A curious sight was Francisco Olegario "Pancho" Segura when he appeared on the No American scene in 1941, a mite who began to make a big impression with jarring strokes a jovial personality despite seeming physical limitations. He had won his native Ecuadorian title at 17 in 1938 along with various other Latin American titles, and presently was on his way to big-time tennis in the U.S., riding a tennis scholarship at University of Miami.
A big smile and a yen for the battle of what appeared, at first appraisal, to be disadvantages: an unorthodox two-fisted forehand, flimsy-looking bowed legs and a 5-foot-6 frame. Yet his footwork was admirable. He was quick, nimble extremely effective. By 1942 he had a No. 4 U.S. ranking, and would be the ever welcome center-piece at depleted homefront tournaments during World War II, his status as an alien keeping him out of uniform. Over the 1943-45 period he was the big winner, grabbing 15 of 30 tournaments (7 of 10 in 1943) and 107 of 122 matches. He could never realize his dream of conquering Forest Hills, coming as close as the semis, 1942-45, and in 1946 and 1947.
Segura was born June 20, 1921, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, and was raised there. A childhood attack of rickets deformed his legs but his will was strong and he drove himself to play tennis well, he was so weak at first that he had to grip the racket with both hands. A right-hander, he was likely the first to utilize a two-fisted forehand.
At Miami he won the U.S. Intercollegiate in 1943, 1944 and 1945, the only man in this century to take three-straight. He won the U.S. Indoor title of 1946 and the U.S. Clay Court of 1944, was a member of the U.S. Top Ten six times, No. 3 in 1943, 1944 and 1945. But his best days were ahead of him, as a professional. After settling in the U.S., he left the amateurs in 1947, signing on to play mostly the secondary matches on the tour of one-nighters. Unfortunately for Segura, he was out of the limelight once he became a professional, but while he beat Dinny Pails, Frank Parker, and Ken McGregor in their series, sharpening his strokes and tactics and becoming one of the great players, he received little recognition. Jack Kramer and Pancho Gonzalez were the stars, but Segura was making his mark in a small circle as a shrewd strategist, a cunning lobber, and a killer with a forehand.
He toured for nearly two decades and stands of the prominent figures in the history of U.S. Pro Championships. Segura won the singles title three times in a row, first in 1950 over Frank Kovacs, then in 1951 and 1952 over Gonzalez. Segura lost the title to Gonzalez on three occasions, 1955, 1956 and 1957, and a fourth at age 41, to Butch Buchholz in 1962. Segura won the doubles with Jack Kramer in 19 .nd with Gonzalez in 1954 and 1958.
Hardy and good-natured, Segura was a favorite with crowds. He could always smile and crack a joke, yet was thoroughly professional and a constant competitor. He never made big money. Open tennis arrived too late for him, but he entered the doubles of the first open Wimbledon in 1968 with Alex Olmedo, and in the second round they won the longest doubles match of Wimbledon's open era, 94 games, over Abe Segal and Gordon Forbes, 32-30, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. The 62-game set was the longest ever at Wimbledon.
When his playing career ended he became a teaching pro, settling in Southern California, and making his mark as one of the sharpest minds in the game. He was instrumental in the development of Jimmy Connors. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1984.