Start with the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of Noah Rubin's unlikely title in the junior-level tournament on the hallowed tennis lawns of Wimbledon last week.
"Just re-watched the whole [championship] match on YouTube," the 18-year-old Rubin said upon returning to his Rockville Centre home. "Because it didn't even feel like I won the match. Just, point-by-point, how I felt. It's still a little surreal."
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The victory -- in fact, his entire foray through two qualifying rounds and six more matches in the main draw of the 18-and-under competition -- easily was the most significant in Rubin's tennis history, which began when his father, Eric, put a ball in his crib.
"I've been getting messages from cousins of cousins and kindergarten teachers, and God knows who. But it's been amazing to see all this support," Rubin said.
This past year, he spent a good amount of time on the Futures circuit, playing professional events (though he is ineligible for prize money) that provide experience and opportunities to improve his ranking as a ticket into bigger tournaments.
But Wimbledon's grass courts didn't figure to favor Rubin, at 5-9 not among the imposing power servers who tend to thrive on that surface.
"If you had asked me two months ago, I'd have said grass would be his worst surface and red clay his best," said Lawrence Kleger, who has coached Rubin since Rubin was 7. "I might have to re-evaluate."
In his Wimbledon quarterfinal, Rubin faced the Netherlands' Tim Van Rijthoven, who had just eliminated the tournament's top seed, Andrey Rublev of Russia. (Rublev won last month's French Open junior title.)
Rijthoven -- "I'm not sure how to pronounce his name," Rubin said -- had been pounded by Rubin in the French juniors' qualifying rounds, 6-2, 6-0. "But now, on grass," Rubin said, "he's a big kid with a big, big serve, and the score was 7-6, 7-6. I could've lost either set. It was just being mentally prepared to get aced a lot, just walk to the other side of the court and move on. I want to say he hit, like, 16 aces. But you start to realize that you don't even need a service break. Just get to the tiebreaker."
Then, in the semifinals, Rubin faced fellow American Taylor Harry Fritz, with Fritz "serving 130s [miles per hour]," Rubin said. "He came out strong, but I got one break in the first set, and that was all I needed. And I got more confident."
Kleger called Rubin's ability to deal with the big boppers "a mental thing. I'd say his focus and mental toughness definitely were at a peak in this tournament. Pros have to deal with the fact that you can play the best point of your life, grind it out, then the guy can ace you on the next point.
"You have to be ready for your chances. That's Noah's strength. He believes in himself."
In the final, Rubin faced an American friend, sixth-seeded Stefan Kozlov (who had knocked off No. 2 seed Chung Hyeon of South Korea in the fourth round). "We played on Court 1 [Wimbledon's No. 2 show court]," Rubin said. "We didn't expect anybody to be there, but there was a big crowd. People actually paid to watch us play."
Rubin prevailed, 6-3, 7-6 (7).
"It's awesome," Rubin said of winning the title. "It puts me on a long list of tennis players who have done it and are professionals now. Hopefully, I can do the same and get to the level where they are in the future."
Rubin was an honored guest of the Mets on Thursday, the culmination of an amazing week.
"It's been surreal, but it's starting to kick in a little bit and it's incredible," he said. "Before, it's like my family and friends have been having the emotions for me. But now that it's sinking in, I'm really enjoying myself right now."
But such a prestigious title doesn't necessarily guarantee fame and fortune. Mixed in with former Wimbledon junior champions such as Roger Federer and Grigor Dimitrov (this year's semifinalist in the main draw) in recent years are Roman Valent, Todd Reid, Florin Mergea, Thiemo de Bakker, Marton Fucsovics and Flip Peliwo. Not household names.
So what happens next is anybody's guess. If Rubin can win next month's national boys' hard court championships in Kalamazoo, Michigan, he will earn a wild card into the U.S. Open main draw at the end of August. That aside, he expects to play the Open juniors event.
Meanwhile, he decided this past week to enroll at Wake Forest this fall and play for the college team while continuing his relationship with Kleger and the John McEnroe Tennis Academy on Randalls Island.
Rubin did not get to go to a high school for four years.
"I went to JFK in Bellmore for a year and then I did an online school," he said. "I just couldn't do regular school with all the traveling because of tennis."
Now he will be back in a regular classroom setting. "Off to college for a year," Rubin said, "then, hopefully, the tennis will stick."
Meaning that his next dreamy event would be turning pro.
With Stephen Haynes
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