MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Evonne Goolagong Cawley is hoping for the emergence of a successor to Ash Barty who can continue inspiring the country's Indigenous children to take up the sport.
Goolagong Cawley, the first Aboriginal Australian to win a Grand Slam title, claimed the last of her seven majors at Wimbledon in 1980.
It took nearly four decades before Barty became the second Aboriginal Australian player to win a Grand Slam crown at the 2019 French Open.
The gap was "too long", Goolagong Cawley said on Thursday as she helped launch the National Indigenous Tennis Carnival (NIDC) in Darwin.
"I think Ash has inspired a lot more young girls to get out there and play this lovely game. So who knows?" the 71-year-old told Reuters.
"Maybe we'll even find a champion here at the carnival."
Tennis Australia's NIDC will bring together some 230 aspiring Indigenous Australian juniors from every state and territory to compete in tournaments from Friday to Sunday in Darwin.
Goolagong Cawley helped launch the first carnival in 2018, tipping that an Indigenous breakthrough was only a matter of time.
As it happened, Barty won at Roland Garros the following year, then added Wimbledon in 2021 and this year's Australian Open title to her Grand Slam haul before retiring in March.
Australia's population of about 800,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is well represented in elite Australian Rules football and rugby league but much less in tennis.
A lack of infrastructure in remote communities has been an obstacle but Tennis Australia has worked to open new pathways for talent in recent years.
Goolagong Cawley, whose foundation sponsors Indigenous tennis, said Barty's impact had been clear in the community.
"When Ash was winning, at the top of her tennis, they had so many people coming for coaching lessons because of her," she said.
"So she has affected a lot of young kids out there to want to play this wonderful game.
"(Role models) are very important."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Bradley Perrett)