Before the 136th U.S. Open kicks off next week, there is a week of "qualifying," a chance for lower-ranked players to make it into the first round. One of those players is Jewish Long-Islander, Noah Rubin. Rubin, 20, is a graduate of the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York, which was founded by the legendary former world No. 1 player in 2010.
Having turned professional only last year, Rubin is relatively new to the men’s tour, but he is no newbie to the game. He has been playing tennis since he could walk, although the turning point for him came at age 12, when he quit playing soccer and decided to focus all his attentions on tennis.
The years since he turned professional has had its ups and downs. In January, he was awarded a wildcard into the main draw of the Australian Open, one of four Grand Slam tournaments on the tennis calendar, and caused an upset in the first round, when Rubin, ranked 336th, beat 19th-ranked Benoit Paire. He ranks that as his greatest achievement to date, saying the win "really pushed me forward."
"I think it showed a lot of people that I’m definitely here to play and I still have a long future,” he said. Recent injuries have taken their toll, both on his rankings and by thwarting his chances of a wildcard entry into the US Open.
But Rubin has remained confident. His goal is “nothing less” than qualifying for the first round, and he has set his sights even higher. “I definitely want to win a match in the main draw and I think that I have the coach behind me and the mental and physical capabilities to get to where I want to be.” The hard-court surface which he grew up playing on should also work in his favor, although he is a junior Wimbledon champion on grass, a victory which he says was “not a fluke” but was definitely unexpected.
US player Noah Rubin kisses the winner's trophy after winning the boy's singles final match against US player Stefan Kozlov at the 2014 Wimbledon Championships. Getty Images
As with any tennis player, it is not a one-man operation. His coach, especially, has been behind him from the very start. Eric Rubin is not just another member of the team, but also his father and his self-proclaimed number one fan. He describes coaching Noah as his “ultimate pleasure, as a coach and as a dad.” For him, watching his son play on the same courts he himself spent over a decade as a ball-boy on, will be “like a homecoming.” Rubin Jr. also cites the support of the rest of his team; Lawrence Kleger, who has coached him alongside his father since he was 7, fitness trainer Richard Mensing, and agent Shane Kelley of Lagardere Sports, as being instrumental in helping him to further his career ambitions.
Rubin Sr. cites Noah’s fitness and speed around the court as a major strength of his game, but says that his biggest assets are his intelligence and mental toughness. He recalls being told by spectators at matches that Rubin Jr. is “like a chess player” on the court.
Both Rubins know that this is just the start, and both are in it for the long haul. Rubin Sr. says “it’s always been about a journey. Ever since I gave him a racket at less than 1 years old, it’s always been about fun, and the journey, and learning a bit more each time.” The family’s Jewish identity has also been a key part of that journey. Around his neck, Rubin Jr. wears two charms; one a duplicate of the Wimbledon trophy, and the other a hamsa charm bought for him by his father, who describes the family as “very connected” to their Jewish culture.
It’s been a long time since an American has dominated the men’s tennis scene. The last two Grand Slam winners from the U.S. were Andy Roddick and Andre Agassi in 2003. Despite that, Noah is optimistic about the state of men’s tennis in the USA. “There are many up-and-coming guys who are in the top 100, top 200, and any one of these guys can make a push for the top 10,” he said. This year’s U.S. Open will provide a great opportunity for the younger generation to stake their claim, and the American Jewish community will have a rare chance to cheer one of our own.