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The tennis players who make up the world's top doubles team may look clean-cut and wholesome, but they sound downright repugnant.
"Kids used to call me Mr. Parasite," says Rick Leach.
When did that stop happening?
"You mean daily ?" says Pugh.
These days the only people saying unpleasant things about Leach and Pugh are Ken Flach and Robert Seguso, the 1987 and '88 Wimbledon champs and Davis Cup mainstays whom Leach and Pugh displaced on this year's U.S. Davis Cup team. Flach and Seguso—famed for their on-court harangues at linesmen and at each other—dismiss Leach and Pugh's No. 1 ranking, denigrate their achievements and even disparage their grit. " Leach and Pugh haven't done that great to really take over our spot," said Seguso in January, after the unheralded Canadian team of Grant Connell and Glenn Michibata upended Leach-Pugh in the semis of the Australian Open. "They have had some great wins, but they lose some matches they should win. We would never have lost to Connell and Michibata at that stage of a major tournament."
Maybe not, but Flach and Seguso keep losing to Leach and Pugh. In three matches dating back to August 1988, they've won only one set from the upstarts. "I feel bad for Flach and Seguso," says Pugh. "They were the best team for four or five years, but now they're on the way down. I've always heard they don't get along, that there's real animosity between them. Rick and I support each other 100 percent, even if we've just played the worst match of our careers."
Leach and Pugh are mild, even-tempered Southern Californians. Leach, 25, is dark and solidly built, while the 26-year-old Pugh is blond and stalky. "We definitely have a cleaner image than Flach and Seguso, but that's not going to draw crowds," says Pugh. "People would rather watch Andre Agassi twirl his racket and show off or John McEnroe yell at officials. With McEnroe, they get tennis and a show. We're much blander. We just do the tennis."
Contemporary tennis fans are also extremely singles-minded, largely because the top singles players usually don't play doubles. The scheduling of matches is too erratic, the risk of injury too great, the pay too meager. "They don't need the cash," says Leach's father, Dick, who coaches tennis at USC.
Leach and Pugh scratch out a modest living, at least compared with what the leading singles players make. The two split $319,479 in prize money in 1988 and $274,170 in '89. Nike has promised them a total of $250,000 this year in addition to their on-court earnings if they win 10 tournaments, a feat last accomplished on the men's circuit by the team of McEnroe and Peter Fleming in '79.