Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Rubin: 'Tennis players have to be unique people'

Noah Rubin is shown during his loss to fellow U.S. pros-
pect Frances Tiafoe in the final of last month's $100,000
Stockton (Calif.) Challenger. Photo by Paul Bauman
   This is the second of a three-part series on the bright future of U.S. men's tennis.
   Noah Rubin reacted philosophically after losing to fellow U.S. prospect Frances Tiafoe in the final of last month's $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger.
   "Tennis players have to be unique people," mused the 20-year-old resident of Long Island, N.Y. "We lose every week. And I'm not taking anything away from Frances. He won this week; he's not going to win every week. So there are going to be weeks where we're just going to be unhappy. It's very tough to consistently lose at a sport."
   Continued the 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter), 155-pound (70-kilogram) Rubin, who missed much of the summer with a sprained ankle: "Everybody will say, 'Noah, you had a great week.' Yeah, but the last thing I remember is losing. Obviously, there's a lot to take away. My mentality definitely is back on track to playing better tennis and getting where I need to be, but obviously there's still room to improve.
   "So yes, it's going to be tough going (to his host family's) home tonight and thinking about the match. Luckily, my next match starts in less than 48 hours."
   Rubin, however, lost to seventh-seeded Grega Zemlja of Slovenia 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4) in the first round of the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Challenger.
Rubin addresses the crowd after the Stockton final.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Tiafoe, 18, not only fell in the second round in Fairfield but in the opening round the following week in the $50,000 Las Vegas Tennis Open.
   Tiafoe and Rubin — at No. 102 and No. 169, respectively — are among 23 U.S. men ranked in the top 250 in the world. Almost one-third of those players, seven, are 21 or younger.
   Now for the bad news:
    —The United States, which had four of the top five men and seven of the top 10 in the 1979 year-end singles rankings -- has no one in the top 20. Jack Sock leads the way at No. 24.
    —No American man has won a Grand Slam singles title since Andy Roddick in the 2003 U.S. Open.
    —With the retirement of Robby Ginepri last year, no active American man has even reached a major semifinal in singles.
   Rubin is cautiously optimistic about the future of U.S. men's tennis.
   "We have countless — 30 — guys inside the top 250 in the world," he estimated. "The stats are in our favor for having a top-10 or many top-50 players. Where they go from here is up to them.
   "We try to push each other and have that camaraderie because every player that's been top 10 in the world has had friendly competition that pushes them each and every day. It's great that we have that, and I think we're really supportive of one another. Then again, we're going to face a lot more obstacles. I promise you, a lot of guys will not make it through. That's just how it is. It's not an easy sport."
Rubin poses with his runner-up trophy
in Stockton. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Rubin was introduced to the game at age 1 by his father and later coach, Eric. Training at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy in New York, Noah reached No. 6 in the world junior rankings at 16. During his dream summer of 2014, he won the Wimbledon boys singles title and the USTA boys 18 national title.
   Rubin turned pro last year after reaching the NCAA singles final as a freshman at Wake Forest. He won the $50,000 Charlottesville (Va.) Challenger indoors as a qualifier one year ago this week and stunned then-No. 18 Benoit Paire of France in the first round of the Australian Open in January.
   McEnroe said several years ago that Rubin, who lost to seventh-seeded Peter Polansky of Canada today in the first round in Charlottesville, has at least top-50 potential. Rubin sees less of McEnroe these days because of conflicting schedules.
   "He has a perspective not everybody else has," Rubin said of the 17-time Grand Slam champion (seven singles, nine doubles and one mixed doubles). "He won 10 Grand Slams or whatever, not counting doubles. There's something to be said for that. You can't take that away from anybody. You just ask him what it's like to be there."
   Rubin, wearing a necklace with a small Wimbledon pendant, added that McEnroe looks at tennis "very differently. It's almost not what he's more comfortable with. It's trying to make it most uncomfortable for his opponent. Obviously, he has incredible hands, which can't be taught, but he explains it in a way where you look at it from a different angle, so it is helpful."
   As a professional tennis player, Rubin will take all the help he can get.
   Next: U.S. veteran Tim Smyczek assesses five American hopefuls.

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