US Open

Original Article Published On The Jerusalem Post

After early US Open ouster, 24-year-old outspoken New Yorker gives feedback on tournament organizers and players’ mental health in these crazy times

Being successful as a professional tennis player requires natural ability, dedication and hard work. Making it during a global pandemic while also exposing injustices in “the system” and bringing attention to the mental health issues of fellow players requires you to be Noah Rubin.

Rubin, only 24 years old but wise beyond his years, is no stranger to the US Open and to advocacy.

A proud Jew, Rubin – No. 228 in the world in singles and No. 703 in doubles – was eliminated with partner Ernesto Escobedo in the first round of the men’s doubles tournament at the recently completed, spectator-less US Open, held in New York City. Their match vs Israel-born Denis Shapovalov and Rohan Bopanna was suspended due to rain and continued the next day, when Rubin and Escobedo lost 6-2, 6-4.

This was Long Island-native Rubin’s seventh trip to the US Open since competing in his first qualifiers in 2013. Rubin spent the days leading up to his first-round defeat with all other players and tournament personnel at the Garden City Hotel. He said ironically, “I live nine minutes away. It was a strange situation.”

Rubin spoke with The Jerusalem Post about his experience in the US Open “bubble,” gave suggestions for improving pro tennis, and reflected on his popular “Behind The Racquet” project.

The United States Tennis Association took great pains to assure the Grand Slam tournament would be played this year. USTA CEO Mike Dowse and US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster shared details of the safety plan at several press briefings.

“We really established some guiding principles at the beginning. The first one was could we do it in a healthy and safe way for everyone. That included the players, the staff, even the local community here in New York. The second guiding principle was is this good for the sport of tennis, will it reignite our industry in the broader tennis ecosystem. The third question is frankly did it make financial sense, that included for the players and for the USTA, again the broader tennis ecosystem. As we went through this journey starting in mid-March, we couldn’t say yes at all times against those three guiding principles. But ultimately on June 16 we said ‘yes’ with this formula we put together.”

Rubin and other players had mixed reviews of the plan and of the tennis bubble.

“At first, there were very few problems,” noted Rubin. “It was great. I gave them so much credit before the tournament – for how much work they put in.”

Rubin playfully noted that the players-only set up meant that players could wander the grounds freely.

“I didn’t see my third-grade teacher asking for tickets!

“It was great, [but] then there were issues that they handled poorly.”

Rubin spoke of the boredom.

“They had basketball [in the hotel] – it was fun shooting hoops – and they had mini golf, but there is only so much 9-hole mini golf you can play!”

Rubin reported spending some days “lying down in the middle of the park…not their fault.”

And he spoke of playing in front of empty stands.

“The thrill is with the fans, but I am used to not having people at my matches.”

Rubin began to witness problems after the first coronavirus case were detected.

“It didn’t seem they were ready.”

Rubin felt communication was poor and that rules were constantly changing.

“They didn’t really tell us everything. It seemed like they were hiding something. And there was a lack of consistency.”

Rubin was referring to a situation where French player Benoit Paire tested positive for the coronavirus on the Sunday before the US Open, though he was not showing symptoms. Paire, the No. 17 seed, was set to play Kamil Majchrzak of Poland in the first round and was forced to withdraw from the tournament.

“There was a lack of consistency. Top players were put on a pedestal.”

Rubin described it as “a fake bubble in a lot of ways,” with hotel staff going home, therefore coming in and out of the bubble. He also reports sharing the hotel with other guests not connected to the tournament.

“They got to the 10-yard line and dropped the ball a little bit. They did the hard parts really well. It was a good effort.”

Rubin is no stranger to speaking out on issues which he says as affecting professional tennis. He has spoken out on income inequality the sport, and started the “Behind the Racquet” website and podcast, where he allows professional tennis players to share personal stories of mental health issues and other struggles.

As Rubin wrote on the website: “From the beginning of my life there was nothing I loved more than chasing around that yellow ball.

