The year 2019 marks two decades since Australia’s greatest ever sporting year.
Australia’s female tennis players have a historic opportunity when they take on Belarus in the semi-finals of the Fed Cup this weekend. But you’d be forgiven for not having it on your radar.
In a week dominated by headlines featuring controversial sports figures, Australia’s semi-final appearance in the world’s premier women’s team tennis event may not seem quite so juicy.
But look a little deeper and it’s clear this weekend’s match-up is both historic and likely to be close.
For a start, it’s the first time Australia have got this far in the World Group of the Fed Cup since 2014, but if they can win this weekend in Brisbane they’ll really be winding back the clock.
The last time Australia reached the final of the tournament was way back in 1993. Back then it was still called the Federation Cup.
Around two decades before that, Evonne Goolagong led Australia to their last Fed Cup final win in 1974, against the US in Naples.
Since those glory days, European nations have set the pace in this tournament. Amazingly, the Czech Republic have won six of the last eight tournaments. The US are the only non-European team to lift the trophy since Australia’s 1974 triumph.
There’s no doubt this year’s return to the semis of the World Group – the tournament’s top level – coincides with Ash Barty’s meteoric rise.
Against the US in February, the plucky Queenslander played three times in two days, claiming both her singles rubbers before also winning her doubles match too.
At a time when Australian tennis desperately needs positive stories, Barty sets the standard.
Focused in her preparation and professional with the media, she also embodies fair play, something that some of our top male players have lacked in recent times.
Her top-ten ranking shows that you don’t need to distract your opponent every three or four games in order to win matches at the highest level.
But Barty and her team-mates – Daria Gavrilova, Sam Stosur and Priscilla Hon – won’t have it easy against Belarus.
Not only are Gavrilova and Stosur below their best at the moment, Belarus are packed with talent.
Aryna Sabalenka, ranked tenth in the world rankings, is in fine form and Victoria Azarenka is a two-time Australian Open champion who knows how to win Down Under.
The stage is set for a semi-final showdown of the highest quality.
Let’s hope Aussie sports fans turn off the footy for a moment this weekend and show the Fed Cup some love.