Maria Bueno, Brazilian Tennis Star Who Reigned Over 1960s, Dies at 78
Posted June 9, 2018 10:22 p.m. EDT
Maria Bueno, who won three Wimbledon singles titles and four at the U.S. Nationals and was ranked No. 1 in the world four times in the last years of tennis’ amateur era, died Friday at a hospital in São Paulo, Brazil. She was 78.
Her death was confirmed on her website. She had been treated for oral cancer that was diagnosed in 2016.
Bueno was one of the greatest women’s tennis players of her time and was hailed as a celebrity in her home country, Brazil. She captured 19 Grand Slam titles — seven in singles, 11 in doubles and one in mixed doubles — between 1959 and 1968 and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1978. She won about 589 tournaments, her website reported.
Bueno also reached the singles finals at the Australian Open and the French Open, where a minute of applause in her memory preceded the women’s singles championship final Saturday.
“She was the reigning queen of tennis in her day,” Billie Jean King told The New York Times in 1987 after facing Bueno in an exhibition doubles match at Madison Square Garden. “She just projected well and was so graceful with long, flowing strokes. She had all the things that people liked in a champion.”
Bueno said at the time she was a “very creative” player who always aimed for the lines. “If I played safe, that wasn’t me,” Bueno said. “Being a Latin, I also had a temperament that was very expressive. Never hid my emotions.”
She played in dresses tailored by English couturier Ted Tinling, and spectators took notice in 1962 when she donned a white Tinling dress that had a pink underskirt and matching pink underwear.
“There was a gasp from one end of the court,” The Associated Press quoted Bueno as recalling long afterward. “And the people at the other end didn’t know why until I changed ends and served from there. Later I wore panties that resembled the club colors, which outraged the club committee, and they brought in the all-white clothing rule.”
In 1963, Wimbledon made it a condition of entry that competitors had to wear clothing that was “predominantly in white throughout” or risk disqualification.
Maria Esther Bueno was born Oct. 11, 1939, in São Paulo, and grew up across the street from a tennis club. Both her father and mother played, and she was handling a racket at age 6. “I had a lot of natural talent, but I had to work hard too,” she told The Times. She attributed her speed on the court to having trained with men.
In 1959, she won her first titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals — an amateur tournament and predecessor to the U.S. Open. She was voted female athlete of the year in a nationwide poll of sports writers conducted by The Associated Press.
Bueno captured the Wimbledon singles crowns in 1959, 1960 and 1964 and the U.S. Nationals at Forest Hills, Queens, in 1959, 1963, 1964 and 1966. She was ranked No. 1 in the world in 1959, 1960, 1964 and 1966.
Her last major title came in 1968 when she won the doubles title at the U.S. Open with Margaret Court, who was among her greatest rivals. Her final tournament victory was at the Japan Open in 1974. Bueno essentially retired after the 1977 season although she did play in mixed doubles at Wimbledon in 1980.
Bueno’s career was marked by illness and injuries. She was bedridden for eight months by hepatitis she contracted in 1961, and she had knee surgery in 1965. She was sidelined between 1969 and 1974 by severe cramps and pain in her right arm that required multiple operations, a problem she attributed to putting too many demands on herself.
She was later a commentator at major tennis tournaments for Brazilian television. Upon her death, the country’s president, Michel Temer, said Bueno “will always be remembered as the No. 1 of tennis in the hearts of all Brazilians.”
A list of her survivors was not immediately available.
The International Tennis Federation asked Bueno to attend the French Open in 1985 and she worked afterward to achieve visibility to younger players as a means of enhancing the women’s game.
“The youngsters don’t know anything about tennis history, and before they didn’t try too much to learn either,” she remarked during her Madison Square Garden appearance. “But now they know who I am and what I’ve done.”