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.