Ash Barty treads familiar path in bid to emulate mentor and Indigenous trailblazer

Ash Barty’s temperament is no-frills. The Australian has understated down to an art form. Modesty is in her bones, and the world No 1 does not do fancy how a world No 1 might.

Her actual tennis, though, as we have come to expect, is replete with all the technical trimmings, a backhand slice spraying spangles and a net game enriched with embellishments.

Barty is no-frills, but with all the frills. At Wimbledon she even has them on her skirt, a tribute to the Indigenous trailblazer she is well on her way to emulating.

Evonne Goolagong Cawley wore a scalloped hem on her regulation whites when the Wiradjuri woman won at the All England Club for the first time in 1971. In 2021, on the 50th anniversary, Barty – a Ngaragu woman – is three matches away from doing the same.

The first will come against Ajla Tomljanovic. Perhaps fittingly, it is the first time two Australian women have met in the quarter-finals of Wimbledon since Cawley beat Wendy Turnbull in straight sets in 1980.

It is also a moment to savour, for Australia is guaranteed a women’s semi-finalist at this tournament, an achievement unmatched since 2000 when Jelena Dokic lost to American Lindsay Davenport.

“Obviously, it’s incredible for Aussie tennis,” Barty said after her round-of-16 defeat of French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova. “I was pumped to see Ajla through to the second week here for her first time at Wimbledon.”

Barty, too, is on untrodden ground, having never progressed past the fourth round. Her 2019 French Open triumph made the 25-year-old from Ipswich the second Australian woman to reach the peak of the WTA rankings. The first? Cawley, more than four decades ago.

The pair have been friends for more than a decade, and Barty counts the 69-year-old, who won 14 grand slam titles including seven singles, as a mentor.

“I think I’m exceptionally proud to be able to call [Goolagong Cawley] a friend and a mentor, to be able to share heritage,” Barty said last week. “For me to be able to pay tribute to that on a really special anniversary is something that I’ll never forget.”

On centre court on Tuesday (the early hours of Wednesday morning back home in Australia), Barty will meet the 75th-ranked Tomljanovic, who prevailed against Emma Raducanu, having led 6-3, 3-0 before the British teenager withdrew with a breathing problem.

“I’m just happy to share the court with Ash tomorrow,” said Tomljanovic, who has never reached the final eight of a major in her 26 previous attempts. “I always talk so highly of her because it’s really what I think. Tomorrow, I know I’m going to have to bring everything I’ve got to potentially win.

“And just the whole surroundings of the centre court – I think it’s going to be special no matter what. When I hear about history with other players I always think it’s really cool. I’ve just never been in a position to be part of it. When I look back I’ll be in that small group.”

Barty holds the advantage, not only due to her exceptional game, but also because Tomljanovic’s last match finished nearly seven hours later than Barty’s.

Both had been scheduled on Court 1, with Barty playing first and Tomljanovic and Raducanu were forced to wait for that match plus a men’s four-hour, five-set epic between Felix Auger Aliassime and Alexander Zverev. The scheduling has sparked some backlash given it leaves the former with far less time to recover.

Of course nothing is guaranteed, but this may be Barty’s most open route to the title, given both Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep are not competing, Serena Williams was forced to withdraw through injury in round one and Krejcikova is taken care of.

“I mean, I played Ash. Ash is amazing,” said the world No 17 Czech. “She knows how to play. She’s No 1. She’s there for a reason. She belongs there.

“But the match was actually really close and I had my chances. I just didn’t convert them. Against a player as Ash is, you actually have to convert everything.”

Remaining on Barty’s side of the draw are Angelique Kerber and Karolína Muchová. On the other, second seed Aryna Sabalenka and eighth seed Karolína Plíšková loom as the biggest challenges.

“I love coming out here and testing myself against the best in the world, and there is certainly no place I’d rather be at the moment,” Barty said after the Krejcikova match. “I’m happy, I’m excited. It’s another stepping stone for me. It’s another first, I suppose.

“It’s a new situation, a new scenario and one that I’m going to look forward to and enjoy, no matter what. It’s a stepping stone to one of my biggest dreams. We just keep chipping away.”

No-frills, with all the frills.