Fed Cup: 45 years in the making
More than four decades since Australia last claimed a Fed Cup title, passion and team spirit are driving the quest for victory over France in the 2019 final.
It will be a long-awaited return to world champion status should Australia defeat France in November’s Fed Cup Final. Australian women last lifted a trophy 45 years ago, after victory over USA in the 1974 final.
It’s among many high points that helped develop a proud tradition in the competition, the team spirit as strong as ever as Australia prepares for the highly anticipated decider at Perth’s RAC Arena.
Australia is one of only four nations to have competed in every Fed Cup since the event was first staged 56 years ago.
Runner-up to the United States in that inaugural Fed Cup Final in 1963, Australia went on to win six titles in the next 10 years to become the most prolific nation in that period.
Those six victories – in 1964, 1965, 1968, 1970, 1971 and 1973 – were made possible by stellar play from many Australian stars including Margaret (Smith) Court, Lesley (Turner) Bowrey, Kerry (Melville) Reid, Judy (Tegart) Dalton, Karen Krantzcke, Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Lesley Hunt, Patricia Coleman and Janet Young.
In 1974, Goolagong, Young and Dianne Fromholtz represented the Australian team in the annual Fed Cup event. Contested over one week in a different venue each year in that era, the 1974 Fed Cup was staged on clay in Naples, Italy.
Facing perennial rivals the United States in the final, Goolagong gave the Aussies a perfect start with a 6-1 7-5 triumph over Julie Heldman before American Jeanne Evert levelled the tie with a 2-6 7-5 6-4 win over Fromholtz.
With the doubles match acting as the third and decisive rubber, Goolagong teamed with Young and overcame the US duo of Heldman and Sharon Walsh 7-5 8-6. The victory was Australia’s seventh Fed Cup title, the most of any nation until the United States levelled that mark in 1978.
Unsurprisingly, each member of Australia’s victorious 1974 Fed Cup team can still recall the pride and excitement in successfully representing their nation.
🗣️ "To be able to finish off playing for your country in the last week of the year is really cool. It's been a long time coming for us girls, we're really excited it's at home in Australia as well"
— Billie Jean King Cup (@BJKCup) September 3, 2019
Former world No.1 Goolagong Cawley, a member of seven winning Australian Fed Cup teams, describes those victories as comparable to her seven Grand Slam singles titles. “Playing for my country has always been a great thrill,” said Goolagong Cawley.
“You get that nervous excitement, not just for yourself but also for all the team and the fact that you’re (also) playing for your whole country.”
A 17-year-old debutante at the 1974 Fed Cup, Fromholtz (who became Dianne Balestrat after her marriage), went on to represent Australia for 10 straight years and featured in seven finals. “Little did I know I would be privileged to be a part of the Australian team for the next decade,” she related.
One of those years was in 1978, when Australia last hosted a Fed Cup final on Kooyong’s grass courts in Melbourne. With the Australian team missing Goolagong due to a foot injury, the team also included Kerry Reid and Wendy Turnbull and was overseen by captain Neale Fraser.
Facing a formidable US team that included multiple Grand Slam champions Chris Evert, Billie Jean King and Tracy Austin, the host nation suffered a 1-2 loss to America in the final.
Four more runner-up performances have followed for Australia – to USA in 1979 and 1980, Czechoslovakia in 1984 and Spain in 1993 – before the Alicia Molik-captained Australian team at last earned a chance to play for the 2019 title.
Ash Barty has spearheaded the charge, the world No.1 claiming the past 14 Fed Cup rubbers she’s contested. In 2019, that’s incorporated a perfect record across singles and doubles as Barty led Australia to victories over USA and Belarus to qualify for the final.
Sam Stosur, who has a record 29 wins in the 16 years she’s represented Australia, notes a steely unity among the group that will face France in November.
“So much about Fed Cup is how you can combine as a team, how you can pick someone up after a tough day or really get behind a player when they’re winning,” the 35-year-old Stosur recently told fedcup.com.
“We know we have that in our team, whether it’s at Fed Cup or at normal Tour events. We always look out for each other and I think that can get us a long way.”
As she looks ahead to a potential 32nd tie for Australia, Stosur is delighted to continue her career under the captaincy of Molik – a team-mate when the then 19-year-old debuted in a play-off tie against Colombia.
“It’s such a unique environment in Fed Cup and we combine well,” said Stosur. “Alicia is a great leader and captain.”
It’s an outlook that underlines a hugely supportive culture among Australian women. Among many excited observers in the November Fed Cup Final, none will be prouder than the last Australian women to have featured in a Fed Cup title.
“I’ll be over the moon if we win,” says Goolagong Cawley, while Balestrat adds that “I’m sure the interest will be the even stronger now … if they win, it should be celebrated widely.”
Young, who amassed a perfect 6-0 record that helped Australia to both the 1973 and 1974 Fed Cup titles, will be delighted to pass on the baton to today’s players.
“I’ll be pleased for them,” said Young. “We had the record. We did what we did and now its another era.”
Show your colours and cheer for Australia at the Fed Cup Final in Perth from 9-10 November. Tickets available now.