Jewish New Yorker aims to qualify for US Open, starts program to shine light on deep issues facing pro tennis players
Jewish tennis player Noah Rubin has been doing great things with rackets – on and off the court – since he was a little boy. The 23-year-old, 195th-ranked ATP professional from Long Island, New York, had a tennis-themed bar mitzvah, enjoyed a successful run as a junior, and has already had some memorable on-court moments since turning pro in 2015.
Rubin has beaten top tour players such as John Isner (2018 Citi Open in Washington DC), and he has given Roger Federer a run for his money, losing 7-5, 6-3, 7-6(3) in the second round of the 2017 Australian Open. Rubin continues to hover around No. 200 in the rankings and travels the world participating in both the ATP Pro Tour and Challenger Tour events.
He is also active and vocal off the court, advocating for more equitable earnings for all tournament players, and helping humanize the sport through his “Behind The Racquet” project on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. The initiative features many of the world’s best tennis players posing behind their rackets and telling personal stories of depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse and more.
This week, Rubin is working to secure a spot in the main draw of the US Open in New York at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. He is no stranger to the Grand Slam event; Rubin has played in either the US Open Qualifying Tournament or the main draw every year since 2013. To earn one of 16 coveted spots in this year’s main draw, he must first win two more matches in this week’s qualifiers.
A local favorite who was surrounded by family and friends during his first-round match, Rubin easily defeated Italian Gianluca Mager 6-2, 6-3 on Tuesday to set up a second-round duel with 166th-ranked Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez late Thursday night.
Rubin comes from a tennis family. According to his mother, Melanie, Noah began playing tennis while “still in diapers.” Melanie and her ex-husband, Eric, would get up at 5 a.m. and drive daughter Jessie and Noah to a 6-8 a.m. indoor tennis clinic on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Jessie Rubin McNally, who met her husband on a Birthright Israel trip, went on to play as the captain of the Binghamton (NY) University tennis team, but her younger brother took tennis to another level.
“Eric and I were a good team,” said Melanie. “He would feed Jessie and Noah balls, and I would pick up the balls and offer encouragement.”
As a young child, Rubin played tennis several days a week. He played for the John McEnroe Tennis Academy and competed in tournaments, but also played on a soccer team and attend Hebrew school three days a week from second grade through the age of 13.
Rubin celebrated his bar mitzvah at the Merrick Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue on Long Island and organized a “mitzvah project” collecting used tennis rackets to donate to the Israel Tennis Centers (recently renamed the Israel Tennis and Education Centers). As Rubin playfully noted, “I can recite my haftarah to this day!”
After his bar mitzvah, Rubin stopped attending Hebrew school and began to focus on tennis. He attended high school in Bellmore, Long Island, for one year before, as his training and tournament demands intensified, he switched to learning online.
As a junior player, Rubin reached No. 6 in the world in the International Tennis Federation. In 2014, he was the No. 1 junior in the United States. He reached the second round of the French Open juniors’ tournament in 2014 and soon after won the Wimbledon junior tournament.
One month later, Rubin won the 2014 US Tennis Association’s Boys 18s National Championships in both singles and doubles. As a result of this victory, he received a wild card in to the main draw of the 2014 US Open. Since turning pro in 2015, Rubin has won four ATP Challenger titles and reached a high ranking of No. 131, in 2018.
The likable Rubin – who stands 5-feet-9-inches tall (1.75 meters) and weighs 155 pounds (70 kilos) – is articulate, earnest and very forthcoming to The Jerusalem Post this week in describing his first-round match, some personal struggles and the often challenging life of young professional tennis players.
“There is this anxiety which fills me at the US Open,” said Rubin. “As you can see, right behind me are my family and my friends – everybody who is close to me. I love the support, but once I step on court it hits. There is a lot of pressure. These are all the people who have worked so hard to get me to where I am. I don’t want to let them down.”
Rubin said that he “loves to show off, not in front of people I know.”
Acknowledging that some of his best tournaments have been in Australia, Rubin offered: “That is because it is on the other side of the world.”
Rubin appeared to be healthy during his match against Mager. When asked about his health in recent months, given a number of injuries in past years, he unexpectedly reported, “Another injury has stricken me and it is mental. A lot of people don’t talk about that and that is what I am fixing. It is a huge issue in tennis. I have this ongoing quote that I say – tennis is not conducive to happiness. That is a tough thing since tennis is the thing I love and I still love. But the system of tennis doesn’t make it a viable choice to really smile each and every day.”
Rubin tries hard to keep perspective.
“My new mentality these past five months, actually really the past two months, has been to try and just enjoy tennis, enjoy the atmosphere. People are here to support me.”
Rubin has worked hard to help fans understand the real life experience of professional tennis players and to offer insight in to how they are feeling.
“There are a lot of problems in this sport and it leads to depression, alcohol abuse, etc. I am desperately trying to get people to understand what is going on. I want to help the world of tennis. I think nowadays people are starting to outwardly speak, but it will still take more effort.”
He is making progress through Behind the Racquet.
Rubin described the goals of the online series – to break the stigma of mental health, to allow players to share their stories and to let fans relate to players on a deeper basis. Rubin hopes to “bring new excitement to tennis.”
Behind the Racquet currently has 13,600 followers on Instagram. Even tennis great Venus Williams has posted about it online.
Melanie proudly added that tennis legend Billy Jean King has also commented on Noah’s important contribution. Melanie said that many players have reached out to Noah privately to “thank him from the bottom of their hearts” for what he is doing in capturing the often lonely, physically taxing life of an on-tour tennis player.
“He is really trying to do something good and help people. He has already made people’s lives better.”
His sister Jessie put Noah’s off-court work in a Jewish context.
“He is doing Tikkun Olam – he is trying to repair what needs to be repaired.”
Noah would appreciate her reference to the important Jewish concept of “healing the world.” Proud of his Judaism, Rubin plays around the world sporting a necklace he describes as “the hand of God with a chain in the middle,” which his father bought him as a 17th birthday present. He is pleased when fans engage him about being Jewish. While he acknowledges that he represents America and New York wherever he goes, he adds, “I am a Jewish New Yorker and that means a lot to me.”
Rubin would very much like to visit Israel for the first time, but noted that his tournament schedule has made this difficult. He almost had the opportunity to play in the Jerusalem Challenger Tournament this year – “I tried to go but it was during the French Open Qualifying Tournament.”
“I will get to Israel,” asserted Rubin. “It is not even a question. I will get there with my girlfriend or my family or by myself. I’ll run over there if I have to.”