If Noah Rubin is going to get on some kind of a roll this season, there would be no better time and setting than the French Open starting on Sunday.
And if he is to go anywhere in Paris, it starts by getting past John Isner, the top-seeded American, in a first-round match. Rubin never has played, nor even hit with Isner, the 6-10 big server, but he was drawn against the No. 9 seed for his opening match.
Isner never has won a Grand Slam title, and has never gotten past the fourth round at Roland Garros. His big serve isn’t quite the same weapon on the clay courts, the sport’s slowest service.
“I’m excited because it will hopefully showcase some of my athleticism because of Isner’s style of play,” said Rubin via text from Paris.
The 22-year-old from Merrick earned his way into the second major of the year by winning the French Open Wild Card Challenge, a series of clay court events through April that awards a spot in the main draw to the American player who accumulates the most points. Rubin won a ATP Challenger clay court event in Tallahassee (he also won a Challenger in New Caledonia at the start of the year).
This past week he qualified for an ATP tour level event in Geneva, Switzerland, by winning two matches, then won his main draw opener before falling to the No. 2 seed Fabio Fognini.
“I’m truly excited going into this tournament,” Rubin said. “Got a great four matches played in Geneva, which has prepared me extremely well. Few days to get my body back ready and then it begins.”
His body has been an issue since he turned pro out of Wake Forest in 2015. A badly sprained ankle and a badly sprained wrist cost him a total of 10 months over two seasons. His first-round win in Geneva over veteran Marcos Baghdatis was his first tour-level win since a first-round win in the Australian Open in January of 2017. He went on to lose to Roger Federer in the second round.
Federer will be missing from the French Open again this year, having announced in March he would be skipping the entire clay-court season. Clay always has been his weakest surface.
Not so for the king of clay, Rafael Nadal. Nadal will be defending his title at Roland Garros and is going for his 11th French crown. He is the overwhelming favorite, with players like Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev providing a modicum of challenge. Novak Djokovic, who just lost to Nadal in Rome, is still wrestling with the consequences of a balky elbow.
The women’s tournament couldn’t be more wide open. Serena Williams, who has played only four matches this year as she returns from the birth of her daughter last September, is unlikely to go very far on her worst surface.
No. 1 seed Simona Halep is still looking for her first Grand Slam title. No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki, who finally got her first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, seldom goes far on the red clay. Defending champion Jelena Ostapenko has had an unimpressive season, but then she was a surprise last year. The emerging Elina Svitolina could be a contender, as could Karolina Pliskova.