Last week, Noah Rubin played an exhibition against Novak Djokovic. Last year he warmed up Rafael Nadal before his semifinal and final matches at the U.S. Open. Tuesday, tennis was for real. In a whole different stratosphere, he played his first pro-level match at the Open.
With a slew of Long Islanders to encourage him on Court 13, he lost to Federico Delbonis of Argentina in three sets. It was a pretty quick departure from the Open's main draw, but was also a pretty quick education on what it takes to be a quality touring professional, the level that the 18-year-old from Rockville Centre wants to reach. Delbonis wore down Rubin for a 6-4, 6-3, 6-0 victory.
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Rubin will attend Wake Forest in September once he is finished playing doubles in the Open (paired with Stefan Kozlov against Austin Krajcek and John-Patrick Smith Thursday), but class was in session Tuesday, and he was taking notes.
"I learned that I can definitely compete with these guys at the best level, but there are definitely things to learn," Rubin said. "Fitness is one. Nerves came into play a little bit also. So fitness can definitely be at a higher level, but I can play with these guys on any given day . . . Gas was definitely an issue."
His coach, Lawrence Kleger, said, "He didn't serve as well as he would have liked. Either he held easily or he had trouble holding. That was an area where we thought he could have done a lot better."
As for running out of gas in the third set (in which he won seven points), Kleger said: "It was real hot out there and you combine that with the nerves and the excitement of it. When you play at this level -- and he obviously hasn't played too many players at this level -- if you play on a regular basis your body gets used to it. He's fit for a junior; he's got to get fit for a touring professional, and hopefully a high-level one."
Said his father and co-coach Eric Rubin: "I saw an unbelievable effort for first time out. Clearly he was getting his bearings with the crowd and everything else. To be honest, I believe he did incredible."
His mother Melanie thought there was plenty of pressure. "He just made us proud. He was a little tight. I think a lot of it had to do with everybody he's ever known was there today. That's a lot of pressure for a kid."
How many people did Rubin know out there? "Too many," he said with a smile.
John McEnroe, a mentor and whose tennis academy at Sportime on Randalls Island is where Rubin trains, watched a few games.
"He seemed to be affected by the heat. That's how I saw it," McEnroe said. "He wasn't making enough happen out there to take advantage of his hard- court game. He's just getting outplayed."
The breakout summer in which Rubin won the Wimbledon juniors and the Boys 18 national championship, that title earning him the wild card into the Open, is about to change into autumn at Wake Forest where he has a scholarship and designs on elevating his game as part of a high level team.
After Tuesday's loss he will take to school with him the encouragement of earning a spot in the Open, of being among the game's elite.
Said Rubin: "I'm just getting used to the atmosphere, getting used to being out there with the top players in the world. It's nice to know I belong there and I'm not just taking a vacation here just seeing what it's like . . . That I deserve to be here and work to stay here."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story incorrectly reported that Rubin's doubles match would be played Wednesday. It is actually Thursday.