By Thomas Myler
It’s Wimbledon time again – strawberries, cream, blue skies hopefully, and all that tennis. Third of the four Grand Slams of the year, following the Australian and French Opens and before the US Open, Wimbledon is the oldest tennis tournament in the world, having started in 1877.
Opening on July 1st and continuing until July 14th at the All-England Club in south-west London, it is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious and glamorous events in the sporting calendar, up there with the Derby and the FA Cup Final in popularity. Since the Australian Open shifted to hardcourt in 1988, Wimbledon is also the only major still played on grass.
Tennis is arguably the sport where women have had more success than in any other activity. The list of female tennis greats is a long one. Legends like Billie Jean King, Maureen Connolly, Chris Evert, Maria Sharapova, Margaret Court, Helen Wills Moody, Maria Bueno and modern greats like the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus spring to mind. Then there was the brilliant Evonne Goolagong, whose birthday happens to be this month.
The Australian great is 68 on July 31st, and will celebrate the occasion with her family in Queensland, where she has been living for the past 27 years.
A right-hander, she is a two-time winner at Wimbledon, taking the ladies singles championship in 1971 and 1980.
Wimbledon always had a love affair with Goolagong, with journalists calling her the ‘Sunshine Supergirl’.
Of her two wins on the famous court, she has always maintained that the crowning moment in her career came in 1980 when she defeated Chris Evert in the final to become the first mother since Dorothea Lambert Chambers achieved that feat in 1914.
The nine years between Evonne’s championship victories matched Bill Tilden for the longest gap between titles in history.
Goolagong was graceful, almost poetic in how beautifully she played the game.
Not only did tennis fans marvel in her smooth and effortless movements, but her opponents could also get caught in the ballet that was on the other side of the net.
“She was like a panther compared to me,” said Billie Jean King after losing to Goolagong in the semi-finals of the 1974 Virginia Slims Championship at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. “She had more mobility and she played beautifully. I started watching her in that match, and then I’d remember all of a sudden that I had to hit the ball.”