Evonne Goolagong Cawley

Week 242 (2 - 8 June 2018)

“When I was young, I used to hit a ball in the dirt against a wall every day. At the end of each day, I would write in the dirt how many times I could do it in a row with only one bounce. The next day, I would wake up, go back to the wall, and not leave until I had beaten my score from the previous day.”

This remarkable anecdote was told during Australian tennis legend Evonne Goolagong Cawley’s acceptance speech at the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) Champions Dinner this week in Paris, where she was honoured with the highly prestigious Philippe Chatrier Award for her ongoing contribution to tennis.

The annual event, which takes place in Paris during the Roland-Garros fortnight, brings together over 400 members of the tennis family to honour the outstanding performances of the ITF World Champions. All of the awards, except the Philippe Chatrier Award, are reserved for exceptional players, with wheelchair, junior, singles and doubles players all recognised.

But it is the final award of the night - the Philippe Chatrier Award - that draws the most intrigue, and it quickly became clear during Goolagong Cawley’s acceptance speech that no one was more deserving of the ITF’s highest accolade than the 14-time Grand Slam winning former World Number 1.

Her elegance, humility and genuine passion for the sport, which made her a fan-favourite during her playing career and one of tennis’ greatest ambassadors since her retirement, were all evident in an inspiring address at the magnificent Pavillon Cambon Capucines venue.

Goolagong Cawley spoke eloquently about her journey from a young indigenous girl playing in the dirt, to moving away from her family to pursue her tennis career in Sydney, all the way to conquering the tennis world. She quickly became known for her entertaining and dynamic style, shocking the world with back-to-back Grand Slam wins in the summer of 1971, and winning Roland-Garros and Wimbledon at just 20 years old.

Since her retirement in 1983, Goolagong Cawley has focused on using tennis to provide opportunities for young indigenous people in Australia. After nearly two decades of doing this, she officially set up the Evonne Goolagong Foundation in 2012 to use tennis to provide high quality education, teach better health through diet and exercise, and help guide young indigenous people to a successful future.

In her speech in Paris, Goolagong Cawley said that it was the people who helped her reach the summit of the sport that inspired her to do this. The people who first introduced her to tennis, the people from her town who drove her to tournaments, and her family for always showing their love and support, have made her want to give young indigenous people the same opportunities to succeed.  

Her desire to help the future generations was reflected in her final remarks, when she said: “I have always been taught to pay my respect to my elders, and I do that every day, but tonight I really want to pay my respects to all the past and present players. I'd like to congratulate all the young people who have got awards tonight - they are our future.”

It has been a year of deserved recognition for Goolagong Cawley, who was advanced to Australia’s highest honour - the Companion of the Order of Australia - in January “for eminent service to tennis as a player at the national and international level, as an ambassador, supporter and advocate for the health, education and wellbeing of young indigenous people through participation in sport, and as a role model".

The words of ITF President David Haggerty are perhaps the most fitting. Upon presenting Goolagong Cawley with the award, he said: “Not only is she a legendary seven-time Grand Slam singles winner but she is also a champion of diversity, who has worked tirelessly in her home country to improve the lives of many through the sport we all love.”

It is this ability to spread the message that sport can change lives and dreams can be fulfilled that makes Philippe Chatrier Award winner Evonne Goolagong Cawley the JTA Communicator of the Week.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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