Her death on Friday 8 June in her home town of São Paulo was a shock to club members as well as around the wider tennis world because few knew she was fighting cancer, a battle Maria finally lost at the age 78.
Tributes poured in, reflecting how this great champion was revered, and she will be greatly missed, particularly at our club, which she loved to visit and play at.
Three days of mourning were declared by the Governor of the State of São Paulo, and she received tributes from, amongst many others, the President of Brazil, the Olympic Committee, Tennis Confederations, clubs and many, many friends from all over the world.
French Open organisers paid tribute to Maria with a minute’s applause ahead of the women’s singles final at Roland Garros last Sunday, and she was honoured on the big screen of the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna at the start of the Brazil v Austria friendly ahead of the World Cup on Monday.
A Memorial Mass was held at the church she attended every week in São Paolo on Friday 15 June, attended by the Chairman of the All England Lawn Tennis Club, Philip Brook as well as family, friends and dignitaries.
Maria was South America’s most successful tennis player, having won 19 major titles, including three Wimbledon singles titles and four US championships, and she dominated the game during the late 1950s and 1960s.
She surely would have won much more had her career not been marred by illness and injuries, bedridden for eight months by hepatitis in 1961 and overcoming knee surgery in 1965, coming back strongly from both.
Billie Jean King led tributes tweeting: “Maria was a big star who caught the interest of the fans at a time when the men took centre stage. She helped lay the groundwork for what was to come. She deserves to be recognised.
“I always looked forward to seeing Maria at Wimbledon and some of the other major tournaments. She was the first superstar of South America and she was revered there.
“She was very elegant on court – the way she looked and especially the way she played. She had fans all over the world and will be missed.”
Virginia Wade wrote: “I have so many deep remembrances of her, especially as she was my hero when I was growing up and still in South Africa.
“Then when I saw her in person at Wimbledon when I was just 16, with that exquisite beauty on the court, she was quite breathtaking. The way she glided around the court with such elegance and hit the ball was mesmerising.
“Despite the fact that she was a mega hero in her era, it is so ridiculous that her effect on the game has not been recognised to the extent it should, in today’s world of tennis.
“Maybe my only regret was that in the three times I played her, I couldn’t get near to beating her! But when she had been part of the 1977 Wimbledon parade of champions on the Centre Court, and I bumped into her at Queens later that day, and said how great the parade was, she said to me that I would be in the next one.
“I can tell you that comment certainly gave me a boost of confidence!”
That very same Championships, Virginia won the women’s singles title in front of HM The Queen and Maria.
Bueno was adored in Brazil, honoured with a postage stamp, statues, a mural and the Olympic tennis stadium named after her. She also received all the top national and state awards and medals.
Memorably, Maria returned to play on Centre Court at Wimbledon in 1976, winning through to the quarter-finals, and then retired in 1977 to become an ambassador for the sport she loved and forging a second career as a television commentator, adding to her celebrity status both in her home country and around the world.
Maria loved spending months in London every year, and the informality of the clubs at which she played, especially Woodfield Grove where she enjoyed being ‘just one of the members’.
“As a legend in our sport she honoured us by presenting the prizes at Finals Day on many occasions and enjoyed playing at the club,” said Peter Risdon, Woodfield Grove’s Chairman and a close friend of Maria’s.
“Those of you who met her will know what a warm and friendly person she was and a joy to spend time with.
“She was a very special lady, a champion both on and off the court.
“The memories of the happy times we spent with her will always remain with us.”
- The Tennis Channel
- Maria Bueno wins the US Nationals 1959
- TV Globo
- Maria Esther Bueno – Wimbledon