Humans of Speed: Dr. Kevin Walsh Courted a Career in Tennis

July 11, 2017

Honored in the UofL Athletic, the Trinity, and the State of Kentucky Halls of Fame, Dr. Kevin Walsh made his name in the world of tennis as a student at the university. Securing a full scholarship, Walsh parlayed his talents on the court into a career as a player on the professional circuit, where he ranked number three in the state, and traveled the world. His path took him to the Asian Circuit, where he came up against some intense competition.

“My best win was against someone that was ranked like 57th in the world. I got to play against Rod Laver, Australian Grand Slam champion. It was fun playing him. This was an exhibition match that was at the UofK in their memorial coliseum. They had Rod Laver and John Nukem. As a preliminary to that, they had UofL vs. UofK. Then we teamed up and we played doubles with them. I played with John Nukem and my partner played with Rod Laver. People wanted our autograph,” says Walsh.

According to Walsh, there was a lot more publicity for tennis at the time. He explains, “Tennis used to get a lot of publicity in the newspaper. We used to get big crowds. Sometimes you could get 500 to 1000 out to these matches.”

It was during that time that Walsh had some of his most rewarding experiences as a player. He was afforded opportunities to play with some of the preeminent players in the world, learning from them as he went.

“I got to play against probably six people that got into the top 20 in the world. I got to play against John Alexander and Phil Dent. Tim and Tom Gulkinson. More people might have known him because he was Pete Sampheris coach. Tim. I don’t know, I was kind of a local celebrity in tennis. If the pond is small enough, you get to be a big fish,” says Walsh.

Despite his brushes with fame, Walsh remained humble, taking a realistic view of his tenure as a semi-pro. Ultimately, he retired from the sport to focus on his engineering career, which saw his return to the University of Louisville, now as a member of the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering faculty, where he has served since.

“I would say a combination of my money running out and back problems. I was actually a little old. At 25 it’s a little too old to start that. I continued to play a little bit casually. Then I had two boys and both my boys played tennis and both of them played at Trinity. And my youngest played tennis at John Hopkins and was named NCA D3 All American four years in a row. He and his partner got up to #1.”