Mentor's golden anniversary lifts battling Barty

 - Alex Sharp

World No.1 digs deep to reach the second round, dealing with a hip scare on her return to Roland-Garros

Ashleigh Barty, Roland Garros 2021, first round© Philippe Montigny/FFT

Ashleigh Barty is up and running at Roland-Garros 2021, fiercely determined to honour a golden anniversary to make her friend and mentor proud.

It is 50 years since Evonne Goolagong Cawley won the first of her seven Grand Slam titles in Paris, the same site where Barty landed her maiden major two years ago.

The legendary Australian is an idol for the world No.1, who cherishes having Goolagong Cawley “in my corner”.

“It's so hard to put into words how much of an impact Evonne has made in not only the culture of tennis in Australia but the attitude too and I think the way that people approach their tennis and enjoy their tennis,” enthused the top seed, who frequently confides with the friend she met as a teenager.

“She had an incredible career. Her elegance and her grace on the court was next to none. It was just remarkable. I think as a person the way she's helped shape and guide a whole generation of Indigenous youth and also young boys and girls around Australia has been incredible.

“I think when you have these anniversaries like this, you kind of reminisce a little bit and understand how much of an impact they genuinely had. Evonne for me is the perfect example of that. I don't think there's anyone more iconic or more special in tennis in Australia that's had such an impact.

“Hopefully we can all do her proud this week, knowing that she's not here.”

With exactly two hours on the clock, Barty extended her winning run at Roland-Garros to eight matches on Tuesday with a turbulent 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 passage past world No.70 Bernarda Pera.

“You can't win a match if you give up, so today was about going out there and not giving up,” stated the world No.1.

All seemed smooth for Barty fans following the first set, before the 25-year-old received a medical timeout on a troublesome left hip, which was first felt at the weekend.

It was a fruitful build-up campaign for the Queenslander, including the Stuttgart trophy and a runner-up spot in Madrid. In fine form, the versatile and crafty top seed might have to utilise her full box of tricks for another deep run, but is adamant she’ll give everything physically and mentally to advance.

“I think every match that I play in, every different experience, whether it's an opponent or a physical challenge, I feel like you learn to overcome it and you learn to accept it,” she said.

“That was a massive part of today was accepting the fact that, yes, I may not be absolutely 100 per cent but I'm certainly good enough to go out there and fight and do the best I can and give myself a chance to win matches.

“There's a lot of things we can do, and we've crossed every 't' and dotted every 'i', 100 per cent trust my team. We know what we're doing. We're confident in that we can get my body to a point where I'm able to compete.”

Barty’s morale has been maintained by speaking to her nearest and dearest regularly since leaving Australia in February, taking her coffee machine on the road for “my sanity” and receiving care packages from home including paintings from her nieces and nephews.

“It was a tough decision but I’m very grateful and very appreciate that I get to do what I love, to play tennis. We are very lucky as players, to play with freedom and have fun,” stated Barty, who will take on world No.45 Magda Linette in the second round.

“I talk to my family every single day and I know they’re watching and enjoying the journey with me. I have a fantastic team here and we have a lot of fun together every single day, doing what we love, which is extra special.”

Speaking of home, Barty’s heart went out to her compatriots in lockdown, learning of the social media buzz created by her gritty victory.

“We're certainly feeling their pain right now,” she said. “Obviously if we can come out here and do what we love and it brings a smile to some faces in Victoria, that's incredible.”