France Wins Davis Cup, Long-time Coach Segura Dies


Published on November 27 2017 6:17 am
Last Updated on November 27 2017 6:17 am


France won the Davis Cup for the first time in 16 years after beating Belgium 3-2 on Sunday.

Lucas Pouille's lopsided 6-3, 6-1, 6-0 win over Steve Darcis in the second reverse singles gave France its 10th Davis Cup title, ending a run of three losses in finals.

France joined Britain in third place on the list for the most Davis Cup titles, behind the United States (32) and Australia (28).

France had won its last title in 2001, and lost in finals in 2002, 2010 and 2014.

Belgium's top player, David Goffin, earlier kept alive his country's hopes of a first title in the team competition by leveling the tie at 2-2. Goffin beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-2 in the first reverse singles match in the French city of Lille.

Pouille, who was born close to Lille, used his powerful groundstrokes to unsettle Darcis, who had a perfect 5-0 record in decisive fifth-rubber Davis Cup matches.

But Darcis never got into the swing of the match and looked in trouble throughout.

Pouille made the most of his Belgian rival's many errors in the first set, converted his first break point in the second game and wrapped up the opener after dropping just eight points on his serve.

Known for his fighting spirit, Darcis looked out of his depth and dropped his serve again in the third game of the second set, surrendering to his opponent's forehand onslaught. Another break of serve in the set gave Pouille a 4-1 lead and he never looked back, taking the second and third sets after winning 12 straight games.

Pouille fell on his back and cried as his teammates rushed on court. The whole French squad, including captain Yannick Noah, then did a lap of honor at the Pierre Mauroy stadium.

Noah, the last Frenchman to win a Grand Slam singles tournament back in 1983 at the French Open, was appointed the country's captain two years ago. He captained the team to a third victory after winning the Davis Cup title in 1991 and 1996.

Goffin, the best player of the final, had earlier pushed the tie into a fifth match with an impressive demolition of Tsonga.

The seventh-ranked Goffin, who also won his opening singles without dropping a set, delivered a superb performance to defeat France's top player.

Tsonga served extremely well in the first set and had six chances to break Goffin, but his Belgian rival weathered some blistering groundstrokes and showed nerves of steel on important points.

Goffin saved a set point with a forehand winner at 6-5 and sealed the tiebreaker on his first chance, with a backhand winner down the line.

"I missed several chances in the first set, I should have been more opportunistic," Tsonga said. "After, it was complicated, he played more relaxed and there was not much I could do."

Goffin broke for a 4-2 lead in the second set after Tsonga double faulted, and broke twice in the third set after pressuring the Frenchman into many mistakes.

Goffin has been in terrific form recently and was runner-up at the ATP Finals last week in London, where he defeated both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Despite fatigue and an ailing knee, Goffin carried his London form into the northern French city of Lille, where he swept past Pouille on Friday before Tsonga leveled at 1-1 with a straight-set win over Darcis. The French won Saturday's doubles.

Jimmy Connors, among others, owes success to Pancho Segura

Born prematurely in a bus traveling from Quevedo to Guayaquil, Ecuador, Pancho Segura was never given a head start to succeed in life. He grew up dirt poor and suffered from a case of rickets that left him bowlegged. His height never topped 5-foot-6, but he became a towering figure in tennis at a time when the game was exploding in popularity.

Segura died at his California home this past Saturday at age 96 after complications from Parkinson's disease.

"He was attending tournaments and watching on television until at least 90," Segura's son, Spencer, told "He was really with it until just two or three years ago."

Segura never became a household name like Pancho Gonzalez or Rod Laver. He didn't have the requisite gaudy Grand Slam record. But Jack Kramer, the father of the pro tour and a multiple Grand Slam champion, once said Segura's unique, two-handed forehand was the best shot in all of tennis.

During his peak years as a barnstorming pro exiled from the amateur-only Grand Slam events, Segura delighted crowds with his bombastic showmanship. He also thrilled them with an aggressive brand of creative tennis, heavy on angles and slice, that often cut much larger, more well-known opponents down to size.

Perhaps more importantly, when all those years of playing in the stands over and over against the same titans came to a close (one year, he played 85 matches against Kramer, who prevailed 58-27), Segura helped turn Southern California into the epicenter of American tennis. As a pro at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club, he developed his star pupil and surrogate son Jimmy Connors into a champion. Segura also had a shaping influence on dozens of others, including Arthur Ashe, Stan Smith, Charlie Pasarell, Butch Buchholz and Billie Jean King.

Segura transformed the BHTC into a place where his bread-and-butter lessons (including a score of Hollywood A-listers such as George C. Scott, Ava Gardner, Kirk Douglas and Barbra Streisand) punched forehands on courts alongside those occupied by future Wimbledon champions and talented youngsters, some of whom couldn't afford the court time. Segura had them string rackets to work off their debt.

This was in a critical moment for tennis because the game was struggling inside its husk. It had a well-deserved, if not entirely accurate, reputation as a sport for the rich. Segura helped the game break out as the Open era dawned by his very being, as well as his attitude.

"It doesn't take more than a racket and a heart to play this game," he told ESPN in 2009. "It's a great test of democracy in action. Me and you, man, in the arena. Just me and you, baby. Doesn't matter how much you have, or who your dad is, or if you went to Harvard or Yale or whatever. Just me and you."

Segura also helped open up tennis with the support he showed for players such as Smith, a middle-class kid from Pasadena. Scores of promising players who would have brilliant pro careers came and went at the BHTC. Sometimes Segura cleared time to go help them at collegiate or federation-sponsored training camps or small tournaments. Smith is a USC graduate who would go on to be No. 1 and win two majors. "I think of [Segura] as maybe the greatest tactician I ever met," Smith told Caroline Seebohm, author of a biography titled "Little Pancho."

Partly because of Segura's efforts, the U.S. developed a fleet of elite players led by Ashe. The Americans successfully kept Australia, led by Laver and Ken Rosewall, from dominating tennis in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Connors was Segura's acknowledged masterpiece, and his success prefigured the current era in a number of ways. The emphasis on attacking the serve and punishing second serves particularly is pure Segura influence. So is the commandment to powder any short ball. Connors was a master of using short angles, although that devastating two-handed backhand kept him from developing an effective sliced backhand approach shot -- a tool of choice in the Segura kit.

According to Spencer Segura (who still hits and talks frequently with Connors, Laver and others), the player who best embodies his father's vision is Federer. Unlike Connors, Federer is a master of using the chip and low slice approach shot, then coming in to cut off the angle of the return. But, Spencer said, "The slow balls have changed everything. It's a game of long rallies, high balls, and guys standing 2 yards behind the baseline. Federer is the only guy who can use those slices and chips and get guys moving."

Segura's legacy lives on. But he didn't shape and leave an indelible mark on the future of tennis simply because he had a great tennis mind. It takes a more vigorous force to do that. Segura also had a way of making people believe in him -- and in themselves.

"He was such a warm person; he liked to help anybody," Spencer Segura said. "He was so dynamic; he could make you laugh even when the worst thing on earth had just happened to you. He was relentlessly optimistic, I guess because he had started out so poor."

He might have come to tennis poor, but both Segura and the game he loved were enriched by his work and his presence.