Beckenham Lawn Tennis Club includes Maria-Esther Bueno, John Newcombe, Vijay Amritraj and Pam Shriver on its membership list.
Bueno, one of only a small number of players who won both the Wimbledon and Beckenham titles, is a regular summer visitor and player at the club. In 2004, The Maria-Esther Bueno Lounge was opened in The Summer Pavilion.
Here, James Buddell looks back at Maria’s illustrious tennis career.
Sweeping out of Latin America, a new sensation revolutionised world tennis of the late 1950s combining piercing volleys with a wide repertoire of shots, taking the game to a further level. Maria-Esther Bueno had arrived!
As a child the “Sao Paulo Swallow” learnt to play by emulating the grip of the great American ‘Big’ Bill Tilden, from a photograph in a book. Later she would become one of the most graceful and proficient athletes the world has ever seen in a 19-Grand Slam winning career, which lasted a short 10 years.
Described as the best player since Suzanne Lenglen, the Brazilian’s entree into Europe was eagerly anticipated and she arrived at Wimbledon in 1958 with the Caribbean circuit and the Italian singles title already to her name. A versatile right-handed 18-year-old, Bueno partnered Althea Gibson to win the first of five doubles titles at Wimbledon at her first attempt, delighting the crowd with her blend of power and touch, skill and grace, on what was to become her favourite surface, centre-court grass.
With her regal choreography and styled in Ted Tinling dresses, she won her first major singles title at Wimbledon the following year beating future doubles partner Darlene Hard 6-4, 6-3, and was overwhelmed by millions worshiping their new hero upon her return to Brazil. Two months later in a teenage U.S. singles final she beat Christine Truman 6-1, 6-4 for the title at Forest Hills and finished 1959 as the world’s top ranked player.
Nineteen-sixty proved equally successful with her second Wimbledon title and a doubles Grand Slam, partnering Truman at the Australian and Hard at the French, Wimbledon and U.S. Once again Bueno remained world number one. Unfortunately her 1961 season was shattered by the diagnosis of hepatitis in Paris, which required a lengthy period out and prevented her going for her third successive Wimbledon crown.
Returning for further glory at Wimbledon and the U.S. Championships heightened her rivalry with fellow serve-volleyer Australian Margaret Smith (later Court). In 1963 at Forest Hills, Bueno amazed the crowd with her power in beating Smith 7-5, 6-4 and successfully defended the title the following year as she ruthlessly destroyed Carole Graebner 6-1, 6-0 in just 19 minutes. Smith won their 1964 French singles final meeting, but barely one month later Bueno had her revenge at Wimbledon winning the championships 6-4, 7-9, 6-3 in a thrilling contest. The pair frequently met and later played doubles together, drawing huge crowds to the delight of tournament promoters.
Maria won her fourth U.S. singles title beating Nancy Richey 6-3, 6-1 in 1966, but was beaten in her last important singles final by adversary Smith at the 1968 U.S. Nationals. Equally accomplished on the doubles court, Bueno won 12 major doubles and mixed titles with six different partners, including five at Wimbledon (1958, 1960, 1963, 1965, 1966) and five at Forest Hills (1960, 1962, 1966, 1968 [Nationals], 1968 [Open]).
With the advent of the Open tennis, Bueno’s peak performance days were curtailed due to a variety of arm and leg injuries. As a result of a serious right elbow and forearm injury sustained at Wimbledon in 1967, she was finally forced to retire from competition in 1968 with 62 singles titles to her credit. After a long and tortuous rehabilitation that did little to dim her passion for the game, she returned to win her only prize money singles title at the Japan Open in 1974, and showed glimpses of her brilliance at Wimbledon in 1976, losing to Sue Barker in the fourth round and in 1977 where she lost to doubles accomplice Billie Jean King.
Tennis history acknowledges the legendary Bueno as the fore-runner to the women’s game today. Full of elegance, fluidity and artistry, this beautiful champion emptied the locker rooms at the Foro Italico in Rome and Wimbledon alike to watch her play, setting hearts beating in much the same way as had the French mademoiselle Suzanne Lenglen before her and the Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley that was to follow her.
Major Championship Record
- Australian: Singles finalist 1965; Doubles winner 1960
- French: Singles finalist 1964; Doubles winner 1960; Doubles finalist 1961; Mixed winner 1960; Mixed finalist 1964-65
- Wimbledon: Singles 1959-1960, 1964; Singles finalist 1965-66; Doubles winner 1958, 1960, 1963, 1965-66; Doubles finalist 1967; Mixed finalist 1959-60, 1967
- U.S. Championships: Singles winner 1959, 1963-64, 1966; Singles finalist 1960, 1968; Doubles winner 1960, 1962, 1966, 1968 (Nationals), 1968 (Open); Doubles finalist 1958-59, 1963; Mixed finalist 1958, 1960
Tournament Record & Other Honours
- Italian Championships: Singles winner 1958, 1961, 1965; Singles finalist 1962, 1967; Doubles winner 1962; Doubles finalist 1959; mixed finalist 1964
- Brazilian Federation Cup team member 1965, 1976 and 1977
- Pan American Games Champion in 1963
- Declared World Champion 1959 and 1960 and ranked in top ten until 1968
- Voted Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in 1959
- Amassed a total 589 career titles
- Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1978
- Honoured in Brazil with an airmail postage stamp, three statues, a mural and sculpture
- Named the Best Latin American Tennis Player of the 20th Century to celebrate the Millennium