By J. Fred Sidhu
Indian Wells, Calif. – When Gene Malin played on the men’s professional tennis circuit, he possessed one of the fastest serves in the world and scored victories over players such as John Newcombe of Australia, American Dick Stockton and India’s Ramish Krishnan.
Today, the youthful-looking tennis teaching professional who turned 62 last week, is at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden playing with his Southern California 4.5 Senior Men’s team at the 2010 USTA League 4.5 Senior National Championships.
Malin, who lives in the West Hills community of Los Angeles, competed on the men’s tour from 1974 to 1982 and reached a career high singles ranking of 116 in the world.
His best tournament result was in 1979 when he upset top-seeded Adriano Panatta, the 1976 French Open champion, in Cleveland before losing to Romania’s Ilie Nastase in the semifinals.
In 1980, Malin's serve was timed at 128 mph, third-fastest in a serving contest at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion.
Since his days on the tour, Malin has taught tennis and played in USTA Senior events. He was nationally ranked No. 1 in the 35s, won the Italia Cup in 1984 and competed at men’s 40s and 45s.
In 1987, Malin served as coach of India’s Davis Cup team, which reached the World Group Final that year before falling to Sweden.
He also coached WTA Tour professionals Bonnie Gadusek, Barbara Potter and Stephanie Rehe. All three players were ranked in the world’s Top Twenty.
"I’ve been running the Bel Air Ridge Tennis Club for the last 12 ½ years," said Malin, who played in his last tournament in the men’s 60s about two years ago at the Mission Hills Country Club in nearby Rancho Mirage. "I’ve been teaching and trying to play a little bit, not many tournaments unfortunately."
Malin, a self-taught tennis player, says he could have used the tennis knowledge he has today when he was on the tour.
"I actually played somewhat to my potential at the time. With what I know now, having it then, I would have been Top Twenty in the world," Malin said.
"My forehand is a lot better (now). I had a huge serve, but I kind of repeated the same serve. Now, I really mix up my serve and I can see how effective it is," Malin said. "I probably would have worked on my serve a little bit more even though it was my biggest weapon."
Malin says his outlook toward tennis and being on the court has changed since his days on the tour. "I’ve always enjoyed the competition. I’ve always loved it. I took it pretty serious (back then). I’m a lot more relaxed now."
When asked about his USTA League experience, Malin said, "It is fun to be out there. Winning is always in the back of my mind, but that’s not the most important thing now. I play a lot more relaxed and if you can realize that when you’re playing, it makes you play that much better."
As with many former tennis professionals, the stories about life on the professional men’s tour are plentiful. Malin remembers beating Newcombe in Hawaii and staying in private housing at tournaments instead of hotels.
"You stayed with housing and you had fun. You would go out at night with the guys. It’s not like it is today," Malin said. "It’s more business today. When we were on the court, we competed like crazy, but off the court, you had fun."
With a razor-sharp memory, Malin can remember details from his matches on the tour, including a memorable encounter in 1979. "I always felt like I should have beat Stan Smith in the first round in Vienna (Austria). I had him." he said.
"I won the first set and had him two all in the second set and his Stan Smith shoes fell apart and he didn’t have any shoes," Malin recounted. "I had extra shoes in my bag and I let him borrow them and then he beat me and then he won the tournament."