Gene Malin, 49, is far from the youngest player in the USTA National Men's 45 Hardcourt National Championships.
But as he proved in his 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 semifinal victory Saturday over second-seeded Peter Bronson at the Westlake Tennis & Swim Club, the fourth-seeded Malin has the resiliency of a teenager.
It also helps he's used to success at the 45s.
Malin, a resident of Woodland Hills who is trying to win his fourth title in six years, will play 13th-seeded Ross Boling of Whitelake, Mich., in the final today at 11 a.m.
On the verge of losing control of the match, Malin used the 10-minute break between the second and third sets to full advantage. Malin broke Bronson's serve in the first and third games, taking a 4-0 lead.
"I gave the second set away," said Malin, who trailed, 4-1, in the second set. "I didn't want to get in such a struggle. For the third set, I got a break and new balls, and I was ready."
The only blemish came with Malin serving three match points with a 5-2 lead. A series of errors led to nine consecutive points by Bronson, cutting the deficit to 5-4.
But Malin recovered, winning the match on his fifth match point when Bronson hit a return into the net.
"I had the two breaks so I could cut loose a little bit," Malin said. "This is my first tournament in a year. With each match, I'm getting a little better."
Malin wasn't the only semifinalist with prior success at the 45s. Bronson, from Scottsdale, Ariz., was a finalist last year and lost to Malin in the semifinals in 1996.
Both showed their serve and volley skills in the opening set. No one came close to breaking serve until Bronson mis-hit two consecutive points at deuce, giving Malin a 5-4 lead.
"We're pretty familiar with each other," Bronson said. "We knew what to expect and we got it."
The final will be a slightly different experience for Malin. He has never played Boling, who relies on ground strokes, in singles.
"I've never seen him play until this week," Malin said.
Boling, who turns 45 this year, had little trouble defeating 12th-seeded Pete Kelly of Palm Springs, 6-3, 6-0.
Boling was nearly perfect from the baseline and simply waited for Kelly to make mistakes.
Boling seemed unaffected by the 90-degree heat of the midday match and showed no hangover from his quarterfinal upset of top-seeded Wesley Jackson.
"It helps to get up and win that first set," Boling said. "Then you know the other guy has a big hill to climb."
Boling and Malin did meet in the doubles semifinals on Saturday.
Boling and Dave Austin of Camarillo trailed Malin and Tom Leonard of South Pasadena, 4-3, when Leonard was forced to retire with an injury.
In the final, Boling and Austin will meet Dan and Dave Bohannon, who defeated Mike Nelson and Tom Smith, 6-3, 6-7 (7-5), 6-4.