When Noah Rubin steps on the court Monday at the New York Open at Nassau Coliseum, he will be where’s he’s always wanted to be in the tennis world — playing against the best players at the highest level.
That’s been the goal for the 21-year-old from Merrick since he was a small child, fueled by his success in winning the Wimbledon juniors in 2014, by taking the U.S. boys title a month later, by finishing runner-up in the 2015 NCAA final while playing for Wake Forest for one season. He turned pro afterward and while there has been a flash or two, particularly losing to Roger Federer in three competitive sets at the Australian Open in 2017, injuries have stunted his career.
Now healthy, and with a Challenger Tour win in his pocket from the start of the year, things are looking a little rosier for him.
“I’ve had trouble with injuries, going back and forth, feeling pretty good to start off this year, doing pretty well on the Challenger Tour. I’m excited to get a chance to play and hopefully advance in ATP Tour level tournaments,” Rubin said this week, while he was playing in a Challenger event in San Francisco. “To have a wild card into the main draw of the New York Open and have it five minutes away from my house is incredible. I think it will be a great continuation of my momentum. There is a lot of good coming out of it.”
Luck hasn’t been on his side since he turned pro in the middle of 2015. That year he rolled his right ankle while jogging, and it was severe enough that he missed five months of tournament play, not to mention the practice. Last April he slipped on a clay court during an ATP event in Houston, spraining his right wrist severely. He missed another five months.
“It’s been a tough two years,” Rubin said. “My goal this year has been to solely stay healthy. If you look at my ranking I have a lot of zeros because I haven’t had enough time to play a full schedule. If I’m healthy for a year and just play solid enough tennis, I know I’m get much closer to my goal.”
That would be reaching the top 100 in the world. His current ranking is 186. Top 100 gets a player into the main draws of the Grand Slams and gives them much better chances of getting into the main draws of any ATP Tour event.
Now with the New York Open set to start on Monday, there is hope.
“I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve been. I don’t think people can really compete with me physically,” Rubin said. “I think when I get out there I will be fitter than any guy on the other side of the court. That’s what I’m going to take for the rest of the year.”
Which is what his father Eric, his first and continuing coach, wants more than anything.
“I really believe he’s 100 percent, he’s feeling really good,” Eric said. “He got through three-and-a-half weeks of preseason training in Orlando at the USTA National Campus. He came right out of the gate and won in New Caledonia. He had some really solid matches that tested him physically and mentally. I do think he’s back, if that’s the word.”
A healthy player concentrates on shots and strategy and fitness, all the things that make a pro a pro. Injury is a different ballgame.
“Health is paramount. You don’t know how much that can get in the way,” Eric said. “There’s decision making in coming back from an injury — when do you get back in the gym, when do you get back on the court. Then you don’t want to do it too quickly so you don’t reinjure it, or have another injury to another part of your body. When do you get a schedule going again, when you get to a tournament how do you feel about it. It’s very complicated.”
His USTA coach, Carlos Benatzky, sees good things ahead if Rubin maintains his health.
“I think it’s undeniable that he has a tremendous amount of potential and great assets,” Benatzky said. “Right now, the main goal is for him to play full a schedule and stay healthy. Big emphasis on not only completing his work on court, but also off the court. That he’s really diligent in communicating and collaborating with the strength and conditioning staff of the USTA. The overall professionalism of what it means to be a professional tennis player. All these things together means he will be able to access his long-term potential.”
But short term, it’s his New York Open wild card and spot in an ATP Tour event for the first time in 10 months.
“He’s incredibly resilient. He loves what he does and he’s happy to be back,” said Eric, who will be watching intently at the Coliseum this week. “I’m very excited for him. It’s a local event but it’s a big event. It’s a great opportunity.”