"In the end," Gardner says, "I think you really only get as far as you're allowed to get."
Because she doesn't have anything better to do.
Mary Carillo is a cross between Ava Gardner and Henny Youngman. At 34, she is still a long-limbed tomboy with a swagger in her voice. Andre Agassi can't abide her (she accused him on air of "tanking" a set at the 1989 U.S. Open). She once referred to the three Maleeva sisters of Bulgaria as the "gerbils" of the U.S. Open draw. Carillo is regarded by many as one of the few female experts with a strong air presence, a Billy Packer or a Madden. Others wish she would shut up. What separates her from both her male and female colleagues is a natural gift for words. An Agassi passing shot is "sincere," an unforced error by John McEnroe "unpardonable." She is one of the best reporters on her sport, and she brings players to life as characters. "I love giving people their faces and their elbows," she says.
Perhaps the early end of Carillo's tennis-playing career was not such a tragedy, because the only reason she had turned pro in the first place was to pay off an outstanding hotel and bar bill in the Bahamas. Carillo and McEnroe won the French Open mixed-doubles title in 1977, when they were just a couple of neighborhood pals from Douglaston, N.Y., but within three years she had suffered three bouts of knee surgery. In January 1980 she accidentally limped into a television career at the Avon Championships, when a couple of announcers from the Madison Square Garden cable network did an interview with her to fill some time and ended up using her as a commentator for the rest of the night. She played one last Wimbledon and retired after losing in the first round. Then she got a call from a USA Network producer. "They were dredging," she says.
Observers have long waited for Carillo to venture into other sports; even those at rival networks call her one of the most talented people in the business. "She has believability," says Mason. "She can branch out and probably will." In 1992 she will cover women's skiing for CBS at the Winter Olympics and the America's Cup for ESPN. She dabbled in tennis play-by-play last year. "You can't put her on too much," Shaker says.
Carillo, however, is not so sure she wants to have it all. She balances her career with a fierce allegiance to her husband, Bill Bowden, tennis director at the Registry Resort in Naples, Fla., and their three-year-old son, Anthony. She is six months pregnant with her second child, which will make it impossible for her to travel 125 days in 1991, as she did last year. She declined to go to Wimbledon for ESPN last year so she could go snook fishing with Bowden in Alabama. Her interests aren't very conventional. "Don't give me a sport with the word ball in it," she says. She views her television work, with a shrug, as something that's casually enjoyable.
"You know what?" she says. "I just sort of hang around. That's all I do."
In fact, her presence on network tennis telecasts was hard won, particularly on men's matches. She and Andrea Kirby were the first all-women team in tennis when they broadcast a women's tournament together for USA in 1982, but Carillo is skeptical of the event's significance. "When two women talk about a men's match, that will be a big day," she says. The only reason she began doing men's matches was that former USA colleague Al Trautwig insisted on it. After reading background notes and other information she passed to him in the booth, he said, "This should be coming out of your mouth, not mine," and took her to a producer.
Whenever Carillo is called the best woman tennis expert, or anything else with the word woman in it, her normally lively expression settles into a frown. "Yeah, well," she says, "you know what? I don't want to be graded on a curve."
Because she has something to prove.