Wednesday 13 November 2019

Obituary: Maria Bueno

Wimbledon champion who was given a ticker-tape parade in her native Brazil

GRACEFUL: Maria Bueno
GRACEFUL: Maria Bueno

Maria Bueno, who has died aged 78, was among the most elegant and naturally gifted tennis players of her generation and a sporting idol in her native South America; she won 19 Grand Slam titles including three Wimbledon and four US Open singles crowns plus 12 doubles championships, becoming the darling of the international tennis circuit.

Through her dynamic, all-court game and uniquely graceful style she helped to put women's tennis on the map. The British commentator and former international John Barrett summed up her appeal: "Here was poetry in motion, whose every movement combined the grace of a ballet dancer with the controlled power of a top gymnast."

Maria Esther Andion Bueno was born on October 11, 1939 into a close-knit and middle-class family in Sao Paulo. Both parents loved tennis and they lived opposite the Clube de Regales Tiele, where Maria and her elder brother Pedro played most days using racquets passed down through the family.

The slightly built Maria's talent rapidly emerged as she developed the timing and technique to hit the ball exquisitely with an adult-sized racquet. Without a regular coach, she developed her explosive service action from studying photographs of the American star "Big Bill" Tilden.

Practising mainly with men, including the Brazilian international Armando Vieira, her mentor, she won all the Brazilian age-group championships. At 17 she travelled to Florida, alone and unchaperoned on a one-way ticket donated by her club, to win the Orange Bowl Championships, considered the world championship of junior tennis.

She toured Europe, winning the 1958 Italian Championships at Foro Italico in Rome at her first attempt. At a time when women's matches were usually relegated to the back courts, she was invariably centre stage, with crowds hanging from the rafters to watch her.

In Maria Bueno's first appearance at Wimbledon in 1958, she and Althea Gibson won the Wimbledon doubles crown. She returned the following year to take the singles title, beating the American Darlene Hard in straight sets. She also beat Christine Truman in the US championship and became world No.1.

Nicknamed the Sao Paulo Swallow, she returned to a heroine's welcome in Brazil, where the Post Office issued a stamp bearing her face.

Maria Bueno retained her Wimbledon title in 1960 and also toured Australia, where she and the big-hitting Christine Truman, then world No.2, won the Australian Open doubles. Despite British hopes that the brilliant young pairing would continue, Darlene Hard insisted that Maria Bueno play doubles with her. The pair forged a strong partnership on and off court, winning a string of titles including two Wimbledons and two US Open championships.

Although illness and injury had virtually ended her international career by the start of the Open era in 1968, Maria Bueno underwent a series of operations and returned briefly to the circuit, winning the Japan Open in 1974 which brought her biggest payday.

Despite her fame, competing in the amateur era meant that money had always been tight and she regretted missing out on the lucrative rewards enjoyed by her immediate successors.

Maria Bueno, who died on June 8, was unmarried.

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent

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