Thursday, June 7, 2018

If at first you don't succeed, think of Evonne Goolagong Cawley (and Simona Halep)

This week, Evonne Goolagong Cawley was honored with the Philippe Chatrier Award at the World Champions Dinner in Paris. The Australian star, who was practically a dancer on the court, won the French Open in 1971. In that event, Goolagong Cawley defeated Helen Gourlay in straight sets in the final. She came close to defending her title the next year, but lost to Billie Jean King in the final.

What makes Goolagong Cawley's Roland Garros success interesting is the fact that she played in the event only four times in her career.

Goolagong Cawley is much better known for having won the Australian Open four times, and Wimbledon twice. Her second Wimbledon championship, which she achieved in 1980, was also notable because, three years earlier, she had given birth to a daughter.

That brings me to the story of Evonne Goolagong Cawley and the U.S. Open. Goolagong Cawley played in New York only half a dozen times, but at four of those tournaments--1973, 1974, 1975, and 1976--she was in the final.

She never won the U.S. Open. On those four occasions when she came close, she was defeated by Billie Jean King in 1974, and the other three times by her old rival, Chris Evert. She wouldn't play in New York again until 1979, when she got as far as the quarterfinals.

Goolagong Cawley's presence in Paris this week made me think about Simona Halep, and what it must feel like to get to a final, lose it, then get to it again, lose it, then get to it again, and--well, stay tuned.

For any player, the pressure to finally get that trophy has to be immense, but for a person like Halep, it might be excruciating. The world number 1, no stranger to anxiety and perfectionism, has handled herself extremely well these past two weeks, and her easy defeat of a scary-in-form Garbine Muguruza today was very noteworthy.

Evonne Goolagong Cawley picked herself up and kept trying, and was later amused to recall that, at least she made it into Trivial Pursuit a second time after her four consecutive U.S. Open losses in finals. And as painful as it must have been for Goolagong Cawley to finally accept that she was never going to win the U.S. Open, she had seven major titles to console her.        

Halep, who was also the runner-up in this year's Australian Open, is still trying for her first one. She was philosophical about the situation in her press conference, saying "So I lost three times until now, and no one died, so it will be okay."

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