Wherever it went, I followed. I could not always articulate the impact I wanted to make but I had this innate feeling that I needed to leave my mark on this sport. As I progressed through the levels, meeting and experiencing all there is to, I started understanding that there is a true disconnect between how spectators interpreted this field and what actually is the reality.

“The perceived glamorous, travesty-free lifestyle was far from what is actually taking place. The combination of this blinded misconception along with the antiquated mentalities of some at the top, running our sport, made me feel a responsibility to implore change.

“I have grand dreams to drastically evolve the sport we all love in order to prevent this continuous decline of fans. This is where ‘Behind The Racquet’ (BTR) plays a major role. I realized that this disconnect has arisen partially due to the lack of connection between potential fans and players. I started BTR to give players the platform to share their stories on their own terms, while also giving fans an opportunity to relate to a player on a deeper level.

“In doing so, I am also helping to fight the stigma of talking about mental health, especially in the world of professional sport. I truly dream that these stories, told by honest and bold people, inspire you to see deeper into who they truly are. Everyone has a story and it’s time to share yours.”

Despite the tennis tour being on hiatus until recently due to COVID-19, Rubin reported that “life is the most hectic it has ever been.”

While he hopes to play in the upcoming French Open in two weeks, he is devoting a great deal of time to “Behind the Racquet.”
“I have worked six years in six months,” exclaimed Rubin, who has built a team, collected 50 stories, and has a book and possible documentary on the horizon.

His mother, Melanie Siegel Rubin, is proud of all of Noah’s accomplishments.

“Noah has trained all his life to accomplish what he has on the court as a junior and professional tennis player. His dedication and determination are beyond admirable. In recent years, Noah’s off-court endeavors, through ‘Behind The Racquet,’ have taken my admiration of him to an even higher level. Noah giving other players an outlet to express themselves, resources to help themselves and a platform to reach so many, has surpassed what I could have dreamed for him. His work with NAMI [National Alliance on Mental Illness], North Shore Animal League and as a voice for change for his fellow players are just some of his undertakings that should be commended. I couldn’t be more proud of my boy.”

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Original Post Published On The Jerusalem Post

After two straight US Open quarterfinals, Jewish-Argentine knocked out early • Djokovic cruises • Gauff ousted

Cameron Norrie of Great Britain battled back from two sets down and two match points to stun the US Open’s Argentine No. 9 seed, Diego Schwartzman 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 7-5 in a four-hour first-round match at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York on Monday night.
Schwartzman, the No. 13 in the world, experienced cramps on several occasions and took a fall up 3-2 in the fifth set that required treatment on his left hand by the trainer. The gregarious, proudly Jewish 28-year-old is a three-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist. He reached the US Open quarterfinals in both 2017 and 2019, but couldn’t pull out the match against Norrie.

“I had a very bad day,” said Schwartzman after the match. “I was far from playing at the level that I showed many times here at the US Open. I took advantage of the early chances, but I was giving a lot physically and I started to get tired and cramped up a couple of times. In a normal year, when I am playing a lot, I do well, but it is much harder going a long time without competing. It was a very bad tournament for me and all I can do is try to improve for what is coming.”No. 76 Norrie spoke to the British media after the match.“I just had a phenomenal attitude and stayed patient with myself,” said Norrie. “I think my attitude won it for me today and my legs got me through it.”  Norrie had eleven aces to one for Schwarzman. The match broke a US Open record with 58 break points.Norrie advances to play Argentinian Federico Coria in the second round.  Players in the main draw earn $61,000 for appearing in the first round.  Male and female tournament winners earn $3 million.  Norrie has yet to win any titles.  He is 4-10 in Grand Slam matches and has reached the second round four times.

Schwartzman made news during last week’s ATP 2020 Western & Southern Open Masters 1000, which was also played on the grounds of the US Open.  He was upset when Argentine tennis players Guido Pella and Hugo Dellien were quarantined after their fitness trainer tested positive for COVID-19.

