Faye Mlacak remembers the match. But my goodness, she doesn’t want to brag about it.
“This won’t come across well in print, I don’t think, but I remember playing really well. That’s sounds awful, doesn’t it? I’m not bragging or boasting. But the ball was looking big, I wasn’t sluggish and things came together for me.”
It was at the Toronto Lawn and Tennis Club back in 1969 when Mlacak, then Faye Urban, defeated her doubles partner Vicki Berner 6-2, 6-0 on clay to win what was then known as the Canadian Championships and is today known as the Rogers Cup. She’s the last Canadian winner, and will be glued to her television in her Toronto home on Sunday afternoon to see if 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu can upset the great Serena Williams and end the country’s 50-year tennis drought at this event.
“Oh, I hope Bianca wins,” says Mlacak, who was inducted into the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame in 1996. “I think her chances are great. She’s the kind of player who intimidates because she brings it all the time. She has that strength. Anyone playing against her can see she’s immovable.”
Asked on Saturday after her semifinal victory over Sofia Kenin of the United States whether she’d ever heard of Faye Urban, Andreescu said “Yes, I have.”
That certainly left Mlacak, who grew up in Windsor, pleased to be remembered.
“She said that? Wow. That’s shocks me,” she said. “That is so amazing. We’re so many generations apart. It’s lovely to hear.”
In 1969, the tennis world was beginning to become integrated between amateurs and professionals. Mlacak played as an amateur, with many of her expenses covered by Tennis Canada as she travelled overseas to Wimbledon and played Fed Cup for Canada. She retired after winning the Canadian title to get married and take a job, and then played one professional event at Moore Park in Toronto for which she remembers earning the princely sum of $200.
Andreescu will win $520,000 if she beats Williams on Sunday.
Mlacak and her husband, Willy, had two children, Conor and Kate, and have three grandchildren, Elowen, Maeve, Claire. She first picked up her dad’s racquet, she recalls, when she was three or four, and spent a lifetime playing and supporting the game.
“I feel strongly about pay equity, I feel strongly about having the proper behaviour on court and respecting your opponents,” she said. “If I kept tennis a little bit more alive for the next people,
if my playing just kept Canada into tennis, well that was my little contribution.”
She’s spent the last 50 years hoping and waiting for another Canadian winner of what was once the Canadian Open. Andreescu is the first Canadian woman since ’69 to make the final.
“Anytime someone was up and coming, I was always hoping they’d go the distance,” she said. “The difference with Bianca is that she’s consistently good. Any tennis player can have a hot streak. It’s the follow up that’s important. From the get-go, Bianca has been different. She has a great win and she follows it up.
“That’s one of her strongest attributes. Her memory. She doesn’t dwell on things.”