During this unprecedented global pandemic with mandated quarantines and social distancing guidelines, professional athletes are just like the rest of us: at home. For ATP World Tour professional Noah Rubin, that means being back on Long Island where he lives in his Rockville Centre apartment.
“As players, we almost never get the time to be home. After my injury right after the US Open, I played a few tournaments and then got hurt, so I actually got the chance to move back home and furnish my new place,” said Rubin. “That’s been sort of a silver lining. I was certainly not hoping for a pandemic or anything like this, by any means, but it’s been nice to actually be able to come home, and enjoy some of the things I haven’t been able to in the past.”
Because Rubin is among the rest of the tour’s players who are unable to get out on the court to play or train, it brings with it peace of mind, knowing that he isn’t falling behind in his preparation, or that the tour isn’t moving on without him.
“When I am not playing tennis for whatever reason, whether it’s being injured or having to take time off for my own mental health, I’ve always had anxiety that the tour is moving along without me, or people are out there getting better while I’m not,” he said. “That’s just who I am, and that’s part of what makes tennis so tough. This is a very unusual point in time that we are in. Through my interviews that I’ve done for Behind the Racquet, I’ve been able to talk to people around the world, we’re all sort of doing the same thing. We’re all home on our couches. It’s an unusual circumstance where I can be home and kind of relax a little bit, and at the same time not feel that same anxiety that everybody else is improving while I’m just sitting around right now.”
And that has allowed the 24-year-old Rubin to put his full efforts into the many side projects he has been working on, most notably the aforementioned Behind the Racquet (BTR). Launched at the beginning of last year, Behind the Racquet has been embraced by both fans and players, and has developed a large following on social media.
“I have grand dreams to drastically evolve the sport we all love in order to prevent this continuous decline of fans. This is where BTR plays a major role,” Rubin writes on his Web site. “I realized that this disconnect has arisen partially due to the lack of connection between potential fans and players. I started BTR to give players the platform to share their stories on their own terms, while also giving fans an opportunity to relate to a player on a deeper level. In doing so I am also helping to fight the stigma of talking about mental health, especially in the world of professional sport.”
Players take a picture with their racquet in front of their face, and detail a story about their life that has affected them profoundly, whether it is the loss of a loved one, a hard up-bringing, a tough defeat, anxiety, insecurities, etc.
The debut post came from Rubin himself, and then he began reaching out to other players asking them to share their stories, and the rest is history as they say.
“I commend the people I started out with, who shared their stories without really knowing what it meant at the time. I owe a lot to players like Ernesto Escobedo, Mitchell Krueger, Chris Eubanks and Jamie Loeb,” said Rubin. “The first few who did it without knowing the consequences. Of course I can say, ‘it’s going to be fine, you’re going to get a lot of positive feedback.’ But at the same time, anything can happen. So for them to be OK with that was really great, and reinforced that I had something here. Everybody has something to share; everybody has gone through an emotional time in their life that has made them they person they are today.”
Now with more than 120 posts, BTR features posts from some of the game’s most prominent names as well as guest posts from tennis fans and celebrities.
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“To let down the people closest to me, my friends and family, is my most daunting fear. From an early age I was pretty aware about how many lives I affected. How many people had to sacrifice time, energy and money. The idea that it may not be worth it, or there might not be a way to repay them, haunts me at times. It’s what will take me to that next level, or break me, but to impact the world you cannot let that happen and I won’t.”
“It definitely took some time to get to the point where I have a lot of people wanting to be a prt of this, and that was really the goal from the beginning,” he added. “I’m really excited about where BTR is, and the fact that we’re having an effect on people on a larger scale. Being able to have some of the top players share stories they’ve never shared before means the world to me.”
With more time on his hands during the current situation, Rubin will continue growing BTR and has dozens of interviews he is working on while continuing to be in touch with new players to add to the series.
When Rubin returned home initially, he was planning on giving some tennis lessons in his free time, and posted on social media for people to reach out to him if interested. But soon after he began putting that together, courts began to close and social distancing became the mandate, and thus there would be no in-person tennis lessons.
“After that I said, ‘what can we do now, and how we can make the best of this situation? How can we connect tennis players and the public in a way we haven’t before”, recalls Rubin. “So I went back to those clients who were interested in lessons, and asked if they would be interested in doing some sort of virtual tennis lessons. I’m now in the midst of creating an app that connects the players to the public, and hoping to get more players and more people involved.”
That entrepreneurial instinct is something that has guided Rubin into all the off-court endeavors he has thrown himself into, and has made his presence felt in the international world of tennis. He has launched a BTR clothing line with merchandise available online, and he also co-hosts a podcast along with Mike Cation, Behind the Racquet Pod.
“It’s been a really fun experience for me, and has been a great way for me to get my voice out there and not be censored to a certain degree,” said Rubin, who has been outspoken on many issues facing tennis, including pay equity and tour structure.
“Mike Cation is really knowledgeable and is a lot of fun to be around. He’s an intellect in his own way and we’ve had a lot of great conversations.”
All of these ventures have converged to make Rubin a very busy man, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. He has taken his passion of tennis and branched it out to try to address issues off the court. It has not gone unnoticed, and he was recently named as one of the Top 20 influential people in tennis by L’Equipe, the French daily publication, a list that includes the likes of Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Billie Jean King.
“Once I’m passionate about something and I can see an end-goal, it’s just a matter of getting the right people behind me to push it forward and make it happen,” he said. “I have a lot of things going on, and once they all come together, I’m hoping we can build a community around this brand and movement. I think that can be really fun and hopefully we can build a sense of unity together through tennis.”
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.