“They lied to our faces,” Schwarzman said angrily, “They said that there would be no retaliation for anyone who tested positive.”Relatedly, a number of competitors at the US Open expressed their frustration on Monday after they were moved into a so-called “bubble within a bubble” as they had been in contact with Frenchman Benoit Paire, who tested positive for coronavirus.

Tournament organizers quietly removed Paire from the draw on Sunday, with the Frenchman later confirming on social media that he had tested positive.French players Adrian Mannarino, Kristina Mladenovic and Edouard Roger-Vasselin were subsequently placed under an “enhanced protocol plan” for “players who might have been potentially exposed” to the virus, allowing them to continue competing in the tournament instead of withdrawing.

In other first-round action, Novak Djokovic needed less than two hours to continue his unbeaten season.The top-seeded Serbian routed Bosnia’s Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 6-4, 6-1 in 1 hour, 58 minutes.The win was Djokovic’s 24th in as many matches this year. He won the Australian Open and three tournaments this year, including the Western & Southern Open in New York last week.

Djokovic saved six of the seven break points he faced against Dzumhur while converting six of his 18 break opportunities.A heavy favorite for the title with Spain’s Rafael Nadal and Switzerland’s Roger Federer absent, Djokovic will next face Kyle Edmund. The British player got past Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik 2-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-0.In other matches, fourth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece demolished Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-2, 6-1, 6-1 in 98 minutes.

Maxime Cressy will get the next shot at Tsitsipas, as the American wild-card entrant produced his first victory in a Grand Slam event.Cressy, a 23-year-old UCLA product, beat Slovakia’s Jozef Kovalik 6-1, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.Fifth-seeded Alexander Zverev needed four sets to get past South Africa’s Kevin Anderson 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-3, 7-5.Seventh-seeded David Goffin of Belgium eliminated the United States’ Reilly Opelka 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.Other seeded winners Monday included Israel-born No. 12 Denis Shapovalov of Canada, No. 19 Taylor Fritz of the United States, No. 20 Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain, No. 24 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, No. 26 Filip Krajinovic of Serbia, No. 27 Borna Coric of Croatia and No. 32 Adrian Mannarino of France.

In an all-United States matchup, Steve Johnson outlasted 16th-seeded John Isner 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (3). Isner fell despite an ace edge of 52-22.On the women’s side, Coco Gauff failed to make it past the first round as 31st-seeded Anastasija Sevastova defeated the 16-year-old sensation 6-3, 5-7, 6-4.

Gauff had a memorable run 12 months ago at age 15 when she recorded two wins at the US Open before losing to top-seeded Naomi Osaka in the third round.But the magic wasn’t there against the 30-year-old Sevastova, who was a US Open semifinalist in 2018 and reached the quarterfinals in both 2016 and 2017.Gauff committed 13 double faults and 41 unforced errors against 27 winners in the match at Louis Armstrong Stadium.

“I could’ve played better today, but I’m just going to get back to work and get ready for the French Open,” Gauff said of the event that begins Sepember. 21.Also, top-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic routed Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine 6-4, 6-0.Fourth-seeded Naomi Osaka, two days after withdrawing from the Western & Southern Open final due to a hamstring injury, emerged with a 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 win over another Japanese player, Misaki Doi.

Sixth-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova also was sharp with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu.American Alison Riske, seeded 13th, got past Germany’s Tatjana Maria 6-3, 6-2, No. 17 Angelique Kerber of Germany notched a 6-4, 6-4 win over Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic and No. 30 Kristina Mladenovic of France recorded a 7-5, 6-2 win over Hailey Baptiste.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Original Article in The Jerusalem Post:

To the astute observer, there are probably more references to the late, great Arthur Ashe throughout the grounds of the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, home of the US Open, than to Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic combined. A walk through the grounds of the US Open pays tribute to Ashe in many ways.

