As Bianca Andreescu became the first Canadian woman to win the Rogers Cup in 50 years, the previous champion watched on TV and cheered her on, marvelling at the differences between women’s tennis in 1969 and the lucrative sport it is today.
Faye Urban is now 74, a retired teacher and a huge tennis fan. Urban has never met Andreescu, but she has been watching the 19-year-old rising Canadian star with great interest, admiring the variety of expert shots in her game and the fearlessness with which she plays.
“I’m thrilled for her, 50 years is long enough to have this record,” Urban told The Globe and Mail on Sunday. “Bianca has these massive gifts, so she was the player to do it. I was all for it. It was time.”
Urban was looking forward to Andreescu’s match against 23-time Grand Slam champ Serena Williams in the Rogers Cup final at Toronto’s Aviva Centre on Sunday. Despite the match going just 19 minutes before Williams retired because of injury, Urban saw an unflinching, determined Andreescu on course for victory.
A Canadian has not won the men’s event since Robert Bédard in 1958.
Urban was surprised to hear that Andreescu had ever heard her name. When Urban was playing, she didn’t get the sort of media attention, sponsors or prize money that this young WTA star has received. Urban played before Billie Jean King and Original Nine spearheaded the WTA in 1973.
The women at this year’s Rogers Cup played for a purse of US$2.8-million, with Andreescu taking the winner’s cheque of US$521,530.
“We didn’t get prize money there in 1969; I think I got $150 for my expenses,” Urban said. “Everyone running the event was a volunteer. It was a whole bunch of people trying to keep tennis alive in Canada. I was excited to win it back then, but I didn’t realize how important that would be until it took 50 years for another Canadian woman to win it.”
Back then, the event was not held on the grounds of York University as it is today, and it wasn’t on hard courts. That year, it was held on clay courts at the Toronto Lawn Tennis Club. She remembers temporary stands erected for the tournament on either sides of the court – right on top of other courts where club members would usually play.
Urban was 24 at the time, and she beat fellow Canadian Vicki Berner, her Fed Cup teammate, 6-2, 6-0 in the final. Urban won the doubles title, too, with partner Brenda Nunns in an all-Canadian final over Jane O’Hara Wood and Vivienne Strong.
Urban’s parents were not there watching her win in 1969. They were in Windsor, where she was raised. On Sunday, however, Andreescu’s parents, and their toy poodle Coco, were captured at the tournament on live TV.
“I don’t remember how I celebrated, but I do remember calling my parents to tell them I won,” Urban said. “A few reporters interviewed me for newspapers, but the news wouldn’t have made it to Windsor yet, and they didn’t have a TV.”
Urban was Canada’s top-ranked female player from 1967 to 1969. She travelled the world playing in all the biggest events, from Wimbledon to the French Open. Her biggest result at a Slam was a quarter-final appearance in doubles at Wimbledon.
“We didn’t have the entourages they have today – coaches, hitting partners, massage therapists, fitness coaches. In those days, no one could afford that,” Urban recalled. “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.”
By 25, Urban had to retire from pro tennis. She got a job at a bank and moonlighted as a sports writer for the Toronto Telegram, for which she wrote tennis, squash and badminton. She laughs now at the night she “got in some real hot water with the bosses” when she was covering a tennis event and chose to write on Court’s match instead of one being played by male star Rod Laver, who all the other reporters covered.
Urban’s father had insisted she go to teacher’s college before she pursued life on tour. So after tennis, she began a career as a teacher. Tennis remained in her life – she taught her husband to play and they played in clubs and tournaments for years, especially doubles together.
Tennis Canada had been in touch with Urban throughout the week as interview requests flowed in for her. After the Canadian teen won on Sunday, Tennis Canada’s vice-president of professional events, Gavin Ziv, touched base with Urban once more.
“Gavin said he was just about to go see Bianca and go celebrate with her family, and asked me if I had anything I want to say anything to her,” Urban said. “So I said ‘tell her she would have won anyway.’”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect spelling for Jane O’Hara Wood. This version has been fixed.