Maria Esther Bueno, one of the tennis greats in the 1950s and 1960s, has died after a battle with cancer, aged 78.

The Brazilian was South America's most successful female tennis player, having won 19 major titles -  including three Wimbledon singles titles and four US championships. She also won doubles titles at each of the four majors.

“Maria Bueno is part of an iconic group of women who forged the path for women’s tennis before prize money became a reality and she has left a lasting legacy,” said WTA CEO Steve Simon. “The WTA is grateful for the trail Maria blazed for women worldwide and she will be missed.”

Sao Paulo-born Bueno was noted for her self-taught, graceful style and dominated the game in the late 1950s and 1960s although she was hampered by elbow problems, which she attributed to the heavy wooden racquets of the era.

Her first title came at the Italian Championships in 1958 and she became the first South American female winner of the Wimbledon singles title, beating Darlene Hard to take the 1959 title.

Read more: 'She was the one we all looked up to' - Billie Jean King leads the tributes for Maria Bueno

A US Championship followed later that year, as Bueno also became World No.1 and was named Female Athlete of the Year by Associated Press. Further Wimbledon titles followed in 1960 and 1964, along with US successes in 1963, 1964 and 1966.

Her dominance also extended to the doubles arena, where she completed a clean sweep of major titles in 1960, winning the Australian Championship alongside Briton Christine Truman and the French, US and Wimbledon titles playing with American Hard. 

She won a total of five Wimbledon doubles crowns, including one with Billie Jean King in 1965, and four US doubles titles.

She retired in 1977, taking up a role in the commentary box with Brazilian television. The following year she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1978.

“In 1960 I won the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open with different partners,” she told in 2014.

“So it was a huge thing. Very few people - about four or five - have done that; great names like Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver. In total, I have 19 Grand Slams, which is not too bad.

“Winning Wimbledon in 1959 was the greatest moment of my career. It was a bit unexpected as I was very young - 17 years old. Coming from Brazil where we had only clay courts, we didn't have a chance to really play on grass, so winning the first time was huge and a big surprise.”

King led the tributes following the announcement of her death, saying: "She had fans all over the world and will be missed."