There is a plaque honoring Ashe near the South Gate at the Court of Champions, Arthur Ashe Commemorative Gardens, the 24,000-seat Ashe Stadium, a display of mounted photographs of Ashe by Time and Life photographer John Zimmerman, and the seven-minute ’68 Ashe VR (virtual reality) Experience.

The 2018 US Open celebrates Ashe the man, on the 50th anniversary of his US Open victory in 1968.

Arthur Ashe was the first black player selected to the United States Davis Cup team, and he was the only African-American man to win three Grand Slam events – Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open. But Ashe was so much more than an accomplished tennis player. He was a humanitarian who spoke out against injustice and preached tolerance and understanding, a spokesman for such public health concerns as HIV/ AIDS and heart disease, an advocate of sports programs for the underserved, a life-long learner, an US Army lieutenant, and, by some accounts, a philosemite who was profoundly influenced by many Jews.

Raymond Arsenault, the author of a new authoritative, comprehensive 767-page biography, Arthur Ashe: A Life recently spoke with the Magazine about the influence of Jewish people and history on Ashe. Ashe’s father, a jack of all trades, worked “as a chauffeur, butler and handyman for Charles Gregory, one of Richmond’s most prominent Jewish merchants.” One day, while dropping off Mr. Gregory’s laundry, he struck up a conversation with Mattie Cordell Cunningham.

Several months later, they were married, and soon after, became parents to Arthur, and five years later, to his brother, Johnnie.

Ashe was born in 1943 and grew up in Richmond, Virginia, in the segregated South. When he was six, his mother died and Ashe and Johnnie were raised by their father, who worked as a handyman and caretaker for Richmond’s recreation department. The Ashes lived in the caretaker’s cottage in the grounds of 18-acre Blacks-only Brookfield Park, which had baseball fields, basketball courts, a pool and four tennis courts. Ashe began playing tennis at age seven and showed promise.

Ron Charity, a tennis coach and at the time the best black tennis player in Richmond, began working with Ashe and entering him in local tournaments. Ashe won the National Junior Indoor tennis title – the first for an African-American. He began attending UCLA in 1963 on a tennis scholarship. He was also a member of ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps), which offered tuition assistance in exchange for active military service upon graduation. He joined the US Army in 1966 and became a second lieutenant and eventually a first lieutenant, prior to his discharge in 1969.

A recent USA Today article by sportswriter Sandra Harwitt, who is also author of The Greatest Jewish Tennis Players of All Times, notes that Arthur’s brother, Johnnie, volunteered for a second tour of duty in Vietnam, knowing that two brothers couldn’t see active duty in a war zone at the same time, thereby keeping Arthur on the tennis court. This allowed Ashe to play in and ultimately win the 1968 US Open. Since Ashe was still an amateur at the time and because of his status as an active Army lieutenant, he was unable to accept the $14,000 prize money. The money ended up going to runner-up Tom Okker of the Netherlands, but, as Arsenault notes, an anonymous donor offered Ashe 100 shares of General Motors stock, which he was ultimately allowed to accept.

AT THE ’68 Ashe Virtual Reality exhibit at this year’s US Open, Ashe speaks about the year 1968, and mentions the deaths of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy as well as the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, where two US athletes bowed their heads and raised fists as a salute to the Black Power movement during the playing of the “Star Spangled Banner” (both were subsequently thrown off the Olympic team). These events served as an important impetus for his commitment to and involvement in larger issues of the day.

Mary, a US Open volunteer at the virtual reality exhibit, notes that she “tries hard not to influence people’s experience” as people watch the presentation, but reports that several African-American visitors have shared stories of personal connection with Ashe.

“One playfully shared a story of how Ashe flirted with her when he was 14 and she was 16. Another reported that her cousin is married to Ashe’s brother.”

Another visitor, Tracy Nabaldian of Weston, Connecticut, found the show to be “really cool,” but wishes it was longer.

“It did a neat job in seven minutes of covering his rise and how he found his voice.” She is pleased that a longer documentary about Ashe will premier in 2019.

