spectators who take time out to sit over strawberries and cream on the tea lawn
at Wimbledon three or four summers hence, there will surely arise amid the
gentle buzz of tennis talk the question of just when the competitive career of
the great Evonne Goolagong truly began. You may as well have the answer ready.
The day was Monday, Feb. 1, 1971, the scene was the finals of the Victorian
Championship in Melbourne, and the loser was Grand Slam champ Margaret Court. A
few months before her loss, Mrs. Court had said, "I think, at last, I have
found an Australian to take my place." The place-taking seems to be coming
more quickly than anyone seriously anticipated.
Evonne Goolagong is in the Australian tradition of sports celebrities: in from
the Outback, hard times, self-reliance, a sheepshearer's daughter and all that.
She is also—like boxer Lionel Rose—an aborigine, which makes her success all
the more noteworthy.
It is said that
Goolagong, in the Australian native language, means "trees by quiet
waters," but Evonne comes from Barellan in the sweltering wheatlands west
of Sydney. Her family lives on the edge of town in a small house surrounded by
barking dogs, abandoned cars and a profusion of weeds. The outside is bleak,
but inside there is a touch of grandeur, for everywhere, stacked on sideboards,
standing in glass cabinets, crowding the mantelpiece, are Evonne's cups, medals
and trophies, the finest collection in all New South Wales. The prizes keep
arriving, almost day by day it seems, though Evonne rarely is able to come home
moved to Barellan when Evonne was 2 and set up residence in the vacant
newspaper office of the Barellan Leader. Linda Goolagong, a tall, strong woman
who is the mother of eight children, tells of Evonne growing up in that early
home: "She never cared for dolls. All she wanted to play with was an old
tennis ball. It was her constant companion. She would hold it in her hand and
squeeze it all day long. Later she would bounce it and catch it and hit it with
a broomstick. She was never without it." It would hardly take Harry Hopkins
to guess what that portended. Behind the newspaper office was a tennis court
that constituted the local tennis club. By the time Evonne was 5 she was
serving as ball girl, and at 6 she was given the first substantial present of
her life—that's right, a tennis racket. Six-year-olds waving tennis rackets are
not all that common in Barellan, so she soon caught the attention of the tennis
club president, a farmer named Bill Kurtzmann, who began giving her pointers.
When she was 10 Kurtzmann entered her in a tournament at nearby Narrandera. He
took the Goolagongs to the event, but to his consternation found on arriving
that it was not a children's contest, as he had believed, but for adults. So
what? Evonne won the women's singles anyway.
For the next
several years Kurtzmann traveled up and down the Riverina District of New South
Wales taking his prot�g� to tournament after tournament. Along the line they
lost count of her wins, though perhaps a record of sorts could be compiled from
Mr. Kurtzmann's scrapbooks. He is now retired and, at 75, keeps busy clipping
stories about Evonne's exploits.
In the early 60s
Vic Edwards, the coach of Fred Stolle and several other noted Aussie players,
made yearly trips through the country holding clinics and looking for young
talent. It was not hard to find Evonne, and he had her come to Sydney for
intensive coaching for a few weeks each summer. Her fares and her board were
paid by the local townspeople. When she was 14 Edwards asked her to move to
Sydney permanently and live with his family. "We left everything to Mr.
Edwards," says her father, Kenny Goolagong. "We still do. We know that
whatever he decides will be in Evonne's best interests."
rarely venture into Evonne's new world. Their background is completely
rural—Kenny ranks as an expert sheepshearer, handling 130 animals a day—and
their aborigine blood raises the problems of discrimination. They have never
seen their daughter play in a major tournament.
constantly queried about her race by reporters, was for a long while very
sensitive about it. During one interview she told an English newsman that if he
asked any more questions about her color she would "point the bone at
him." This is an aboriginal whammy; if the assembled tribe points the bone
at a man, he will die. It seems an effective way to end a press interview.
European tour last year Evonne was less severe about the racial issue. "I
feel more mature about these things now," she said on her return, and when
she was recently invited to tour South Africa, she announced, "As long as I
am treated like any tennis player in any part of the world, then South Africa
will not worry me."
No doubt that is
true, for she has a superb temperament. Few things ruffle her. Her defeats,
when they come, seem to be caused more by a lack of concentration than a flawed
technique. Aware of this, Edwards continues to drill her with unusual
discipline and intensity. His current concern is that she get up to the net
quicker and sharpen her forehand volley.