Malin Looking to Recharge
There’s no denying it. Gene Malin is feeling 49 years old.
“It starts catching up,” Malin said. “I feel slower.”
Slower than the comparatively younger guys gunning for him at the USTA National Men’s 45 Hardcourt Championships next week. And maybe a little more blase, seeing that Malin has won the title three of the last five years.
“It all comes down to how eager I am,” said the Woodland Hills player.
Too many years and too little motivation might explain why Malin will be seeded fourth when the 45-and-over tournament begins Monday at Westlake Tennis & Swim Club.
But don’t try telling the rest of the draw Malin is an underdog.
“Gene is a fine athlete and he has aged well,” said sixth-seeded Dave Austin of Camarillo. “And when you’ve got somebody who continually wins, that’s the guy you go after.”
The championships, which run through July 12, have attracted some of the nation’s best age-group players. The top three seeds are Wesley Jackson of Albuquerque, Peter Bronson of Scottsdale, Ariz., and Steven Cornell of Oakland.
Malin and Austin have the distinction of playing on the professional tour in the 1970s. They bring the experience of competing at the game’s top level.
“Most of the time, we definitely have an advantage,” Austin said.
But there is more than one way to succeed at this age. Jackson, for example, has poured himself into the game.
“Guys like Wesley have caught up to us,” said Austin, who splits his attention between tennis, work and a 3-week-old son. “He plays all the time, plays all the senior events, gets three or four times the practice that we get.”
Tom Wire, a Westlake Village attorney, has the same complaint.
“Some of these guys have the fitness, the quickness . . . from hitting the ball every day,” said Wire, who is seeded ninth. “I try to play two to four times a week.”
Malin teaches at a Bel-Air tennis club, which keeps him on court but doesn’t leave time for serious practice. Yet, for all his worries, he expects his game to kick into gear around the middle of next week.
“There’s a fine line,” he said. “As I get into the tournament, the juices start flowing.”
Maybe the only person not surprised by Sean O’Connor’s victory at the Southern California Junior Sectional championships last week was O’Connor himself.
The 17-year-old player, who splits time between his family home in the South Bay and his coach’s home in Sylmar, entered the boys’ 18-and-under draw as the No. 7 seed.
“It didn’t really come as a shock,” he said of winning the title. “I’ve been working really hard on my game, so I’m seeing it pay off now.”
There were earlier indications, including a successful outing at a men’s open tournament a month before the sectionals.
“I was expecting him to break it open sooner or later,” said Perry Gabrielidis, his coach.
For the past year, Gabrielidis has revamped O’Connor’s game, honing the player’s big serve and forehand, junking his two-handed backhand.
But the improvement his pupil showed at the sectionals was more than just technical. On several occasions--including a 6-0, 5-7, 6-4 victory over Marcin Kosakowski of Downey in the final--he showed a newfound tenacity.
“He normally plays hot for a little bit and then goes to sleep,” Gabrielidis said. “It happened in this tournament but, every time he was down, he came back to play big again.
“That’s the character of a top player.”
Bob and Mike Bryan have been given a wild-card entry into the doubles draw of the Mercedes-Benz Cup at the Los Angeles Tennis Center-UCLA beginning July 27.
This World Series event on the ATP tour will feature top-ranked players such as Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Patrick Rafter. It marks the first time the Bryans, of Camarillo, have played in Southern California since they left Stanford to turn professional last month.