In November last year we lost one of Canada’s greatest tennis stars. Faye Urban Mlacak died on November 11, 2020 after a lengthy illness with cancer.
Faye was a natural at tennis. She was a gifted player who had a great love for the game throughout her life. Even though Faye retired from competition in 1970 at 25 years of age, a few of us were lucky enough to persuade her to play in some doubles events in Toronto years after she retired. Faye always amazed us with her skills and how she could time the ball so well. I was fortunate to enter the over 35 Ontario Senior Tennis championship with Faye in 1995 and was delighted to have a win with her.
Faye grew up in Windsor, Ontario. She credited her father, Archie Urban, with nurturing her interest in tennis and her early development in the sport. Archie taught himself how to play tennis and gained insights into the sport by studying a book written by Pancho Gonzales. Archie started hitting tennis balls with Faye at a local public court in Windsor when she was 7 years old. Faye’s father was creative, designing different tennis aids to assist Faye in her stroke development including fusing a large metal mallet on the frame of a wooden Dunlop Maxply racquet.
Faye was a strong athlete who was also good at basketball and played on the high school team in Windsor. She picked up tennis easily and quickly excelled at the game. At the age of 10, in 1956, Faye won the Ontario Junior Girls under 13 singles championship and the Western Ontario Girls under 13 and under 15 titles. Faye spent significant time away from home as a junior playing in tournaments and developing her game. Those in the tennis world quickly recognized how talented she was.
Faye went on to win many more provincial and national junior championships including the Canadian Closed under 18 junior girl’s singles championship in 1962 and 1963. Faye was also an excellent doubles player and won many junior doubles championships often playing with Brenda Nunns. Faye had her first overseas trip in 1963 when she was 17, playing at different tournaments in England including junior Wimbledon.
Faye with Peaches Barkowitz
The life of a tennis player and the prospects of a Canadian playing tennis for a living were very different in the 1960s. There were no indoor courts in Windsor which limited a player’s ability to play year-round. Indeed there were very few indoor courts across Ontario. The level of financial support for top players at that time was also very different from today. Players did not have dedicated coaches like they do now and had to make their own arrangements getting to and travelling at tournaments. The equipment too was very different. Those of us who played at that time will remember using wooden racquets which were heavier than today’s modern graphite composite racquets.
Faye was an exciting player to watch and played an aggressive game. She was known for having an outstanding forehand which was a formidable weapon. After her years playing junior tennis, Faye transitioned into playing tennis more on a year-round basis. She had an opportunity through friends to spend time in California where Faye worked on her game with Louise Brough. Louise Brough was an American multi-grand slam winner who retired from tennis around 1957 and started teaching tennis in California.
Faye was very active in tournaments in Canada and internationally in the 1960s. Faye was a member of Canada’s Federation Cup Team in 1963 and from 1966 to 1970. She competed at Wimbledon during these same years. Faye played many tournaments in the United States and in England and also played in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and several other countries. In 1967, Faye and Vicki Berner got to the Quarter Finals in Women’s Doubles at Wimbledon and won a bronze medal in the Pan Am Games.
Faye played with Harry Fauquier in a mixed doubles grass court tournament in Philadelphia in 1964 where they reached the final after beating several top teams. Harry remembers that event well as Faye could hit forehand to forehand with some of the best male players like Marty Reissen and Frank Froehling. Harry said Faye had the best women’s tennis forehand - she could hit winners with it, had great timing and technique and struck the ball perfectly.
Faye played tournaments on all surfaces and had great success in 1968 in several grass court tournaments leading up to Wimbledon. Faye won the grass court tournaments that summer at St. Anne’s England, Cardiff Wales and in Belfast Northern Ireland.
Faye won the Women’s Singles Canadian Closed championship in 1968 and 1969. She was a finalist in the Canadian Open championship in 1965 and 1968. I remember watching Faye play the finals of the Canadian Open in 1968 on Court 2 at the Toronto Lawn Tennis Club against Peaches Bartkowicz who was a few years younger than Faye. It was a great match and Faye was an inspiration to many young Canadian juniors. Back then the Canadian Open was held at clubs like the Toronto Lawn with temporary stands in place.
Faye went on to win the Canadian Open championship the following year in 1969 beating Vicky Berner convincingly (6-2, 6-0) in the final. The significance of Faye’s win was recognized recently when Bianca Andreescu, another Canadian, won the Canadian Open Rogers Cup in 2019, 50 years later. There were a number of articles at the time recalling Faye’s Canadian Open win in 1969. Faye also gave an interview on CBC radio and was thrilled to see another Canadian finally win the Canadian Open championship again.
Faye was quoted in the Globe & Mail at the time of Bianca’s win:
“We didn’t have the entourages they have today - coaches, hitting partners, massage therapists, fitness coaches. In those days, no one could afford that. … The players were very close to one another because you travelled together place to place and it was very collegial - we were all in it together. I didn’t travel with a coach. I made all my arrangements on my own. Often, we billeted with families instead of staying in hotels. Billie Jean King and Margaret Court were my contemporaries and it was a grand experience.”
The late 60s was an interesting and important time in tennis with the start of the “open era” in 1968. This paved the way for the professional era we know today with significant prize money available in tournaments. In contrast to the tournaments of today, when Faye won the Canadian Open championship in 1969, she only received a nominal amount.
Faye played against many of the “original 9”, including Billie Jean King, who were instrumental in the creation of the Women’s Tennis Association and the fight for better equity in women’s tennis in terms of prize money. Julie Heldman, another top American player, was also a member of the “original 9” and played against Faye in junior and open events. In the World Tennis Magazine published in July 1969, Julie wrote a charming article, with clever musical references, about some of her matches with Faye and about Faye’s popularity on the circuit. The article welcomed Faye to the select group of “Distinguished Women of Tennis”. Julie goes on to write:
“Faye has lovely blue eyes, a pretty face, a warm smile and a gentle nature. She likes everyone and in turn is one of the most popular players on the circuit. She has a special spark and a wild sense of humor which is played in a low key in the daytime, but at night the mutes are lifted and the result is ‘Til Eulenspiegel’ and ‘Peter and the Wolf’, with occasional Beatle bop for variety."
Faye had an outstanding forehand.
Faye is sometimes kidded about her nationality. “Hey, Faye,” someone asks, “in what part of the U.S. is Canada?” The more erudite tennis fans in foreign countries not only expect her to play well for her nation in Federation Cup but to give an able discussion of the political scene in Canada, along with personal comments on Trudeau’s [Pierre that is] abilities…”
Faye was inducted into the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame in 1996 in recognition of her many accomplishments and contributions to the sport. Faye was also inducted into the Windsor & Essex County Sports Hall of Fame in 1992.
After retiring from tennis Faye settled down in Toronto, where she worked in banking and as a sports journalist for the Telegram and then the Sun. Faye’s father had encouraged Faye years earlier to go to Teacher’s College in Windsor. Faye eventually got into teaching which she really enjoyed. She spent more than 25 years touching the lives of countless students as a tutor and supply teacher for the TDSB.
Faye married Willy Mlacak (also from Windsor) shortly after retiring from tennis and had a wonderful family life with her husband, their children Conor and Kate and more recently several grandchildren. Faye continued to enjoy tennis and other sports including becoming a cycling enthusiast, cycling in Toronto and other parts of Ontario with Willy and friends.
Faye was a fun, smart, positive person. Faye was always interested in what others were doing and was very humble about her own accomplishments. She was a lovely person who will be sorely missed by many in the tennis community.