MELBOURNE, Australia – Mary Carter Reitano, who won three Grand Slam titles in the 1950s, was recognized as a member of her country’s pantheon of greats when she was inducted into the Australian Tennis Hall of Fame during the recent Australian Open.
Although Covid-19 restrictions prevented the 86-year-old from attending a dedication ceremony on Rod Laver Arena, Carter Reitano’s bronze statue will be on permanent display in Garden Square at Melbourne Park.
“I thought everyone had forgotten about me, so it is lovely to be remembered and honoured this way,” said Carter Reitano, who was dubbed ‘Little Miss Poker Face’ by the press because of her serious visage when she was on the court.
“It wasn’t really a poker face, I just didn’t show any emotion when I played!” she said. “But I liked the independence of the sport. If I did something wrong, I could blame myself because it was just me, a racquet and a ball.”
Essentially self-taught, having learned to play by scrambling over a fence to use a neighbour’s court, the young Mary Carter became a tennis prodigy who won the Australian junior title in 1951 and 1952.
Her first Australian singles title came in 1956 at the Milton Courts in Brisbane, where she defeated the legendary Thelma Coyne Long 9-7 in the third set of the final – a victory that signalled a changing of the guard in Australian women’s tennis at the time.
Carter Reitano’s second title came four years later when she defeated Renee Schuurman of South Africa in straight sets at Memorial Drive – the venue that is now the home of the Adelaide International. She was also a semifinalist at her home major on eight further occasions.
But it was during her first Australian title run that Carter Reitano created a moment of history by standing up to tournament administrators who she perceived were being disrespectful.
When her semifinal against Daphne Feeney was delayed because the men’s matches were dragging through five sets, the officials scheduled the women’s match to be played on an outside court – but both women players refused to budge from a show court billing.
“We decided to sit in the dressing room and wait until the men finished,” Reitano Carter recalled. “Eventually we got our way and they set down the schedule for us to play on a show court the next morning. So that was a win for us.”
Adding to her Grand Slam haul, in 1961, Carter Reitano partnered a young Margaret Smith (later Court) to win the doubles title at the Australian Championships. She reached three further doubles finals with different partners, as well as the mixed final in 1961 with John Pearce.
Carter Reitano’s other career highlights came in 1955 and 1959, when she was selected in Australian teams to tour Europe, which enabled her to fulfil her ambition of playing at Roland Garros, where she was a quarterfinalist and Wimbledon, where she advanced to the Round of 16.
After retiring from competitive tennis, Mary married Sydney Reitano and retired from competitive tennis to become a coach in Sydney and raise a family.