Noah Rubin just wrapped up his first full year as a professional tennis player and, as the Long Island native will admit, it was an up and down season, but he is chomping at the bit to get back onto the court in 2017.
“It really opened up my eyes,” Rubin told Long Island Tennis Magazine. “I was used to the daily grind to an extent, and living out of my bag was fun, but also tough. I had a couple of good wins to start the year, and I was playing some pretty good tennis through the first few months. I was feeling confident. I got hurt and it set me back the next few months, both physically and mentally.
But I don’t regret anything. It was very enjoyable, and I was able to learn a lot from just being out there and travelling, and witnessing what the top players do on a daily basis.”
Rubin’s year started off with a bang as he upset then-18th ranked Benoit Paire of France in the opening round of the Australian Open, beating the Frenchman in straight sets for the biggest win of his young career.
“You know, everybody says that they believe in themselves, and we all should to a certain extent. But that win helped consolidate my ideas on the player I knew I could be,” said Rubin. “I went to college, and people either forgot about me or maybe didn’t think I would make it after that, so that win really helped bring me back into the picture.”
The win not only helped Rubin’s confidence, but also helped guide his ascent up the rankings. After reaching the semifinals of the Maui Challenger, Rubin went on to notch another big win, knocking off 76th ranked Sam Groth in the Round of 32 at the Delray Beach Open in early February.
His ranking continued to rise as the 20-year-old competed mainly on the Challenger Tour and in ATP qualifying tournaments, until an ankle injury halted his progress mid-summer.
“It took a lot out of me. It was my first real injury as a professional, and it stopped my momentum,” Rubin recalled. “Before that, I was moving up almost 100 spots a month from when I started. It hurt me more mentally than anything else.”
Because of a lack of match play, Rubin saw his ranking, which had climbed to a career high of 166, drop back out of the top 200.
“After his injury he lost a few matches, and I think he lost a little confidence,” said Rubin’s longtime coach and JMTA Director of Tennis Lawrence Kleger. “And that has always been his biggest strength, his mental toughness, his compete level.”
He returned to the tour and qualified for the Abierto Mexicano Mifel tournament in Los Cabos, Mexico, where he qualified for the main draw, before coming home to compete in the U.S. Open Qualifying Tournament.
Rubin’s presence in Flushing Meadows attracted the buzz of the city and provided one of the largest audiences you will find at a qualifying match. After advancing in just three games due to a retirement from Yan Bai in the opening round of qualifiers, Rubin took on 145th-ranked Michael Berrer, a big-serving German.
He would outlast Berrer and a rain delay to push into the final round of qualifying, where he lost a hard-fought three-set match to Russia’s Karen Khacharov, who would go on to reach the second round of the main draw tournament, even taking a set off eventual semifinalist U.S. Open Kei Nishikori.
While he may not have achieved the results he was looking for, playing at the U.S. Open continues to hold a special sentiment for Rubin.
“It’s full of emotion for me and everyone around me. It’s a time where all my family is in the same place, so there is a lot of pressure that comes with it, but there is also a lot of thrill because of what I’ve accomplished and what I am trying to do,” reflected Rubin. “So it’s fun to be able to showcase that there. Obviously I had a tough loss in the third round, and I really thought I had it when I broke him in the third set. But it was a good match and he did really well after that.”
Rubin was still rounding himself into shape following the injury at the time of the U.S. Open, and he would continue to do so to wrap up 2016. He did well to reach the finals of the Stockton Challenger, and concluded the year ranked 201st in the world.
“To be honest, I got to 166, and now, I’m back down to 201, but I almost feel like I’ve done nothing,” said Rubin. “And I don’t mean to down anyone else who is ranked behind me, but just in my head, I feel like there were so many matches here and there that I feel I could have won. So the fact that I am at 200 and haven’t reached the tip of the iceberg yet is encouraging going forward. I’m putting in a lot of effort and I have a fuller head of information to use. I’m excited to see what I can do with that and try and have a great season.”
Rubin spent a few weeks down in Boca gearing up for his 2017 campaign before spending a little time at home for the holiday season and working with his coaches and team at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy.
“Yes, I feel like I can be top 100 by the end of next year. But I think the goal is more to play my game for the whole year and just enjoy myself,” said Rubin. “There were points during this past season where I don’t think I was enjoying it as much as I should. My mental game, along with my speed, are two things that I think makes me stand out as a player, so I just really want to get back to where I was. I’m feeling the ball really well right now and putting in a lot of hours of work. I feel great and I’m ready to play my game.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for New York Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at email@example.com