By Stephanie Pankiw
On Tuesday, June 15, Punch Maleka (King of Prussia, Pa.) won USTA Middle States’ US Open Sectional Qualifying Tournament in a commanding 6-0, 6-2 victory over 18-year-old Christopher Rosensteel (East Windsor, N.J.). The Sectional Qualifying Tournament was a five-day tournament held in West Windsor, N.J., at Mercer County Park. The tournament is one of 16 US Open Sectional Qualifying Tournaments held across the country this year. The USTA-sanctioned events are the first step for hopeful players dreaming of a wildcard into the US Open.
The score seems to suggest an easy win, but, “It wasn’t as easy as it looked,” Maleka said. “He [Rosensteel] had a great week; he came through some tough players.”
Rosensteel proved he was a strong player throughout the tournament, and he is coming off of an impressive season at Stevens Institute of Technology where he will be a sophomore in the fall. In his freshman year, he was named Empire 8 Rookie of the Year and earned first-team singles honors. He fought hard to win two games in the second set but was never able to find his footing against the hard-hitting Maleka.
For Maleka, 31, this opportunity has been a dream 20 years in the making, “I’ve always wanted a chance to play against the top guys in the world,” he said. “I thought this was a great opportunity for me to play in the US Open.”
It was Maleka’s father who first put him on the court. Maleka grew up in Pretoria, South Africa where soccer was a popular sport. He started playing soccer, but his father had gotten injured playing the game, and he thought tennis was a safer option. At first, tennis was just for fun, but by the time Maleka was 15 he was playing tennis every day, and his love for the game has never wavered.
“It’s unbelievably challenging,” Maleka explained. “Every day, every year, you keep learning more and more things about the game, it just doesn’t end.”
Maleka spent some time on the tour and was once ranked at No. 619 in the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) rankings. Though he has had much success in tennis, he never was able to reach his dream of playing in a Grand Slam.
“Growing up playing, I’ve always wanted to play in the Grand Slams,” Maleka said. “This is a second chance to live my actual dream.”
Currently residing in King of Prussia, Pa., Maleka came to the United States six years ago to take a tennis instructing position with the Julian Krinsky School of Tennis in Gulph Mills, Pa. When he’s not coaching, Maleka indulges his other passions, one of which is music. Maleka is an aspiring music producer and DJ who goes by the pseudonym Punchuashen.
For the next month however, Maleka will be focusing on tennis and preparing for the next step of his US Open journey. With this win, Maleka moves into the next round of the US Open National Playoffs, the Men’s Championship, which will take place July 22-25 in Atlanta, Georgia. The winner of this tournament will earn a singles wild card entry to compete in the US Open Qualifying Tournament at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center (Flushing, N.Y.), August 24-27.
Maleka says he will work on improving his physical strength and fine tuning his technical skills in preparation for his matches at the Men’s Championship. And what does Maleka think about his chances?
“I think if I focus right and prepare properly I think I have a really good chance,” he said. “I’m excited.”
For complete tournament results, please click here.