When Melanie Rubin returned to her Merrick home from work on Tuesday afternoon, there was her son Noah taping his fingers, getting ready for practice and preparing for a special night. Yep, a real home game.
Except the home-court advantage didn’t work in Noah Rubin’s favor on Tuesday night.
Making his debut in the New York Open at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum, just a few minutes from home, he ran up against Kei Nishikori in the first round. While Rubin got the upper hand at the start of the first set, by the end of the second set Nishikori had come away with a 7-5, 6-3 victory.
Rubin went up 3-0 in the first set but Nishikori’s relentless push eventually got him a break of Rubin’s serve in the fifth and 11th games and he served out the set.
Nishikori was quick out of the box in the second set, up 5-1, but Rubin made a tussle out of it, getting a break of Nishikori’s serve. Nishikori broke Rubin for the match in the ninth game, but it took four match points to do it.
“I was excited to have the home crowd,” Rubin said. “They might not have come out for the first couple matches, but they were filling in and they were really supportive. I came out playing pretty well . . . I [erred on] a few points early in the five-all game and he got some confidence. You really have to step up your own game and I really didn’t do it enough in the end.”
His mother and father were just glad he was getting such a good opportunity, having been given a wild card into the event.
“To have Noah play on the black courts of the New York Open, the inaugural tournament at the Coliseum when we took Noah and his sister Jessie all these years to the circus, and the Islander games and the rodeo, Disney on Ice, to have him playing tennis here against the greatest players in the world is unreal,” said Melanie from her seat in the stands.
“The off-site location to warm up is Carefree Racquet [in North Merrick] and that’s where I started teaching Noah tennis at 1 year old,” said his father, Eric, who also is his coach. “It’s a real homecoming. He’s really embraced playing this event. He’s got a ton a people coming out from all over.”
While his mother acknowledged there could be some extra pressure playing before family and friends, his father says Noah was up to the task.
“When you think about team sports, the Knicks want to be home, the Islanders want to be home, everybody wants to play home,” Eric said. “I think Noah has that same feeling.”
Both players are making comebacks from injury impacted seasons. Nishikori, once ranked as high as No. 4 and the losing finalist in the 2014 U.S. Open, suffered a right wrist injury in August and was forced to miss the U.S. Open and the Australian Open and just now has returned to tournament play.. He won a Challenger event in Dallas last week.
Rubin suffered a right wrist injury last April that kept him out of the heart of the 2017 season. After a strong preseason training session at the USTA National Campus in Orlando in December, he’s had a good start to 2018, winning a Challenger in Noumea, New Caledonia. This was Rubin’s first start in a Tour level event since last April.
He’s hoping it won’t be his last for a while, but he will have to climb up the rankings to get in main draws.
“It was great to be in Nassau Coliseum and playing Kei, who has all the experience in the world,” Rubin said. “I can learn a lot from that.”
But for now it’s home to Merrick for some R&R.