By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Newly-crowned champion Ash Barty said it was miracle she even had the chance to emulate her idol Evonne Goolagong at Wimbledon this year after a race against time to recover from the hip injury she suffered at the French Open.
The 25-year-old marked the 50th anniversary of fellow Australian Goolagong's first Wimbledon title by beating Karolina Pliskova 6-3 6-7(4) 6-3 in a nervy Centre Court final.
It was an emotional day for Barty as she became the first Australian woman to win Wimbledon since Goolagong triumphed for a second time in 1980.
But she revealed how close she came to missing the tournament after aggravating her hip problem during her second round match at Roland Garros against Magda Linette.
"Just even chatting to my team now, once we've come off the court, they kept a lot of cards close to their chest and didn't tell me a lot of the odds," Barty, who added the Wimbledon title to her 2019 French Open crown, told reporters.
"They didn't tell me a lot of the information that they'd got from other specialists. There weren't too many radiologists in Australia who had seen my injury.
"In a sense, it was a two-month injury. Being able to be able to play here at Wimbledon was nothing short of a miracle. Certainly now chatting to them it looked a lot less likely than I felt statistically. I think it's been an incredible month."
It has been a long and winding road for Barty since she won the girls title, aged 15, in 2011.
She gave up the game in 2014 to concentrate on cricket before returning in 2016. During the pandemic she spent nearly a year off the Tour before returning in January to continue her quest to write her name amongst the Australian greats.
"The stars aligned for me over the past fortnight. Incredible that it happened to fall on the 50th Anniversary of Evonne's first title here, too, is absolutely incredible," the Queenslander, who has not been home in Australia since March, said.
Barty has appeared like a woman on a mission this year at the All England Club as she set her sights on emulating trailblazer Goolagong, with whom she shares indigenous Australian heritage.
She has even worn a scalloped-edged outfit in the style of Goolagong's 1970s kit. Her all-court game and reliance on spins and angles is not too dissimilar either.
Barty was emotional on Centre Court after victory when she was compared to Goolagong.
Later she explained exactly what it meant to have emulated a player she describes as an icon.
"It was the most incredible feeling I think I've ever experienced on a tennis court," Barty told reporters.
"Evonne is a very special person in my life. I think she has been iconic in paving a way for young indigenous youth to believe in their dreams and to chase their dreams.
"I think being able to share that with her and share some pretty special victories now with her, to be able to create my own path is really incredible, really exciting."
While Barty won her maiden Grand Slam at the French Open in 2019, she said winning Wimbledon was extra special.
"I think for Australians, there is such a rich history here at Wimbledon," Barty, who adds her name to a list of Australian greats such as Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Goolagong and Margaret Court, said. "I feel like Wimbledon is where tennis was born."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)