Obituaries

Maria Bueno, 78; Brazilian was ‘queen of tennis’ in 1960s

Ms. Bueno captured 19 major titles — seven in singles — between 1959 and 1968 and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1978.
AFP/Getty Images/file
Ms. Bueno captured 19 major titles — seven in singles — between 1959 and 1968 and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1978.

NEW YORK — Maria Bueno, who won three Wimbledon singles titles and four at the US Nationals and was ranked No. 1 in the world four times in the last years of tennis’s amateur era, died Friday at a hospital in São Paulo. She was 78.

She had been treated for oral cancer that was diagnosed in 2016.

Ms. 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 major 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.

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Ms. 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.

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“She was the reigning queen of tennis in her day,” Billie Jean King told The New York Times in 1987. “She just projected well and was so graceful with long, flowing strokes. She had all the things that people liked in a champion.”

Ms. 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,” Ms. 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 Ms. 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.”

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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. 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 US Nationals — an amateur tournament and predecessor to the US Open. She was voted female athlete of the year in a nationwide poll of sportswriters conducted by the Associated Press.

Ms. Bueno captured the Wimbledon singles crowns in 1959, 1960, and 1964 and the US 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.

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Her last major title came in 1968 when she won the doubles title at the US Open with Margaret Court, who was among her greatest rivals. Her final tournament victory was at the Japan Open in 1974. Ms. Bueno essentially retired after the 1977 season although she did play in mixed doubles at Wimbledon in 1980.

‘She just projected well and was so graceful with long, flowing strokes.’

Ms. 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 Ms. 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.