Maria Bueno was always in the right place at the right time on the tennis court but the Brazilian ended up in hot water with Buckingham Palace after a double fault of her own.
The seven-time grand slam winner was a playing partner of Princess Diana, gave tips to the young princes and got a ticking off for flouting royal protocol — but that hasn’t taken the shine off some priceless memories.
“She was fabulous,” the 76-year-old Bueno recalled of Diana, who died in 1997 after the car she was riding in slammed into a pillar in a Paris overpass. Her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, and their driver, Henri Paul, also died.
Three-time Wimbledon champion Bueno remembers getting the call to play with the royals on the day that Diana and her children William and Harry, turned up to her local tennis club in London.
“She was so nice and so were the kids,” Bueno added. “They played — it was something that I didn’t expect. It was a coincidence that I was there and I got to know them very well.”
Bueno, who won her first Wimbledon title at the age of 17, was one of the most talented and talked about players of her era.
Her exploits, which also included 11 doubles titles and one mixed doubles title, endeared her to the public and allowed her to mix with the rich and famous.
A seat in the Royal Box alongside celebrities and royalty meant she soon became familiar with the residents of Buckingham Palace.
“I had a special dinner with the Duke of Edinburgh and for 20 days beforehand I had protocol telling me what I should do,” she recalled.
“I was so late for the dinner because of the traffic so I asked what I should do and someone said I should go in and apologize.
“Not only did I come in late but I came in from behind him and put my hand on the Duke’s shoulder — one of the biggest sins!
“He just said, ‘ah, sit down’, and he was really funny — he couldn’t care less whether I was late or early and we had a wonderful time.
“But then I had to write a lot of letters to apologize to Buckingham Palace and Wimbledon for being late.”
While she might have had her fingers burnt on that occasion, there were no problems with Princess Diana.
“She made sure that nobody else did anything when she was there,” Bueno said of dispensing with formalities.
“She wanted to be treated like everybody would. She was fantastic with that.”