PV Sports Desk : Maria Bueno, a Brazilian tennis great who won three Wimbledon singles titles and four at the U.S. Open in the 1950s and 1960s, and helped usher in modern women’s tennis, has died after battling mouth cancer. She was 78.
Bueno was admitted to the Nove de Julho hospital in Sao Paulo on Tuesday and on Friday the hospital released a statement confirming her death. It declined to provide more details out of respect for her family.
“A very sad day for sports. Brazil and the world lost a true tennis legend,” tweeted the International Olympic Committee, one of several sports organizations and professional tennis players to praise Bueno’s contribution.
Nicknamed “The Tennis Ballerina” because of her graceful style, Bueno spent most of her career on the court before the professional era. She won 19 Grand Slam titles overall, seven in singles, 11 in doubles and one in mixed doubles, between 1959 and 1966. She also reached the singles final at both the Australian Open and the French Open.
Bueno was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1978 and was more recently contributing regularly to Brazilian television at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and other major tennis events.
Bueno won her first major at Wimbledon in 1959, when she was 19. In “Tennis Encyclopedia,” Bud Collins described her at the time as “the incomparably balletic and flamboyant Bueno.”
“Volleying beautifully, playing with breathtaking boldness and panache, the lithe Brazilian became the first South American woman to win the Wimbledon singles,” Collins wrote.
Adored in Brazil after winning the trophy, Bueno became one of the symbols of the country’s change from mostly rural to urban and modern.
Bueno was ranked No. 1 in the world in 1959, 1960, 1964 and 1966. She was the first non-American woman to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same season.
Billie Jean King, who beat Bueno in the 1966 Wimbledon final and later helped start a women’s professional tennis tour, said the Brazilian was one of the players that made tennis less of a men’s game.
“Maria was a big star who caught the interest of the fans at a time when the men took center stage. She helped lay the groundwork for what was to come,” King told Bueno’s website in 2009. “She deserves to be recognized.”