Faye Urban Mlacak quickly disputes the notion that she was the most famous Canadian woman to take centre court at Wimbledon until Eugenie Bouchard came along.
“I’m not so sure about that part,” the Windsor-born Urban Mlacak said on the telephone from her Toronto home. “Not at Wimbledon.
“I did play there and have some success in the doubles.”
How about the best run in the tournament ever assembled by a Canadian prior to Bouchard’s heroics?
“Isn’t she a story?” Urban Mlacak, 68, said of Bouchard. “Wow.”
As much as she chooses to downplay her accomplishment, back in 1967, Urban Mlacak was part of what up until then was the best performance by a Canuck in what is tennis’ premier event.
The spring of 1967 was big year on the ice for the Maple Leafs. It was the last time Toronto won the Stanley Cup.
The summer of 1967 was a big year on the grass for the maple leaf. Until this year, it was the only time a Canadian ventured as far as the quarter-final stage at Wimbledon.
Still single in those days, Urban was the top-ranked Canadian woman’s tennis player from 1967-69. She arrived at Wimbledon along with doubles partner Vicki Berner of Vancouver about to make Canadian tennis history.
A 6-2, 6-4 third-round victory over Australians Jan O’Neill and Helen Gourlay moved Urban and Bernier into the quarter-finals, the first Canadians ever to reach that stage of the tournament – and up until Bouchard and Milos Raonic this year, the only Canadians to do so.
“The big thing about Wimbledon is getting into the second week,” Urban Mlacak said. “Everybody plays the first week and it’s just decimating. Not many people survive to play the second week.
“The fact that I survived and was playing the second week was a really big deal.”
Just as Wimbledon was, is and always will be a big deal. It is the Stanley Cup of tennis.
“Wimbledon is the top tournament,” said Urban Mlacak, inducted into the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame in 1996. “It’s the one everyone strives for. It’s the first tournament you hear about. It’s the one you idolize as a kid. Doing well at Wimbledon is very special.
“Most tennis players, if they could win one major in the world, what one would they win? It would be Wimbledon.”
When she walked out on centre court with Berner to face Australians Judy Tegert and Lesley Turner on July 6, 1967, Urban Mlacak is certain that the sensation she felt was similar to the chills that would overtake a golfer stepping up to the first tee at Augusta in the Masters for the first time.
“To be playing in the second week, in the quarter-finals on Court No. 1, was really great,” said Urban Mlacak, who entered the Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame in 1992. Urban and Berner were defeated 6-2, 6-3 in their quarter-final appearance.
Urban Mlacak’s on-court accomplishments are many. She played five times at Wimbledon. In 1967, Urban Mlacak won a bronze medal at the Pan-American games. In 1969, she was the last Canadian to win our national tourney, now called the Rogers Cup. Urban Mlacak was the first Canadian ever to be seeded at the U.S. Open.
Each year, while watching the events at Wimbledon unfolding, the memories flood back to Urban Mlacak.
“I think every time I see them playing at Wimbledon I recall being there,” she said. “Every time I watch Wimbledon, I feel that.”
A sensation that was born on the tennis courts of Windsor.
“I have a real soft spot for Windsor, having grown up there and having played there in my younger years,” Urban Mlacak said. “I’d love to see a champion come from Windsor.”
She’s just as excited to witness Bouchard duel for the Wimbledon title against Petra Kvitkova of the Czech Republic.
“Having a Canadian do so well and someone who is so impressive in every way, it makes you feel very proud,” Urban Mlacak said. “It makes you feel really great about how she represents Canada.”
The eventual women’s doubles champions in 1967 were Americans Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals. King was star of Wimbledon that year, also winning the women’s singles and mixed doubles titles, the first time that had happened since 1951.
So it was a big year for women’s tennis, a big year for Windsor, and the biggest day Canada had witnessed at the All England Lawn Tennis Club until Bouchard takes the court Saturday morning.
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