ST. PETERSBURG, FL, USA - The tennis family mourns the passing of former player and administrator Vicki Berner, affectionately known as ‘Bird Legs’, who passed away June 21 at the age of 71 following a brief battle with cancer.
“We will miss her terribly as she was someone who would light up the room and always brought a smile to your face,” said WTA Legend Rosie Casals.
Recalling an occasion when Berner helped her find a new home for an at-risk rescue dog another former player, Jeanne Ford, described her colleague as “a class act with a huge heart.”
A graduate of Paul Willey’s junior development program in Vancouver, Berner was Canadian U18 national champion in 1960 and 1961, and started to tour internationally at an early age.
She went on to compete at Wimbledon and the US Open and rank in her country’s Top 10 for 12 years – ultimately reaching the Canadian No.1 spot in 1971. Runner-up to Faye Urban in the Canadian Open singles in 1969, Berner shone especially in doubles, capturing the Canadian Open crown in 1963 with Susan Butt and from 1965-69 with Urban. She also won the national mixed doubles title in 1963 and 1966, partnering Keith Carpenter.
After her playing days had ended, Berner worked as a Director of the Virginia Slims Satellite Tour before assuming the role of Director of Women’s Tennis at the USTA in the mid-70s. Having represented her native Canada in Fed Cup on four occasions, she became captain of the star-studded USA team in 1978 and 1979, working with the likes of Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Tracy Austin and Casals.
Behind the scenes, Berner infamously faced off against another former player-turned-tour director, Peachy Kellmeyer, in a high jinks challenge match that saw the two staffers egged on by the game’s biggest names.
Writing in her autobiography, Evert noted of the 1975 soiree: “Of course, (chief instigator) Rosie could not just have Peachy and Vicki play a routine match. There had to be other conditions: On court changeovers, for example, Peachy was required to take a swig of beer while Vicki downed Scotch. Rosie also decided that everyone must be dressed appropriately, so she and Shari Barman, a friend, bought ‘Ladies of the Evening’ T-shirts and acrylic pants. To make matters more interesting, Rosie got one-dollar donations from the crowd for prize money. Billie Jean, naturally, was the umpire, wearing two pairs of glasses, and Martina and I were designated as ‘coaches’."
Later, in the 80s and 90s, Berner worked as a consultant for Philip Morris and the Virginia Slims brand. Inducted into Tennis Canada’s Hall of Fame in 1995, she also excelled at bowling and became an accomplished senior golf player, winning a gold medal at the Maccabiah Games in 2005.
The WTA sends its condolences to all of her family and friends.