Maria Bueno was a Brazilian tennis star who was one of top players of the 1950s and 1960s. (AFP/Getty Images)

Maria Bueno, a Brazilian tennis star who was one of top players of the 1950s and 1960s, with three singles titles at Wimbledon and four at the U.S. Open, died June 8 at a hospital in Sao Paulo. She was 78.

Her death was announced on her official website and by the International Tennis Hall of Fame. She had oral cancer.

Ms. Bueno, who won her first national championship in Brazil at age 14, was known for her lithe, graceful style on the court and for her powerful serve and backhand. She teamed with U.S. star Althea Gibson to win the women’s doubles title at Wimbledon in 1958 — the first of her 19 victories in Grand Slam events, including seven singles championships, 11 in doubles and one in mixed doubles.

Ms. Bueno, who spent most of her competing as an amateur, held the No. 1 ranking in women’s tennis in 1959, 1960, 1964 and 1966. In his authoritative Tennis Encyclopedia, Bud Collins called Ms. Bueno “incomparably balletic and flamboyant” and said she played “with breathtaking boldness and panache.”

In 1959, Ms. Bueno became the first non-American in more than 20 years to win the women’s title at Wimbledon, defeating Californian Darlene Hard in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3. A New York Times reporter marveled at Ms. Bueno’s “fluent and almost flawless performance” and her “catlike coverage” of the court.

Later that year, she won the first of her four U.S. Open titles and was named the year’s top female athlete. She repeated as Wimbledon champion in 1960, but just as she was becoming the dominant women’s player in her sport, she was felled by a case of hepatitis, which kept her out of action for most of 1961.


Maria Bueno after winning the women's singles final at Wimbledon in 1959. (AP)

As Ms. Bueno continued her reign as one of the decade’s top players, she developed a strong rivalry with Margaret Smith Court, beating the Australian player in the finals of the U.S. Open in 1963. Ms. Bueno won the U.S. Open again the following year, dispatching Carole Graebner in just 25 minutes, 6-0, 6-1, and won her fourth title in the tournament in 1966, over Nancy Richey.

In 1964, Ms. Bueno lost to Court at the French Open, but the two met again in the Wimbledon finals, with Ms. Bueno leaping for joy after winning in three sets, 6-4, 7-9, 6-3. She reached the finals at Wimbledon two more times, only to lose to Court in 1965 and to Billie Jean King in 1966.

Ms. Bueno was the first and so far the only female player from South America to win the Wimbledon singles title and is one of only eight women to win at least three championships at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

“She was the reigning queen of tennis in her day,” King, who won the 1965 Wimbledon doubles championship with Ms. Bueno as her partner, told the New York Times in 1987. “She just projected well, and was so graceful with long, flowing strokes. She had all the things people liked in a champion.”

Maria Esther Andion Bueno was born Oct. 11, 1939, in Sao Paulo. She grew up across the street from a tennis club, where her parents played. She learned the sport from her father, a veterinarian and businessman, and from reading books about tennis.

She usually practiced with men — including her brother, who became a star collegiate player in the United States — and modeled her booming serve on photographs of 1920s tennis star Bill Tilden.

Ms. Bueno, who spoke five languages, was an outstanding swimmer in her youth and briefly taught at an elementary school in Sao Paulo.

An arm injury forced her out of competition from 1969 to 1974. When she returned to action, she was still good enough to compete at Wimbledon through 1980, when she was 40. She later became a leading tennis commentator on Brazilian television.

The tennis stadium for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was named in Ms. Bueno’s honor.

A complete list of survivors could not be confirmed.

In 1962, designer Ted Tinling created several outfits for Ms. Bueno with colored skirt linings and underpants, in violation of a Wimbledon rule that players dress entirely in white.

“She had this fantastic brooding character, the impression of an imminent storm,” Tinling told Sports Illustrated in 1969, “and I had to illustrate that in some way. Color had to be used somewhere.”

One of Ms. Bueno’s outfits was lined in shocking pink, and whenever she leaned down to begin her serve, spectators tittered over the flash of forbidden color.

“There was a gasp from one end of the court,” Ms. Bueno later recalled. “And the people at the other end didn’t know why, until I changed ends and served from there.”

The keepers of Wimbledon tradition at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club were not amused and passed a stricter rule forbidding players to wear any color on the court other than white.