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Evonne Goolagong, tennis champion
Jeff Pearlman
May 25, 1998
April 26, 1976
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May 25, 1998

Evonne Goolagong, Tennis Champion

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April 26, 1976

Evonne Goolagong spent two I decades away from home, which I isn't so bad when you're winning a couple of Wimbledons, four Australian Opens and a French Open along the way. But seven years ago, when she returned to Australia for her mother's funeral, she experienced an epiphany on seeing the rituals of her Aborigine people. "I realized that I had spent too much time away," says Goolagong, 46, who had left home at 13 to pursue her dream of a career in tennis. "I wanted to know who my parents were, who I was."

So after winning 52 titles in 13 years on the pro tour and living for eight more years in the U.S. with her husband, Roger Cawley, daughter, Kelly, 21, and son, Morgan, 17, she and the rest of the family moved to Noosa, Queensland, in 1991. "My life became very emotional," says Goolagong, whose '93 autobiography, Home! The Evonne Goolagong Story, was an Australian bestseller. "I never knew what it really meant to be an Aborigine. Then two Aborigine elders invited me to participate in a ceremony, one where you looked deep into yourself. It was the first time I had felt truly home"

Well, other than when she was playing on grass or clay. Long-armed and graceful, with laser reflexes, Goolagong competed when Billie Jean King was still near the top of her game, Chris Evert was coming into her prime and Martina Navratilova was beginning to evolve into the greatest female player. At no other time had there been so much strength at the top of women's tennis. Goolagong came out of nowhere to win the 1971 French Open at 19 and then shocked the world again a month later when she routed her idol, fellow Australian Margaret Court, 6-4, 6-1, to win Wimbledon. She spent the rest of the decade trying to replicate that glory, but despite a good deal of success and a rivalry with Evert that illuminated the sport, she never did.

Then in 1980 she made another splash, upsetting Tracy Austin in the semifinal and Evert in the final to win her second Wimbledon. "When I was 19, I didn't appreciate it," she says. "But in '80, I had a child and nobody expected much. That was amazingly sweet."

Goolagong retired three years later. She spends most of her time establishing tennis development programs and as an advocate for issues involving Aborigines, and she still competes in three or four events a year on the Virginia Slims Legends Tour. "Playing now is great fun, because the pressure isn't there," Goolagong says. "You win, it's nice. You lose, and there are other things to worry about. That puts the game in its place."