Pancho "Segoo" Segura (born Francisco Olegario Segura on June 20, 1921) is a former leading tennis player of the 1940s and 1950s, both as an amateur and as a professional. In 1950 and 1952, as a professional, he was the World Co-No. 1 player. He was born in Guayaquil, Ecuador, but moved to the United States in the late 1930s and is a citizen of both countries. He is the only player to have won the US Pro title on three different surfaces (which he did consecutively from 1950–1952).
Early life and career
Pancho was the firstborn of seven children of Domingo Segura Paredes and Fransisca Cano. He almost died at his premature birth, then suffered from hernias and malaria. No more than 5'6" (1.68 m) tall, he had badly bowed legs from the rickets that he also had as a child. In spite of this, he had extremely fast footwork and a devastating two-handed forehand that his frequent adversary and tennis promoter Jack Kramer once called the greatest single shot ever produced in tennis.
By the time he was 17 Segura had won a number of titles in Latin America and was offered a tennis scholarship by Gardnar Mulloy, Tennis Coach, at the University of Miami. He won the National Collegiate Singles Championship for three straight years: in 1943, 1944, and 1945. He was also the No. 3 ranked American player during those years. He won the U.S. Indoors in 1946 and U.S. Clay Courts in 1944 but was never able to win the United States Championships at Forest Hills, NY although he reached the semifinals a number of times.
Kramer writes that he lost:
"without distinction (to Tom Brown and Jaroslav Drobný) the two times he played Wimbledon, and really, nobody took Segoo seriously. He didn't speak English well, he had a freak shot, and on the grass while scooting around in his long white pants with his bowlegs, he looked like a little butterball. A dirty butterball: his pants were always grass-strained."
Long before Open Tennis, Segura turned professional in 1947 and was an immediate crowd-pleaser with his winning smile, infectiously humorous manner, and unorthodox but deadly game. According to Bobby Riggs, Jack Harris (the promoter of the forthcoming Riggs-Kramer tour for 1948) attempted to sign Ted Schroeder to play the preliminary matches of the tour. Ultimately he failed and instead signed Segura to play the latest Australian amateur champion, Dinny Pails. Instead of a percentage of the gross receipts, as Riggs and Kramer were contracted for, Segura and Pails were each paid $300 a week.
Although he was overshadowed as a player by Kramer and Pancho Gonzales in his professional career, Segura won many matches against the greatest players in the world and was particularly brilliant in the annual United States Pro Championship. He won the title three years in a row from 1950 through 1952, beating Gonzales twice. He also lost in the finals four times, losing to Gonzales three times and once to Butch Buchholz in 1962 when he was 41 years old.
In the 1950–1951 professional tour in which Segura played the headline match against Kramer he was beaten 58 matches to 27, a noticeably better performance, however, than Gonzales's record of 27 victories and 96 defeats against Kramer the year before. In the following tour, that of 1952–1953, Segura was reduced to playing the preliminary match, where he beat the Australian Ken McGregor 71 matches to 25.
For the calendar year of 1952, when Kramer, Budge, and Gonzales all played sporadically, Segura was ranked as the world no. 1 player by the Professional Lawn Tennis Association, with Gonzales at no. 2.
Segura, Kramer writes, "was the one pro who brought people back. The fans would come out to see the new challenger face the old champion, but they would leave talking about the bandy-legged little suonuvabitch who gave them such pleasure playing the first match and the doubles. The next time the tour came to town the fans would come back to see Segoo." For this, according to Kramer, Segura made more than $50,000 in each of six or seven years during the 1950s, a time in which "there were very few baseball, football or basketball players making $50,000."
In his 1979 autobiography Kramer included Segura in his list of the 21 greatest players of all time. He went on to say, "...and while his amateur record is of no consequence, he beat everyone in the pros but Gonzales and me. We beat him with good second serves." A year earlier, another World No. 1 player, Ellsworth Vines, the man that Kramer called the greatest player of all time at the height of his game, had published a lesser-known book called Tennis: Myth and Method, co-written with Gene Vier. Vines devotes the first part of the book to individual chapters about the ten greatest tennis players from Don Budge through the date of the book's publication. He considered Segura to be the fifth best of these ten great players, behind, in order, Budge, Kramer, Gonzales, and Rod Laver. Segura, however, ranked above Bobby Riggs, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Frank Sedgman, and Tony Trabert.
Vines also gives an expert's analysis of Segura's unusual playing style:
Two-handed forehand is most outstanding stroke in game's history; unbeatable unless opponent could avoid it. Improved as a professional by taking advantage of volleying ability he rarely used as an amateur. Backhand also better later in career. Returns serve brilliantly, particularly off right side where quicksilver moves give him unusual positioning talent. Serve only average for his class of player but well placed, as is overhead. Very deft volleyer, particularly off forehand. Lob and dropshot unsurpassed. Superb passing shots, change of pace, and asbolute consistency make him greatest "little man" to ever play the game.
