South African tennis legend Abe Segal has passed away. Segal was not only one of the greatest tennis players to emerge from South Africa but was also undoubtedly one of the greatest personalities in the sport worldwide. Segal, 85, had been suffering from cancer and passed away in Cape Town on Monday night.
Together with Gordon Forbes, they formed one the world’s best doubles teams, and the two remained great friends off the court. Forbes wrote two books—A Handful Of Summers and Too Soon To Panic – in which Segal featured prominently. In fact, the title of the second book comes from a quote from Segal during a Davis Cup tie against Germany in Berlin in 1962.
Actor and writer Peter Ustinov wrote the forward to A Handful Of Summers and when Segal produced his book in 2008, called Hey Big Boy, not to be outdone Segal got Sean Connery to pen the forward in his book. On the international stage Segal twice made the finals of the French Open, in 1958 with Australian Roy Howe where they lost in four sets to Ashley Cooper and Neale Fraser and again in 1963 with Forbes where they lost to Roy Emerson and Manuel Santana. Forbes and Segal reached the Wimbledon semi-finals that same year and it was a title Forbes felt they could have won had Segal not pulled a stomach muscle prior to the game.
Forbes says: ‘Abe was never injured. That was the only time. Abe never complained and he never made excuses but he could only serve at half pace and his serve was usually his biggest strength.’ There had been quite a few upsets that year and the team that beat them in semis went on to win the title. We played together for a long time and won the SA Open four times and every provincial title at least once. We also won the British Hard Court, which was a big tournament in those days, twice.’ In the later part of his life Segal also took up painting and surprised most people with his talent and insight. He was also a close friend of hotel magnate Sol Kerzner and worked as the tennis pro at Sun City until his retirement eight years ago.
Tennis South Africa president Gavin Crookes says: ‘Abe Segal was not only a superb player but also one of the sport’s greatest characters. He mixed in some of the best circles and was never scared to give his opinion, no matter how hard-hitting it may have been. He was highly respected around the world and he will be a loss to our sport.’ Abe Segal was survived by two daughters, Nancy and Susie who both live in the USA.
Photo credit: BLD Communications/Tennis Archives