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More than a Tennis Player: Punch Maleka

punch mwallNearly 20 minutes had passed since his first-round match, and Punch Maleka could barely breathe.

Leaning back in a clubhouse chair at the Mercer County Park Tennis Facility, Maleka held an ice pack on his shoulder and sipped a water bottle. It was the first day of section qualifying in the US Open National Playoffs, and Maleka was 1-0. A two-time winner of the tournament, he was mentally preparing for another match leading into a long few days of competition. But that wasn’t the reason he couldn’t relax.

Simply put, people just don’t stop talking to the guy.

Maleka, 34, is a Philly-based coach and high-level tournament player in Middle States. His name has been a staple in local brackets for nearly a decade, and his smooth, creative and technically steady game has frustrated opponents for even longer.

With success in tournaments from New Jersey to New Haven, Maleka has become somewhat of a local celebrity at USTA tournaments. A native of South Africa who moved to the US 10 years ago to pursue coaching, people know his story and constantly stop to chat with him about all things tennis.

Maleka is always friendly and loves to talk, but even with all the people he runs into on a daily basis, not many know the real Punch.

“I love tennis, and people know me for that,” Maleka said, “but I’m more than only tennis.”

Much more, in fact.

punch art III

Example of Maleka’s artwork.

punch art II

Detailed car sketches by Maleka.

Just like a regular tennis player, Maleka is well-rounded off the court and can speak for hours on any number of his passions – the biggest being art, cars, and music. He builds his own mixes and deejays around the Philadelphia area, and is also quite the artist.

“I’ve loved drawing since I was young,” he said. “I remember being in high school and sketching cars. I wanted to be a car designer.”

He pursued that briefly, studying mechanical engineering before realizing a desk job wasn’t his style. Instead, he brought that creativity and design to the tennis courts, both as a player and as a coach. He’s worked with Julian Krinsky Camps, and a number of high-performance juniors in the area, including Philadelphia’s Sam Shropshire, who is now a freshman at Northwestern.

“I’m lucky in that my life can be spontaneous, and I do things I enjoy,” Maleka said. “Whether it’s coaching or music or cars, I’m always enjoying it and looking for the next thing. I’m having fun, even though I’ve been at it for a long time.”

For Maleka, tennis has evolved from a hobby and passion to a career. He’s immersed in tennis full time and expects that to continue. Maleka loves to talk about the current events on the pro tour, the juniors he’s coaching and anything else involving the game. But next time you see him, ask him about something else.

You might just get to know him better that way.

This story will appear in the winter issue of NetPLAY Magazine, which will be released in early January, and will include stories about the people and places of USTA Middle States.

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