5 Tennis Legends From Latin America You Should Know

Lead Photo: Art by Stephany Torres
Art by Stephany Torres
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The last Grand Slam of the tennis season is currently underway at the 2023 US Open. That means that the sport, which has historically been very popular in our communities, is back on everyone’s radar. And though there are some players from Latin America in this year’s draw, like Brazilian Beatriz Haddad Maia and Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo worth keeping an eye on all year long, it’s also the perfect time to look back. 

Our communities have historically had great tennis players who have marked a before and after and who have inspired the current generation of young, upcoming talent. So, as we look forward to the next tennis superstar from Latin America (looking at you Leylah Fernandez) it’s worth mentioning five Latin American stars who made the sport great – and represented their countries and their region in a way that left a mark in the annals of tennis.


Maria Bueno

Maria Bueno is Latin America’s most successful tennis player ever. She won a total of 19 Grand Slams – 7 singles titles among them – in her storied career. And she was renowned for being one of the most graceful tennis players to ever step foot on the court. She ended two years (1959 and 1960) as the number one ranked player, and in 1960 became the first woman to win the Grand Slam (all 4 majors in one year) in doubles.

Bueno, who passed away in 2018,  was also the inspiration for a region that saw in her a possibility of not belonging in the sport, but greatness. The tennis great is still beloved in her home country of Brazil. In 2015 the Brazilian Olympic tennis stadium was named after her.


Guillermo Vilas

Guillermo Vilas was a superb player in an era filled with great talent. He’d go on to win 62 ATP championships in his career, as well as four major singles titles, the Australian Open in 1978 and 1979, plus the French and US Opens in 1977. Considered the ‘King of Clay’ before Rafael Nadal erupted into the scene, Vilas is still regarded as one of the best clay players tennis has ever seen.

Nicknamed the Young Bull of the Pampas, Vilas’ most memorable game might just be his US Open center court defeat of Jimmy Connors in 1977 – one of those games tennis fans still watch to this day. Vilas radically altered his style of play to beat Connors, proving once and for all that he wasn’t the type of player who could only do one thing. Instead, he was a tennis great for all surfaces – even if, as a Netflix documentary released a few years ago discusses, this Argentinian wasn’t properly recognized back in his playing days.


Gabriela Sabatini

One of the best-known tennis player from Latin America, and surely one of the biggest tennis names to come out of Argentina, Gabriela Sabatini jumped to fame in the 1980s when she became the youngest female seminifinalst in history at Roland Garros at only 14. Before that, the Buenos Aires born phenom, who started playing tennis at six, had won her first tournament at eight and in 1983 became the youngest player to win the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida, at age 13.

Sabatini was one of the leading players in the tennis circuit from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s,winning 41 titles in total. She’d go on to win the US Open in 1990, the WTA Finals in 1988 and 1994 as well as a Silver medal at the 1988 Olympics. She was also a proficient doubles player – she won Wimbledon in 1988 with Steffi Graf and reached three French Open Finals.


Gustavo Kuerten

Gustavo Kuerten is a more familiar name for people who have been watching tennis for a while. The Brazilian, who turned pro in 1995, was famous for both his beaming smile and high-energy style of tennis, but also for being another outstanding clay player from our communities. Kuerten, nicknamed Kuga, won three French Open titles, in 1997, 2000 and 2001 and before Rafael Nadal’s absurd numbers at the only Grand Slam to be played on clay, was one of the top winners of the tournament. 

Kuerten went on to win 20 singles and 8 doubles titles in his career and reached the number one world ranking, before injuries cut his career short. He retired in 2008.


Gigi Fernández

Puerto Rican Gigi Fernández, a doubles specialist, won 17 Grand Slams, six French Opens, 5 US Opens, Four Wimbledon, and two Australian Opens. She won at least one Grand Slam every year from 1990 to 1997 and from 1992 to 1994 she won three of the four Grand Slam titles in the same year. That’s a lot of titles and a lot of domination for a very long period of time, and a big reason why she’s renowned to this day. 

Fernández was also the first female athlete from Puerto Rico to become a professional in any sport and also the first Puerto Rican inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. As if that wasn’t enough, she won two Olympic gold medals as well.