Ashe’s tennis accomplishments include winning the Davis Cup for the US in 1968 and 1969 and winning the Wimbledon singles title in 1975. Off the court, Ashe got married to artist and photographer Jeanne Moutoussamy in 1977. Ashe began experiencing health problems in 1971 when he suffered a heart attack in July while holding a tennis clinic in New York. In 1979, he underwent a quadruple bypass operation, and in 1983 underwent a second heart surgery.

In 1988, when Ashe was experiencing paralysis in his right arm, it was discovered that he had taxoplasmosis, commonly found in people infected with HIV. It is believed he contracted the virus from blood transfusions from his second heart surgery. Ashe served as national campaign chairman for the American Heart Association and was a member of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Advisory Council.

Ashe was an active civil rights supporter. He was a member of a delegation of 31 African-Americans who visited South Africa. In 1985, he was arrested outside the South African Embassy in Washington during an anti-apartheid rally. He was arrested again in 1992 outside the White House for protesting a crackdown on Haitian refugees. Ashe died in 1993 from AIDS-related pneumonia at the age of 49.

Ashe was a prolific writer, penning books about tennis, basketball and other sports, and several memoirs.

In his 1993 New York Times best-selling book, Days of Grace, he writes about his experience with Jewish people and the Jewish community. He was bothered at the time by the decline in relations between Jews and Blacks in Brooklyn.

“Few aspects of race relations in America have disturbed me as much as the enmity in certain quarters between Blacks and Jews. The entire climate of Black-Jewish relations has become stormy,” Ashe said.

This was in contrast to the very positive experience he had growing up around Jews in Richmond, Virginia.

“I have no reason to feel anything but affection and respect for Jews as a people in the United States. A long time ago I came to the personal realization that all of the people who have helped me become a success in life, a disproportionately large percentage of them have been Jews. And as far as I know, I never sought them out to ask their help. They took the initiative, and continue to do so. Whether or not they are assuaging guilty feelings is, to me, irrelevant.”

Ashe notes, “When I was growing up in Richmond, Jews occupied a prominent and favored place in my life, and in my father’s life. Before and after he found his main job with the Department of Recreation of the City of Richmond, my father worked for a number of wealthy Richmond Jews.” He goes on to list the various Jews who owned department stores and other stores and were “fair and honorable.”

Ashe also observed that “even great wealth did not save the Jews of Richmond from [being subjected to bigotry.” He “became aware of Jews in a more complex way on the tennis team at UCLA,” and writes about how Jews see themselves in American culture. He concludes, “When black demagogues make scapegoats of Jews, we must resist it for what it is; further evidence of the self-hatred and the intellectual and spiritual confusion that racism breeds.”

Arsenault recalls coming across Ashe’s thoughts about the Jews in the research for his book, playfully noting, “I mentioned it, but don’t know if it made it to the cutting room floor!” He notes that more than 200 pages were cut out of the book.

“I was talking about his early encounters with whites. There was one store in Jackson Ward (a section of Richmond, Virginia) and he knows the owner, who was Jewish. His father knew the Schillers, who were Jewish, and the owners of the big department stores, who were Jewish. I think later his sensibility was very philosemitic. He would make references to the Holocaust.

He just had a great sympathy, I think for some of the commonalities of African-Americans and Jews in terms of being outsiders and having to deal with stereotypes, so he often went out of his way to mention the same positive things about Jews and I think it was just obvious and striking to me that he did have that sensibility.”

Arsenault is fairly certain Ashe never went to Israel.

“The closest was Egypt. That’s when he realized in 1980 that he had to retire. He was in Cairo and went out for a run near the big pyramids and all of the sudden you could see he had horrible angina.

He and [wife] Jeanne had a friend, Doug Stein, who was a Long Island doctor who was with them on the trip, basically told him you have to go home and get this taken care of. He did not go straight back though – they went to Amsterdam, and the art museums, then they went back, and they said you are not playing serious tennis again… so in April of 1980, he announced his retirement. I don’t think he ever went to Israel.”

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