50 Years, 50 Heroes: Maria Bueno, 1976

by: Mary Carillo | November 29, 2018

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Maria Bueno had one of the best backhands in the history of women's tennis. (AP)

For our sixth annual Heroes Issue, we’ve selected passages from the last 50 years of Tennis Magazine and TENNIS.com—starting in 1969 and ending in 2018—to highlight 50 worthy heroes. Each passage acknowledges the person as they were then; each subsequent story catches up with the person, or highlights their impact, as they are now. It is best summed up with a quote from the great Arthur Ashe, that was featured on the cover of the November/December issue of this magazine in 2015: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

Even some celebrated tennis names from the past have to battle it out with the masses to make it to Forest Hills if their recent records don’t qualify them. Last year’s qualifying field included, among others, Maria Bueno, who won the U.S. women’s singles title four times (1959, 1963, 1964, 1966). - Cheryl Davis / September 1976

She had always dazzled me. This was back in the ’60s. The first tennis match I ever remember watching on television was with Maria Bueno. I don’t even remember who she was playing, because I couldn’t stop watching her.

She had strokes that were clean, sharp and fluid. Her movement so light; her carriage elegant and graceful. I thought Maria Bueno was beautiful.

The match was on grass, Maria’s best surface, and I was a little kid, so it must have been at Forest Hills. Bueno won four U.S. titles there. And what a doubles player she was. Her first of 11 Grand Slam doubles titles came at Wimbledon in 1958, with the great Althea Gibson. Two years later, Bueno became the first woman to win all four Grand Slam doubles titles in the same year.

Bueno played with all the greats: Darlene Hard, Margaret Court, Billie Jean King.

And me. Maria Bueno played with me. She was still around a little bit in the late ’70s and she and I had become friends. She knew I idolized her. We were at a grass-court tournament and somehow, I mustered enough courage to ask Maria if she’d play doubles with me. Maria—who used to call me Maria, too—said yes.

I used to ask her how she played the game so beautifully, and she told me that she never had lessons, or a coach—that it was all instinct with her.

I instinctively knew I had no business standing on a tennis court with Maria Bueno, and we didn’t get far. But she still dazzled me. At one point in the match she went for a crackling backhand down the line, and she barely missed. She felt the need to apologize to me for it.

She came over to me and said, “Maria, I am so sorry to go for this shot, but my backhand was getting too short, and I had to let it back out.” I told her it was the most beautiful backhand I had ever seen.

I wish that backhand could have been on television—I wish you could have seen it, too. I see it still.

Maria Bueno died in June at age 78.

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