2011. That win put you under the spotlight and kicked off this journey. How does it feel to get this title in the very place it all began for you?
Barty: Incredibly scary. I think the last 10 years have been an incredible ride. I'll never forget my first experience walking into the gates here at the All England Club. To think, 10 years later... I can't believe the experience that we're having right now. It is full circle.
I think being able to share so many of the hard moments and to live for some of the brilliant moments with my team and those that are closest to me and those that have known me over that extended period, they have known how much this game has given me, how much this game has created an opportunity for growth as a person, and with that, growth as a tennis player as well.
I think being able to really enjoy this one and really let this one soak in is going to take some time, but I certainly won't be won't be rushing that process at all.
WTA Insider: You just used the word "scary." Why?
Barty: I think it took a long time for me to have the courage to verbalize the fact that this was my biggest goal. This is my biggest dream in my sporting career. To say it out loud creates fear in the sense that you might not get there. You may never reach that goal. You might never attain that goal, that dream.
We've been able to experience that over the past two weeks and at times it's felt like it's moved really quickly, and other times, time was standing still. To think of how quickly things have changed in the last 72 hours has been nothing short of remarkable.
Overall, the scary feeling comes from that gap between the fear and courage, I think.
WTA Insider: Having interviewed you many times over the past decade, it really struck me to hear you put those ambitions out there. You normally keep these things to your chest and kind of eschew the spotlight. But this is also the 50th anniversary of Evonne's first Wimbledon win and wearing the dress to honor your friend and mentor also seemed to court attention. I'll admit, I was surprised. It invited pressure.
Barty: I probably shot myself in the foot there a little bit with that one.
We had planned to have an outfit inspired by Evonne's dress for probably the last 18 months and to be able to finally have it out - also the tracksuit that matches hers, the outfit inspired by her scalloped dress - it was just something that I really wanted to do as a person, and then as the athlete as well. Then midway through last year, I was able to kind of verbalize my dream.
It kind of all came down to this penultimate week leading up to this tournament where there was seriously that cloud hanging over me, of not knowing whether I was going to be able to play or not. And I'm thinking, gosh, I just want to wear this outfit. I just want to experience this. I just want to enjoy it, because that was the thinking and the drive behind it, was to enjoy it and to have fun with it.
The stars aligned in a really incredible, remarkable way - that it's Evonne's 50th anniversary and my 10th anniversary from the juniors. How the stars aligned sometimes is scarily close to how the stars aligned in Paris as well.
WTA Insider: You talk about the stars aligning and in your press conference you said you do believe in destiny, that things happen for a reason. Do you ever wonder why they're happening? This has been a storybook fortnight for you, and I'm curious if you've wondered why it's happening.
Barty: That's the journey of life. That is the journey and the question that we ask ourselves every day is "why?" That's the curiosity as human beings is to go out there and find that "why," find that reason why you're passionate, find that reason why this means so much to you.
I think being able to continually discover that is something that I enjoy the most. Being able to continue to put myself out there and accept that at times I'm going to get it wrong and that's OK. And at other times, I'm going to get it right and that's OK, too. But that result doesn't define me as a person or my self-worth.
That's a massive part of the give and take, that your self-worth is the journey of discovering that "why" and not the result of what the "why" actually is. I smell the roses along the way, smile and have fun with it, lighten up, and kind of enjoy the journey that life takes us on is something that I've learned a lot by and what I live by now.