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Brazilian tennis great Maria Bueno dies after cancer battle

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SAO PAULO (AP) — Maria Bueno, a Brazilian tennis great who won three Wimbledon singles titles and four at the U.S. Open in the 1950s and 1960s, and helped usher in modern women’s tennis, has died after battling mouth cancer. She was 78.

Bueno was admitted to the Nove de Julho hospital in Sao Paulo in May. The hospital released a statement this week confirming her death, but declined to provide more details out of respect for her family.

“A very sad day for sports. Brazil and the world lost a true tennis legend,” tweeted the International Olympic Committee, one of several sports organizations and professional tennis players to praise Bueno’s contribution.

Nicknamed “The Tennis Ballerina” because of her graceful style, Bueno spent most of her career on the court before the professional era. She won 19 Grand Slam titles overall, seven in singles, 11 in doubles and one in mixed doubles, between 1959 and 1966. She also reached the singles final at both the Australian Open and the French Open.

Bueno was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1978 and was more recently contributing regularly to Brazilian television at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and other major tennis events.

Bueno won her first major at Wimbledon in 1959, when she was 19. In “Tennis Encyclopedia,” Bud Collins described her at the time as “the incomparably balletic and flamboyant Bueno.”

“Volleying beautifully, playing with breathtaking boldness and panache, the lithe Brazilian became the first South American woman to win the Wimbledon singles,” Collins wrote.

Adored in Brazil after winning the trophy, Bueno became one of the symbols of the country’s change from mostly rural to urban and modern.

Bueno was ranked No. 1 in the world in 1959, 1960, 1964 and 1966. She was the first non-American woman to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in the same season.

Billie Jean King, who beat Bueno in the 1966 Wimbledon final and later helped start a women’s professional tennis tour, said the Brazilian was one of the players that made tennis less of a men’s game.

“Maria was a big star who caught the interest of the fans at a time when the men took center stage. She helped lay the groundwork for what was to come,” King told Bueno’s website in 2009. “She deserves to be recognized.”

Bueno said men were key to her game.

“It was only because I trained with men that I developed my speed. People said I looked effortless, but that was from training with guys,” said Bueno, who played without a coach.

From 1957-67, a decade in which she was dominating on the tennis court, Bueno won 65 singles tournaments, 90 doubles titles and 15 in mixed doubles. She was runner-up in 45 other competitions.

Injuries and illness shortened her career, including spending eight months in bed in 1961 because of hepatitis.

Her last major title came in 1968 when she won the doubles title at the U.S. Open alongside Margaret Court — one of her biggest rivals in singles.

Bueno and Court faced each other in five major finals, with Bueno winning two of them.

Bueno’s career took a downturn as the Open era started in 1968 because of arm and leg injuries. But she returned to tennis years later and won her final tournament at the Japan Open in 1974.

Off the court, Bueno also had an interest in fashion and played in dresses tailored by English couturier Ted Tinling.

In 1964, Bueno surprised the public at Wimbledon with a white Tinling dress that had a pink underskirt and matching pink underwear.

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

“Later I wore panties that resembled the club colors, which outraged the club committee and they brought in the all-white clothing rule.”

Born in Sao Paulo, Bueno started playing tennis at the age of 6 and entered her first tournament at 11. At 17, she left Brazil for the United States.

Despite being considered a future star after winning national tournaments at a young age, Bueno was shy about her achievements.

“I’m not good,” she told The Associated Press after being named Female Athlete of the Year in 1959. “I’m afraid of everyone I play.”

Swim meet canceled after FINA’s threat to ban athletes

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GENEVA (AP) — Amid growing conflict between swimmers and their world governing body, an international swimming meet was canceled on Thursday after threats to ban athletes who took part seeking better prize money.

The Italian swim federation called off the Dec. 20-21 competition it was organizing in Turin, saying it acted to protect athletes from FINA.

The Turin meet was linked to a proposed International Swimming League, a privately run operation which aims to operate outside FINA’s control and pay higher prize money.

“FINA declared the event ‘non-approved,’ threatening sanctions against the participating athletes,” Italian officials said in a statement.

FINA, based in Lausanne, Switzerland, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some Olympic champions have long criticized FINA, believing swimmers should be better rewarded, have more say in decisions, and could create their own union.

Olympic champion Adam Peaty of Britain wrote on Thursday on Twitter he was “incredibly disappointed” by the cancellation.

The politics involved will “galvanize swimmers, not break them,” wrote Peaty, who holds 50m and 100m breaststroke world records.

Peaty has previously supported Hungarian star Katinka Hosszu in her public criticism of FINA, and calls to create a swimmers’ union.

Italian organizers said Peaty, Hosszu and other Olympic champions including Chad le Clos of South Africa and Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden were due to take part in their 25-meter pool event. It was scheduled days after the short-course world championships being staged in Hangzhou, China.

The clash of events seemed to provoke FINA into finding more prize money for its worlds event in the smaller pool.

On Nov. 6, FINA added to its promised prize fund for China by almost doubling the total to $2.07 million.

FINA wrote to member federations on Oct. 30 warning of bans of up to two years for taking part in Turin.

However, a European Commission decision last year suggests swimmers could successfully challenge any attempt to limit their right to race and earn money.

The European Union’s executive arm ruled the International Staking Union in breach of anti-trust laws by threatening severe bans for speed skaters who wanted to compete in a South Korean-organized event in Dubai.

The ISU’s threats “also serve to protect its own commercial interests,” the European officials said.

MORE: Katie Ledecky on her new suit, challenges for Tokyo 2020

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Simon Ammann believes ski jumping career end is near

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Simon Ammann, the most decorated active ski jumper with four Olympic gold medals, said it is hard to imagine competing beyond this season, according to Swiss newspaper Blick.

Ammann, 37, swept the individual Olympic titles in 2002 and 2010 to join retired Finn Matti Nykänen as the only four-time Olympic ski jumping champs.

In PyeongChang, his sixth Olympics, Ammann placed 11th and 13th, one month after making his first World Cup podium in nearly three years. He decided after those Winter Games that he would continue at least one more season, but has no plan to go all the way to a seventh Olympics in 2022, according to Blick.

Ammann has teased retirement since at least 2011 and even said going into the 2014 Sochi Olympics that he was “99 percent sure” they would be his final Games.

The now-father of two first gained crossover celebrity with his surprise Salt Lake City 2002 gold medals, his first wins in top-level international competition. The bespectacled Ammann’s victory screams and resemblance to Harry Potter helped land him on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and one of Europe’s biggest shows, sitting next to Shakira.

Fellow ski jumper Noriaki Kasai of Japan holds the Winter Olympic record of eight appearances. Kasai, 46, has said he plans to go for a ninth participation at Beijing 2022.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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