© Courtesy of International Tennis Hall of Fame

Pancho Segura, a leading player of the 1940s and 1950s and coach to Jimmy Connors, passed away on 19 November 2017.

Pancho Segura: 1921-2017

Ecuadorian starred as a player and coach

Pancho Segura, one of the world’s leading players of the 1940s and 1950s, who would later mentor and coach Jimmy Connors, passed away on Saturday aged 96 due to complications of Parkinson's disease at his home in Carlsbad, California.

At 5'6", Segura was diminutive in stature, but displayed an imposing game predicated on lightning-fast agility, a lethal two-handed forehand and astute court awareness. Tennis legend Jack Kramer, the ATP’s first Executive Director, once said that he possessed “the single greatest shot in the history of tennis”, as his forehand cut through the court with devastating precision and power. 

Upon turning professional in 1947, Segura became an immediate fan favourite with his sharp sense of humour and unorthodox style. He would ascend to No. 1 in the world rankings in 1950 and was an inductee of the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1984, following a successful 20-year career. A three-time U.S. Pro champion from 1950-52, he is the only player to have won the title on three different surfaces.

While Segura earned fame and respect from his peers for his actions between the lines, it was his improbable story of survival that is most remarkable. Born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, as one of seven children, he overcame an impoverished childhood and was plagued by rickets, which resulted in bowed legs, and malaria. But despite the improbable odds, Segura thrived on the tennis court with great athleticism and is regarded as one of the greatest players to hail from South America.

In 1962, Segura launched a successful career as a coach in the United States and was hired as the tennis director at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club, where he became a mentor and coach to Jimmy Connors. In the late 1960s and 1970s, he honed Connors' game and guided him to multiple Grand Slam crowns.

Segura would later become a citizen of the United States in 1991. His autobiography, Little Pancho: The Life of Tennis Legend Pancho Segura, was published in May 2009.

He is survived by his second wife, Beverley, their daughter, Maria. He had one son, Spencer, from his first marriage.

Francisco Olegario Segura, tennis player and coach, born 20 June 1921, died 19 November 2017.

Segura shared some of his tennis memories in this Biofile with Scoop Malinowski, published in 2010.

Status: Tennis Hall of Famer. Won the U.S. Pro Championships in 1950, 1951 & 1952.

Height: 5'6", Weight: 160 lbs.

Date Of Birth: June 20, 1921 in Guayaquil, Ecuador

First Tennis Memory: Somebody gave me his racquet and I always watched. I held it with two hands. I was seven years old. And I played against the wall. I loved it. I learned to hit the ball on the rise. I never let the ball come to me, I went to the ball. Except when returning a first serve. Then you have to let the ball come in if the serve is 120 miles per hour.

Tennis Heroes: Well, I admired Jack Kramer because he could serve and volley. And he never lost a set. He always won 6-4, 7-5, 8-6. In my day there was no tiebreak. So if you lost your serve you were dead with Kramer. That’s the way you played the game – aggressively. Aggressive when you’re in front, conservative when you were down.

Favourite Meal: I eat everything in sight.

Favourite Ice Cream Flavour: Vanilla.

Pre-Match Feeling: I'm thinking about how am I going to hold serve.

Last Book Read: Bill Tilden. BT. The great player. He didn’t believe players should play with both hands. He was a controversial writer.

Greatest Sports Moment: Beating Pancho Gonzalez 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 in 1952 in Forest Hills on grass.

Most Painful Moment: Losing Santa Barbara to Kramer after having a 5-0 lead in the first set. And I couldn’t sleep. And losing to Kramer in Wimbledon in 1950.

Favourite Tournaments: Australia. And all the Grand Slams. Because it’s three out of five. It’s a test of tennis and conditioning. Several tests of the game.

Which Matches Were You At Your Very Best: Beating Gonzalez, beating Sedgman and beating Rosewall on grass. Winning always gives you confidence and you have a happy ending. When you lose – I hated myself. I was a tough competitor. I hated to lose.

Funny Tennis Memory: Trying to date Shirley Temple in 1947 [laughs]. At Forest Hills. I didn’t have any money, no wheels, nothing. And going around with Ava Gardner, it was fun.

Embarrassing Tennis Memory: Nothing, not having a dime, you’re broke. And having to turn pro for $300 a week in 1946, ’47.

Favourite Players To Watch: Unquestionably, Roger Federer. Because he’s a complete player. Rafael Nadal – because he gives 100% on every shot. He's like my pupil Jimmy Connors, they’re both left-handed. He’s got speed, he’s got everything. He could come in on the return of serve. You never see Nadal attack the serve and take the net away.

But the man who can beat him, Juan Martin del Potro, he’s got potential. He’s 6'6", got a huge first serve, a huge second serve. He’s got everything but physical conditioning. I don’t know if he can go five sets day in, day out. Del Potro is going to be better than Andy Murray because he has a better serve. He’s bigger. He’s got to work on his conditioning and serve more first serves and attack second serves. Every second serve, del Potro should cream it. What counts in tennis is who makes the first shot tougher. If you can do it when you serve or return, you got it made.

Funniest Player Encountered: Carl Erne. He looks like Danny Thomas. Frank Kovacs. Pancho Segura [smiles].

Closest Tennis Friends: Pancho Gonzalez, Ken Rosewall, the Australians – they’re all good people.

People Qualities Most Admired: Generous. Respect for another citizen. And help the unfortunate. Don’t just give them money and everything, help them. Help their standard of living. Give opportunities to them, people who deserve it.

Career Accomplishments: At Miami University won U.S. Intercollegiate singles in 1943, 1944 and 1945; Won U.S. Indoor title in 1946 and U.S. Clay Court title in 1944; Elected to International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1984.

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