A glimpse of Goolagong off court: modesty, wit, family fun

I asked her something profound, like, how long would she stay on the tennis tour or what has shaped her career? She didn't hear me. She was poking her spoon around in the fish soup.

"The potatoes -- how do you get around all the potatoes?" she laughed.

Evonne Goolagong is . . . well, she's notm her own best promoter. If you didn't know she had won 89 women's singles tennis titles since 1970, including Wimbledon, she probably wouldn't tell you.

The 28-year-old Australian right-hander is poised an genuine at a press luncheon amid clicking cameras and a nest of microphones, yet somehow she is still not celebrity material.

She ism pro-tennis material, now a seasoned player compared with junior players like 17- year-old Tracy Austin, the youngest ever to win the US Open tournament.

"I think younger players make us a lot more competitive," she says. "Age doesn't matter."

Speaking as "one of the old ladies on the tour," Evonne has no success formulas, no veteran wisdom, just "determination."

She seems amused by Austin's off-the- court sauciness. "I don't know, I think I was a bit quieter at her [Austin's] age," she said in soft, Australian tones. "But she's a professional. I think you have to see them all that way."

In 1978, Goolagong won six tournaments in seven months, finishing the tour in third place and shattering predictions that she couldn't make a comeback after taking time off in 1977 to have her first child, a daughter, Kelly Inala Cawley.

"It was very difficult -- just getting my body back in shape," she admits, asking for a low-calorie sweetener and passing up a warm pastry. But with the support of her husband and manager, Roger Cawley, once a tournament player himself, she feels stronger than ever.

"I wouldn't want to do it that way again," she says of the year-long hiatus, "but it was worth it!"

Far from being a burden, Evonne says, her husband and daughter, who travel with her, make her months on the road easier.

"I feel so much more secure now," she says.And at the end of the tour, "it's great knowing you have a home to go back to." She and her husband own 77 acres in Hilton Head, S.C.

In the mass of floodlights, camera crews, reporters, and waiters, Evonne whips around at the voice of a blond four-year-old boy near our table, and she bends over to whisper something to him.

It seemed characteristic of her. Our luncheon talk returned frequently to motherly boasting over Kelly, nearly three years old now.

"She's such a ham,"m Evonne says, demonstrating the gruesome face Kelly once put on for photographers after a match. "And she really learns a lot on the road -- she can count to 15."

After making a strong return to the circuit, Goolagong was eventually sidelined by an injury and played only twice between July 1978 and last April. She rebounded with a 40-9 match record through September, failing only once last year to reach a semifinal, when she lost to Chris Evert Lloyd in the quarterfinals of the US Open.

Now, her attention turns to the $300,000 Avon Championships in March. In preparation, she jogs on the white sand at home in Hilton Head. And she skips the strawberry ice cream dessert at the press lunch.

"I'm not much on desserts unless it's a chocolate souffle -- but Rogerm is," she teases, shooting a glance across the table.

She departs, tucking a complimentary T- shirt from Avon under her arm. Size extra- large? "I like to sleep in them."

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