The trip from Newbridge Road Park in Bellmore to the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows is maybe a half an hour, in good traffic.
If you are a tennis player, it takes years, if you can get there at all. Noah Rubin always believed he could get from Bellmore to Flushing Meadows, from the modest public courts where his game started to develop to America's biggest tennis stage. And here he is, the 18-year-old from Rockville Centre appearing this week in his first Grand Slam main draw when he faces Frederico Delbonis in his opening match of the U.S. Open.
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It took a million backhands, forehands, serves and returns for Rubin to get here, but it came down to one match in Kalamazoo, Michigan, two weeks ago when he won the USTA boys 18 national championship, a title that earned him an automatic wild-card entry into the U.S. Open. That followed his dramatic win in the Wimbledon juniors in July.
Noah Rubin's journey, which began when his tennis-playing father, Eric, dangled a ball on elastic from an arch at their home when his son was maybe 6 months old, has been fueled by belief.
Belief that tennis was not just going to be a game, but a life's passion.
Belief that despite not being the biggest of kids (he's a modest 5-9 and 150 now) that he had what it takes to win.
Belief that despite all the pitfalls and obstacles of a professional career, he would prevail.
Belief that he would be riding the crest of Noah's Arc.
"I've always thought that Noah's biggest weapon was between his ears," said Eric, who is also his co-coach. "This summer has shown everybody what I've been saying for years, that this kid has incredible talent, unbelievable heart and incredible smarts. People would say he was good. I would say, no, no, he's great . . . I would say, wait, wait. And this summer has been incredible."
"It's the same thing that's gotten him better all along in his career. The single most important thing is his inner belief," said Rubin's coach Lawrence Kleger, who is executive director of tennis at Sportime on Randalls Island. "Every time he steps on the court he believes he is going to win. Doesn't matter if it's a junior tournament, a futures, a challenger. It's not going to matter at the Open. When he goes on the court he believes he will win."
In a soft voice, Rubin says that "sure, I believe I can do this," and at the Open "my biggest job is to try to peak at the right time," and what he has done this summer "has been an awesome experience."
And everything is about to get more awesome. Not only when he plays in the Open (and in the main draw doubles with close friend Stefan Kozlov, whom he beat in the Wimbledon final), but afterward when he goes to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to attend Wake Forest on a tennis scholarship. He was there last week to go through orientation, register for classes and meet with his tennis coach, Tony Bresky.
He got his books and wrote to his professors, telling them he'll be late for the start of classes. He was in the company of his mother, Melanie, (the Rubins are divorced), who said: "As far as going to college, that decision was made only recently. The opportunity to play for a fabulous university, a wonderful coach, get physical training, a chance to grow both as a tennis player and a person. I am thrilled he is going to go to school here."
Eric Rubin said he spent more than a year on researching the possibilities of his son going to college, and the scholarship he is receiving allows him, upon the completion of one year, to leave school then come back at any time to complete a degree.
"I thought college was the right track for me," Noah said. "To play against all the better players, to develop physically and grow as a person."
For Kleger, it's a big step for his charge, and the right one.
"We tried to find a school where the coach was not only a good college coach, but someone who could get his players better," Kleger said. "We thought that Tony Bresky at Wake Forest was one of those coaches. Noah still has things to work on. He can build up more physically; he's slight of stature, but pretty strong for his height and weight. But he could use some more explosiveness. The other thing is that they will take him to pro tournaments. Part of his schedule in college will be to play pro events. A deal too good to turn down."
It's a decision that John McEnroe, a mentor, seconds.
"The physicality of the game and the requirements of the game are greater than ever before," McEnroe said Thursday night at his tennis benefit on Randalls Island, where Rubin played world No. 1 Novak Djokovic in an exhibition set. "To make that breakthrough, my recommendation -- and I believe he's taking it despite the fact he won at Kalamazoo and the junior Wimbledon -- is to go to college."
"We are going to play predominantly a pro [level] schedule for him," Bresky said. "He wants to be a professional player and it's our goal to help him on that path so when he decides to leave college, whenever that might be, that he's ready to play professional tennis."
First things first, and that's getting ready to play the U.S. Open. Through a convoluted process last year when Rubin was playing in the Open's junior tournament, he was asked to warm up champion Rafael Nadal before the semifinals and final on Ashe Stadium. "He didn't talk much, but he said I hit well," Rubin said.
Rubin's first match at the Open won't be on Ashe Stadium, but whatever court he's on, he'll be hitting for real, and with the belief he established as a child that he will win.