NEW YORK — Serbian Novak Djokovic, the top ranked tennis player in the world, turned to the crowd at the John McEnroe Tennis Academy on Randall’s Island in New York Thursday and playfully asked, “Are you saying Noah or Novak?!”
The fans were excited to see Djokovic in action, just four days before the start of the US Open in nearby Queens, New York — but they really came out to get a glimpse of 18-year-old Noah Rubin, the handsome, mild-mannered winner of last month’s Wimbledon Juniors tennis tournament, and recent winner of the Boys Junior National Tennis Championship in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
At last Thursday’s benefit for the Johnny Mac Tennis Project, former tennis great John McEnroe was asked about Rubin, who has been playing at his tennis academy for years.
Calling Rubin “our pride and joy,” McEnroe says, “It is awesome to see the progress he has made.”
“I thought I’d throw him to the wolves, to Djokovic, to give him a taste of reality,” says McEnroe. “It has got to be one of the greatest moments to play the No. 1 in the world.”
After Rubin, the No. 3 seed from Merrick, Long Island defeated the No. 5 seed and defending champion Collin Altamirano 6-4, 6-4, 6-3, he secured a wild card into the main draw at the US Open. In addition, Rubin and his partner, Stefan Kozlov won the doubles championship in Kalmazoo and received automatic entry into the US Open doubles draw.
Rubin, currently ranked 585 in the world for singles and 1396 for doubles, will play 24-year-old Federico Delbonis of Argentina, ranked 66 in the world, in a first round singles match, to take place Tuesday. Rubin and Kozlov will play their first round doubles match later in the week against Americans Jared Donaldson and Michael Russell.
“The word I’ve been throwing around to describe this summer is surreal! It has been eventful. It has been a crazy ride — I’m glad it has all worked out,” Rubin tells The Times of Israel and sheepishly admits, “I went home at 1:15 in the morning after the Wimbledon match and had to watch the recording just to make sure I had actually won!”
The likeable Rubin, 5 ft. 9 inches tall (1.75 meters) and 145 lbs. ( 65.9 kilos ) makes no secret of his Jewishness and travels the world sporting a necklace he describes as “the hand of God with a chain in the middle.” His father, Eric, bought him this present for his 17th birthday.
Rubin proudly reports, “I can recite my haftarah to this day!” He celebrated his bar mitzvah at the Merrick Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue on Long Island and organized a “mitzvah project” collecting used tennis rackets to donate to the Israel Tennis Centers.
“I have not been to Israel yet, sadly — but I will be going soon. I plan to go three or four times in my life,” he says.
Mom Melanie Rubin recalls Rubin playing tennis “when he was in diapers.” Melanie and ex-husband, Eric, would get up at 5 am and drive daughter Jessie and Noah to a 6 am-8 am indoor tennis clinic on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
“Eric and I were a good team — he would feed Jessie and Noah balls, and I would pick up the balls and offer encouragement!”
While growing up Rubin played tennis several days a week, but also managed to play on a soccer team and attend Hebrew school. Melanie is proud Rubin attended three days a week from second grade through bar mitzvah. “They made so many Chanukah menorahs in Hebrew school that we still light two or three menorahs per kid,” she says.
After bar mitzvah, Rubin stopped attending Hebrew school and chose to concentrate on tennis. Rubin attended a conventional high school in Bellmore, Long Island for one year, then shifted to an online program as his training and tournament schedule intensified.
Father Eric was the number one singles player and captain of his high school tennis team in Queens, New York. He was Rubin’s first coach and continues to work with his son in conjunction with coach, Lawrence Kleger. Currently Rubin regularly travels to tournaments in the United States and in Europe, making it to the qualifiers of the US Open last summer where he lost to Israeli Amir Weintraub.
His mother admits, “He was playing an Israeli. I wasn’t sure who I wanted to win. It killed me!”
One year later, Rubin finds himself days away from the main draw of 128 gifted players from around the world.
When Rubin’s run at the US Open comes to an end, he will move to Winston-Salem, North Carolina where he will begin his freshman year at Wake Forest University.
Rubin is not sure what he will study, but mom is happy he is already signed up for a Jewish Studies course. Noah says he has already contacted his teachers to inform them he will be arriving late. “I hope they can understand — it is an amazing opportunity to play in the US Open!”