The closest anyone can get to foretelling tennis greatness is using the usual unscientific tools: results in junior competitions, various rankings and standings, maybe a ringing endorsement from seven-time Grand Slam tournament champion John McEnroe, who calls 15-year-old Bellmore JFK incoming sophomore Noah Rubin "the most talented player we've come across" at McEnroe's year-old tennis academy. "By far."
Lawrence Kleger, Rubin's personal coach, starts with this:
"Ninety percent of the time, you see a parent hitting with a kid and five minutes later, they walk off screaming at each other," Kleger said. "When I got Noah [as a 7-year-old], it was the best job I've seen with a parent instilling the love of the game. I'd ask Noah, 'What's your favorite thing to do?' And he'd say, 'Hitting with my dad.'
"So that's the first thing. The old triangle of player-parent-coach.
Rubin's dad, Eric, was the No. 1 singles player and captain of his Martin Van Buren High School team in Queens and worked -- "My claim to fame" -- as a ball boy at the U.S. Open.
So, when his son was a baby, "I put a ball in his crib," Rubin said. "Hung a ball from the ceiling on a rope when he was 7, 8 months old, and he'd hit it with his hand." Soon Noah had a small plastic racket and Nerf balls to bat around -- "literally a hundred times without missing," his father said.
Rubin was his son's first coach, and continues to work with him alone, with the teen's more formal training at the Sportime club in Bethpage. With Kleger -- and Sportime -- connected to the John McEnroe Tennis Academy on Randalls Island, Noah Rubin has emerged as one of McEnroe's star pupils.
Occasional sets played against McEnroe, Rubin acknowledged with a grin, "don't turn out so well." But the exposure intrigues Rubin, because "the way he [McEnroe] thinks is different. He'll say, 'Why were you going for that shot when you could've done this?' "
Part of the process, McEnroe said, is to make Rubin realize that "if you want to be one of the best players in the world, if that's one of your goals, and you have this sort of, 'I'm going to outhit people,' you're going to have to be unbelievable at it.' "
Rubin's training and tournament schedule preclude his playing for his high school team. He began playing 12-and-under tournaments as a 7-year-old; won an international tournament for 12-and-under players in Canada when he was 11; and reached the finals of a prestigious Paris event for 14-and-under players when he was 13.
He is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. Tennis Association's Eastern section for 16-and-under players.
The Tennis Recruiting Network, which compiles lists based on head-to-head competition to determine the country's top junior players, ranks Rubin No. 1 among players who will be high school sophomores in the fall. Rubin just returned from two European red-clay tournaments -- not his ideal surface, Kleger said -- having won 12 of 14 matches."I can safely say," Kleger said, "that of kids in the United States born in 1996, Noah is the No. 1 kid. And with his international results, he is, I'd say, one of the top 10 kids [of his age] in the world."