Segura, says Kramer, probably played "more matches against top players than anyone in history. Besides my couple hundred, he must have played Gonzales a hundred and fifty, and Budge, Sedgman, Riggs, Hoad and Rosewall all around fifty apiece. I beat him about 80 percent of the time, and Gonzales also held an edge over him. He was close with Budge. Pails beat him 41–31 on the Kramer-Riggs tour, but that was when Segoo was still learning how to play fast surfaces. With everybody else, he had the edge over: Sedgman, Rosewall, Hoad, Trabert, McGregor."
According to Kramer,
"Possibly Budge's backhand was the best pure stroke in tennis. I accept that judgment. Now put a gun to my head, and I'd have to say that the Segura's forehand was better, because he could disguise it so well, and hit so many more angles."
Kramer goes on to say, however, that with Segura:
" he never learned to exploit his great forehand weapon because he used it too often. He didn't know how to pace himself and pick his spots. Perhaps he was too quick for his own good; he was so fast he could run around anything and get to his forehand. He probably hit his forehand four times as much as his backhand. Segoo ran too far and wasted his energy in the process."
At a professional event in 1951 the forehand drives of a number of players were electronically measured. Pancho Gonzales hit the fastest, 112.88 mph, followed by Jack Kramer at 107.8 and Welby Van Horn at 104. Since it was generally assumed at the time that Segura had the hardest forehand among his contemporaries, it is possible that he was not present at that event.
In 1962, on the recommendation of good friend, Mike Franks, Segura became the teaching professional at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club. replacing Carl Earn. Most of Pancho's students were movie stars such as Dinah Shore, Doris Day, Julie Andrews, Richard Conte, Shelley Winters, Charlton Heston, Barbra Streisand, Dina Merrill, Kirk Douglas, Robert Evans, Lauren Bacall, Gene Hackman, Carl Reiner, Barbara Marx, George C. Scott, Janet Leigh, and Ava Gardner, and Dean Paul Martin. It was Jeanne Martin (Dean's wife) that became a favorite student of Pancho's. He also found time to coach Jimmy Connors and Stan Smith, two great tennis champions, as well as his son, Spencer Segura, who played at UCLA. In 1971, he left Beverly Hills to become the head teaching professional at the La Costa Resort in Carlsbad, California, where he is now retired. He is widely credited with mentoring and structuring the playing game of Jimmy Connors, starting at age 16, in 1968, when his mother, Gloria, brought him to Pancho in California for lessons. Dr. Abraham Verghese describes taking a tennis lesson from Segura during this period in his book The Tennis Partner.
Before the famous "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs in 1973, Segura openly supported Riggs. When King won the match, Segura declared disgustedly that Riggs was only the third-best senior player, behind himself and Gardnar Mulloy. He challenged King to another match. King refused.
In a 1966 episode of the sitcom I Dream of Jeannie, Segura made a cameo appearance as himself.
Segura retired from playing Singles after the 1970 US Open at Forest Hills at age 49. However, he played his last doubles match as late as the 1975 US Open, at the age of 54.
Segura was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1984.
Major career finals
Doubles (2 runner-ups)
|Runner-up||1944||U.S. Championships||Grass||Bill Talbert|| Don McNeill
|5–7, 4–6, 6–3, 1–6|
|Runner-up||1946||French Championships||Clay||Enrique Morea|| Marcel Bernard
|5–7, 3–6, 6–0, 6–1, 8–10|
Mixed doubles (2 runner-ups)
|Runner-up||1943||U.S. Championships||Grass||Pauline Betz|| Margaret Osborne
|Runner-up||1947||U.S. Championships||Grass||Gussie Moran|| Louise Brough
Singles (3 titles, 8 runner-ups)
|Winner||1950||US Pro||Clay (i)||Frank Kovacs||6–1, 1–6, 8–6, 4–4 ret.|
|Runner-up||1951||Wembley Pro||Indoor||Pancho Gonzales||2–6, 2–6, 6–2, 4–6|
|Winner||1951||US Pro||Grass||Pancho Gonzales||6–0, 8–6, 6–1|
|Winner||1952||US Pro||Indoor||Pancho Gonzales||3–6, 6–4, 3–6, 6–4, 6–0|
|Runner-up||1955||US Pro||Indoor||Pancho Gonzales||16–21, 21–19, 8–21, 22–20, 19–21|
|Runner-up||1956||US Pro||Indoor||Pancho Gonzales||15–21, 21–13, 14–21, 20–22|
|Runner-up||1957||Wembley Pro||Indoor||Ken Rosewall||6–1, 3–6, 4–6, 6–3, 4–6|
|Runner-up||1957||US Pro||Indoor||Pancho Gonzales||3–6, 6–3, 5–7, 1–6|
|Runner-up||1959||Wembley Pro||Indoor||Mal Anderson||6–4, 4–6, 6–3, 3–6, 6–8|
|Runner-up||1960||Wembley Pro||Indoor||Ken Rosewall||7–5, 6–8, 1–6, 3–6|
|Runner-up||1962||US Pro||Indoor||Butch Buchholz||4–6, 3–6, 4–6|