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Three Tennis Greats Take Fans For Waltz Down Memory Lane

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Waiters in white jackets moved quickly through the stands offering bowls of strawberries and cream to ladies in straw hats and pretty dresses.

“Aren’t the strawberries lovely, darling,” said one woman to her companion.

This wasn’t a scene out of the Great Gatsby, nor was it an afternoon at Wimbledon, where snacks of strawberries and cream are as traditional as its rules of white-only tennis attire.

But Saturday at John Gardiner’s Rancho Valencia Resort in Rancho Santa Fe, three legends of men’s tennis took center court and waltzed down memory lane in a charity tennis event to benefit Scripps Memorial Hospital’s Stevens Cancer Center.

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Actually, the audience did most of the waltzing. All-time greats Pancho Segura, Ken Rosewall and Vic Seixas were busy drawing gasps of recollection and delight from a gallery that was seeing them now, after having seen, or heard about, the way they dominated the game in their primes.

“See that two-handed forehand,” said a gentleman who recognized one of Segura’s trademark strokes. “He was doing that years before anyone else was.”

“He still has that beautiful form he had when he played Rod Laver,” said another admirer.

Segura, Rosewall, Seixas, and Ted Schroeder, who didn’t play, were to be inducted into Gardiner’s Bridge of Champions after a morning of exhibition singles and doubles matches, but rain delayed play for hours.

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During that time, Gardiner introduced the players to fans who had paid $100 for a day of tennis with the stars, or $1,500 for the weekend. Laver and Jack Kramer were also to have been inducted, but were unable to attend.

Segura teamed with Sam Nunez, the resort’s head professional, against Rosewall and Seixas in an eight-game pro set. The players were engaging, the tennis was entertaining. But a championship, with thousands of dollars on the line, this was not.

“I didn’t know you could still hit that shot,” Seixas said after Segura tricked his opponents with a perfectly placed lob.

“Move faster Pancho, faster,” Segura scolded himself.

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“Oh, you guys are serious,” said Rosewall after Nunez drilled a volley down the middle. But Rosewall and Seixas eventually won, 8-6.

Rosewall, 55, is the touring pro for Gardiner’s tennis resorts in Arizona and Northern California. When he is not conducting clinics or playing on the men’s senior tennis tour, he runs two tennis facilities on the Gold Coast of Australia. He lives in Sydney.

Rosewall said that during his prime he didn’t realize he could make a living playing tennis.

“We’re fortunate the growth of the sport has allowed us to stay in it,” he said.

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According to Rosewall, Australia is going through a drought of top players, and he is hoping that change is on the way.

“Pat Cash was our last player to win at Wimbledon,” Rosewall said. “Hopefully, we can come up with some players and bring Australia back to the top.”

It has been 40 years since Segura, who turns 69 June 20, left his native Ecuador to make a life of tennis in the United States. It’s a move he has never regretted.

“This is a dream come true,” said Segura, who has been the resident pro at La Costa for 19 years.

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Since Segura’s reign in the 1940s and ‘50s, Ecuador, a small South American country, has produced few top players. Today in Paris, one of them--Andres Gomez--meets American Andre Agassi for the French Open men’s singles title.

“I am proud,” said Segura, wearing a bright pink and black Nike shirt that Agassi has made famous. “Gomez and myself. We are the best Ecuador has produced. We are such a small country. There are only, maybe 4,000 tennis players there.”


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