Maria Bueno, 1939–2018
The Brazilian tennis star who elevated the women’s game
Maria Bueno often elicited gasps on the tennis court, though usually with her powerful serve and balletic grace. But at the 1962 Wimbledon semifinal, it was the Brazilian’s fashion sense that had Centre Court abuzz. Seeking to reclaim her world No. 1 ranking after being sidelined for eight months with hepatitis, Bueno arrived in a seemingly demure white dress—a staid look demanded by the All England Club. But as she moved across the grass, spectators caught glimpses of her pink underskirt and matching underwear. “There was a gasp from one end of the court,” she said. “People at the other end didn’t know why until I served from there.” Outraged, Wimbledon’s organizers insisted that in the future players dress in all white.
Born in São Paulo, Bueno “grew up across the street from a tennis club,” said The New York Times. She was handling a racket at age 6, and in her early teens won all of Brazil’s junior titles. Recognizing Bueno’s potential, her club paid for a one-way ticket to Miami, where, without a coach, she won the Orange Bowl Under 18 crown—the unofficial junior world championship.
After claiming her first Wimbledon singles and U.S. Nationals titles in 1959, Bueno returned to Brazil a “superstar and was given a ticker-tape parade,” said The Times (U.K.). She would win 19 grand slams—seven in singles, 11 in doubles, one in mixed doubles—and although injuries shortened her prime, she was still competing at Wimbledon at age 40. She worked as a tennis commentator in her later years and often marveled at how the game had changed. My “prize for winning Wimbledon was a [$20] voucher,” she said in 2015. “But through sport I got things that money can’t buy.”