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By Sandra Harwitt
Noah Rubin is one of those kids who can’t remember not playing tennis, so in his mind he almost came out of the womb with racket in hand.
His mother, Melanie, an educator who is following the tournament from the Roland Garros website’s live scoring back in New York, has memories of Noah, still in diapers, swinging a tennis racket at a ball she hung from the ceiling of the living room.
Tennis was always a part of the Rubin family’s way of life. His paternal grandfather, Ed, loved tennis and his father, Eric, played junior tennis. So it’s no surprise that Noah and his older sister, Jessie, played followed the leader. Noah’s goal is the pros; Jessie plays on the State University of New York: Binghamton tennis team.
“I’ve been playing since day one,” Rubin said. “From a year on they just literally put a tennis racket in my hand to see what I would do with it. I swung it around a little bit and just progressed. I played my first tournament at six or seven and just had a lot of fun with it.
“My parents just always wanted me to have a lot of fun with the sport. I love the sport until right now.”
For Rubin, 16, tennis is everything he wants.
His dreams since childhood is to make a name for himself in the sport. Even his Bar Mitzvah was complete with a tennis theme, although ironically he says, “I didn’t invite one tennis player,” preferring to keep it to his friends from the neighborhood. That’s his methodology for keeping a good balance” in his life.
Since the beginning of this year, Rubin’s starting to find his form in the junior arena. He won the Copa Del Cafe 2012 event in January and reached back-to-back semifinals in April at the International Spring Championships and the Easter Bowl Championships.
The French Open is his second ever junior Grand Slam tournament — he played in the U.S. Open doubles last year and lost in the first round. The second time is obviously the charm as he moved into the quarterfinals via an upset of No. 3 seed Liam Broady of Great Britain 6-2, 6-3 on Wednesday.
“I’m trying not to think about it (being in the quarterfinals) too much, just trying to act like it’s just another tournament,” Noah said. “But it is not. It’s the French Open so it’s a very good experience right now.”
Part of Rubin’s determination to not be 100% tennis extends to eschewing the academy route and staying at home in New York: a child of divorce he spends equal time a week living with both parents. Rubin has been traveling this season with the USTA, including here to the French Open as well as Milan and Barcelona prior to coming to Paris.
Rubin’s dad has coached him from the outset and he also works with Lawrence Kleger. Both are here in Paris watching him advance through the draw.
The most illustrious voice Rubin hears on a regular basis, however, belongs to John McEnroe.
Yes, that John McEnroe, the former No. 1 with the seven Grand Slam titles. When they’re both in town, Rubin goes to McEnroe’s Sportime Academy on Randall’s Island twice a week to hit with the great one. He maintains his volleys have been helped as has his general understanding of the game.
“I play with him a lot and he’s a great guy,” Rubin said of McEnroe. “He does throw in an ‘Are you serious’ every once in a while. It’s been a really great opportunity. Overall, how he looks at the game and being able to pick at his brain has been great. He thinks of it all differently — he’s thinking three points ahead and he knows the shot you’re going to hit off of his shot. Those are the things he’s putting into my head.”
So how was it the first time he worked with McEnroe: “The first time we played, we played a set and I was just so nervous I couldn’t call a ball. I was so shocked, like my returns and everything was a shank. It was so nerve-wracking.”
In the ITF’s 2012 Junior Circuit Media Guide that lists 56 players, most of the kids list similar hobbies: other sports, music, movies, computers, internet, and reading. Rubin, who says the “Hurt Locker” is his favorite movie, went for the norm by listing soccer. But he is the only player who wrote art museums.
“When the kids were younger we spent every weekend at one museum or another,” Melanie Siegel Rubin said. “The Met, MOMA, The Whitney, The Jewish Museum etc. Noah used to say, at like 5 years old, that Jackson Pollack was his favorite.”
At this time, Rubin’s too busy playing tennis to take time to visit the illustrious museums of Paris. Nope, no visit yet to the Louvre. But he has discovered the croissants and that’s a piece of France he’s fallen in love with during this trip. That and the red clay of Roland Garros.