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EXCLUSIVE: Ash Barty’s proud ‘sister’ Evonne Goolagong Cawley reacts to her incredible Australian Open win

''I’m extremely lucky to be able to call her a friend.''
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As Ash Barty addressed the crowd after winning her first match at the Australian Open, the champion drew cheers and applause, not only for her straight-sets victory over Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko but for her powerful words.

“I’m my most comfortable self when I’m out on the court,” she began.

“I’m a proud Ngarigo woman, a very, very proud Indigenous woman. I love my heritage, I love to celebrate my heritage. It’s what connects me to all of you here today. It’s what connects me to the land.”

It’s this same powerful sense of self worth that tennis great Evonne Goolagong Cawley saw when she first watched Ash play at the tender age of 13.

“She made me proud from the first time I saw Ash.”

(Credit: Getty)

“She made me proud from the first time I saw Ash,” says Evonne.

“Ash to me is like a little sister and part of my family, so I think we treat each other that way. It’s amazing that she won her first grand slam at the French [Open].

“That was my first grand slam and that same year I won Wimbledon in 1971. It’s just magical when you achieve that dream and I’m sure it’s magical for her, too.”

There’s no doubting the love and affection the women have for each other, but Evonne’s support has meant the world to 25-year-old Ash.

“She’s an incredible human being – I’m extremely lucky to be able to call her a friend and know she’s only ever a phone call away,” Ash said during her post-match interview last week.

“She’s an incredible woman and I think she’s paved a path and she’s been able to guide so many of the Indigenous youth coming up in the last however many years, throughout her career but also her work off the court and I’m privileged to know her. I love her to death.”

The two women grew up in vastly different circumstances but shared remarkable similarities in their journey to greatness.

Evonne, one of eight children of an itinerant sheep shearer, wheat grader and shade tree mechanic from the NSW town of Barellan, learned to play tennis with a board from an apple crate instead of a racquet.

The two women have a special bond.

(Credit: Getty)

Ash grew up in much more comfortable circumstances in middle-class Springfield in Brisbane, where she still lives, teaching herself by hitting balls against the living room wall with a squash racquet.

“When I heard [that], it reminded me of me,” reveals Evonne, who also shares her passion for her Indigenous heritage with Ash.

And just like Evonne became a role model and idol for Indigenous youth, even setting up the Evonne Goolagong Foundation and running development camps, Ash has continued to passionately advocate for her people and inspire a new generation of children.

“She’s a wonderful role model for our kids,” says Evonne.

Ash says when she first met Evonne she was “gobsmacked”, praising her for paving the way for so many and creating opportunities for First Nations youth.

Ash got engaged last year and can’t wait to start a family.

(Credit: Getty)

The ever-supportive Evonne, who won the French Open when she was just 19 before adding the first of two Wimbledon singles titles later that year, says one day she hopes to team up with Ash and do women’s business together.

“It is hard to put into words how much of an impact Evonne has had on the culture of tennis in Australia and on me personally.

“I don’t think there is anyone more iconic in our sport,” Ash revealed after she won Wimbledon last year. “I hope I can make you proud, Evonne.”

Whether Ash wins her first Australian Open title later this month, there’s no doubt she’s already made her idol, who won seven grand slam singles titles, including four Australian Opens, one very proud big sister.

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Ash’s exciting family plans

Broody Ash has made no secret of her love for babies.

“This is what life’s about, it’s amazing,” gushed the sports star, when she surprised fans by turning up to a press conference in January last year with her baby niece Olivia in tow.

Indeed, the doting aunt is getting plenty of practice with her siblings’ kids before starting a much-wanted family of her own.

The Aussie athlete’s social media is filled with babycino and park dates with the little ones, who Ash has praised with giving her “perspective” when things get tough on the court.

She’s keen to start a family with fiance Garry Kissick.

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