Class of 1978
World No. 1 (1959)
Grand Slam Results
19-time major champion, 16-time finalist
Maria Esther Bueno’s impact on South American tennis, particularly in her native Brazil, was so profound that in 1959 she was issued a postal stamp honoring her Wimbledon Ladies Singles Championships, won in 1959 and 1960. The “Correios de Brasil,” stamp serves as a historical marker and tribute to the remarkable career Bueno forged as a player who put both a region and women’s tennis on her back.
Bueno won 19 of 35 major singles, doubles, and mixed doubles opportunities, a 54 percent victory rate in the majors. You earn your own stamp and immortality in Newport when you become the first non-US woman to win both Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals in the same year (1959). In tennis history, only eight woman players have won three Wimbledon and U.S. Championships in their career, and Bueno is among that elite group. She solidified herself as the preeminent player of the 1960s by being ranked No. 1 in the world in 1959, 1960, 1964, and 1966, and ranks 12th all-time on the list of major singles winners. Twelve of her 19 major titles were won in doubles and mixed doubles, with six different partners of varying skills and techniques, capturing a doubles Grand Slam in 1960.
Bueno went about her tennis business with both grace and style, flair and artistry, leading tennis writers of the era to bestow praise. In his Tennis Encyclopedia Bud Collins wrote “… the incomparably balletic and flamboyant Bueno. Volleying beautifully, playing with breathtaking boldness and panache, the lithe Brazilian became the first South American women to win the Wimbledon singles.” In Wimbledon: The Hidden Dream, Gwen Robyns penned, “She looked like an exotic Siamese cat as she roamed the court. Maria was sinuous, sensuous and feminine. The called her the Queen of Wimbledon.” In his book 100 Wimbledon Championships, A Celebration, John Barrett waxed poetically, writing, “Between 1959 and 1964 we were treated to three regal wins from the artistic racket of the elegant queen of Brazilian tennis, Maria Bueno. Here was poetry in motion whose every movement combined the grass of a ballet dancer with the controlled power of a top gymnast.”
Bueno merged dominant tennis with her inherent beauty. She was glamorous and chic on court, wearing specially designed dresses created by the incomparable Ted Tinling. All this did what magnify Bueno’s appeal to a global audience. While she was beloved in Brazil – her Wimbledon victory in 1959 leading to a parade on the streets of São Paulo – and throughout South America, she was developing a worldwide following that adored her game, her style and panache.
The 5-foot-6 Bueno had long, trim legs and brown hair cut short and tucked behind her ears. She had no formal coaching and traveled the world unchaperoned. She won the Brazilian Nationals as a 15-year-old in 1954, adding to her collection of age group category (14-year, 18-year, and 21-year) championships as a prodigious teenager. In late 1957 he left her native São Paulo and made her first international splash by winning the prestigious Orange Bowl Championship in Florida. She played the Caribbean Circuit and soon made her way to Europe, where her exploits at Wimbledon placed her into the tennis hierarchy and earned her icon status. When Bueno defeated Shirley Bloomer, England’s best player, and Lorraine Coughlin, Australia’s best player (3-6, 6-3, 6-3), to win the Italian Championships in 1958, it was reported that she “hits the ball with the power of a man … serves hard and rushes to the net at every opportunity.” Nicknamed “The São Paulo Swallow” because she appeared out of thin air to swoop in and dominate the net, Bueno won the Italian again in 1961 and 1965.
Bueno was also called the heir apparent to Althea Gibson, but she remained modest in trying to remain under the radar as long as possible. “I’m not good,” she told the Associated Press, which named her its Female Athlete of the Year in 1959. “I’m afraid of everyone I play.”
All but one of Bueno’s major singles titles were won in straight sets –Margaret Court extended her to three sets (6-4,7-9, 6-3) at Wimbledon in 1964, which earned Bueno her third and final championship on Centre Court. She was a finalist there in 1965 and 1966, losing to Court and Billie Jean King. In 1959, she faced American Darlene Hard in the finals and was on a roll, winning easily, 6-4, 6-3. “Winning Wimbledon in 1959 was the greatest moment of my career,” Bueno said. “It was a bit unexpected as I was very young – 17 years old. Coming from Brazil where we only had clay courts, we didn’t have the chance to really play on grass, so winning the first time was huge and a big surprise.”
Later that summer at Forest Hills, Bueno dismantled Brit Christine Truman, 6-1, 6-4, to win the U.S. Nationals. She returned to Wimbledon in 1960 as the No. 1 seed, powered through the draw and faced an unlikely finalist in South African Sandra Reynolds Price, who gave Bueno a tussle in the first set, but was no match, falling 8-6, 6-0.
Bueno was all-business at the U.S. Nationals, playing in five championship matches, winning four of them. Hard won the 1960 rematch, 6-4, 10-12, 6-4, then Bueno won three straight in 1963 over Court (7-5, 6-4); 1964 over Carole Graebner (6-1, 6-0) and her last in 1966 over Nancy Richey (6-3, 6-1). Bueno had an exhausting stretch of singles success – she amassed 589 overall titles – and reached the quarterfinals in each of the first 26 majors she played. She was ranked in the world Top 10 from 1958 to 1968.
Meanwhile, Bueno was able to also focus on doubles, winning 12 doubles and mixed doubles championships in 23 opportunities. Her aggressive style, which served her so well in singles, was tailor made for doubles. She and Hard teamed to win five of the 11 (1960 and 1963 Wimbledon; 1960 and 1962 U.S. Nationals; and 1960 French). Alongside Gibson she won her first major at Wimbledon in 1958 and paired with King (1965 Wimbledon), Richey (1966 U.S.), and Truman (1960 Australian) for additional major championships. In mixed doubles, Bueno partnered with Aussie Bob Howe to win the 1960 French.
Bueno’s career didn’t extend long enough to play into the Open Era, and when tour money arrived, significant arm and leg injuries prevented her from competing after 1968. She made cameo appearances thereafter, winning the 1974 Japan Open for her lone professional title compared to the 62 tour victories she earned as an amateur.
Her immortality in Brazil will endure forever, with three constructed statues and a mural honoring her legacy, and joins Gabriela Sabatini as the only South American women inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She remains active in the game as a commentator for SportTV and for the BBC’s Radio Brazilian World Service.
Australian Championships: F 1965
French Championships: F 1964
Wimbledon: W 1959, 1960, 1964
U.S. Nationals: W 1959, 1963, 1964, 1966
Australian Championships: W 1960
French Championships: W 1960
Wimbledon: W 1958, 1960, 1963, 1965, 1966
U.S. Nationals/US Open: W 1960, 1962, 1966, 1968
Australian Championships: SF 1960
French Championships: W 1960
Wimbledon: F 1959, 1960, 1967
U.S. Nationals: F 1958, 1960