Tennis is an alluring sport to the casual eye. Thousands flock to the stadiums, an arena where modern-day gladiators battle it out. Even the contemporary royals attend the matches at the prestigious All England Club. The champions take home mouth-watering amounts of prize money too. Well-deserved earnings we say; the champion did outlast everyone for two weeks after all. All of this makes it easy for us to believe tennis is an incredible sport and the players are a lucky bunch who seem to be filthy rich with a ton of sponsors backing them up. Often we fail to spare a thought for the remaining participants. Those who worked just as hard to make it to the main draw with little resources at hand. Noah Rubin, however, compelled us to reassess our beliefs when we had a chat with the man.
Rubin, who is known to bring a unique perspective to the sport, shed light on some of the harsh realities of tennis.
The 24-year-old American was highly-touted as one of the most talented players during his juniors career. His early accolades prove his big-time potential to become one of the players to watch out for on the professional tour. Rubin won the Wimbledon junior singles championship in 2014 and USTA Junior national championship in both singles and doubles.
After turning pro at the age of 19, Rubin realized that behind every Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, there are hundreds of players, who struggle financially and mentally on the tour. Consequently, he started an initiative on Instagram, ‘Behind the Racquet‘, to showcase the off-court struggles of professional players.
Rubin has always been vocal about issues in the sport, especially mental issues. He once again offered a 360-degree view of tennis on our new show “Quarantennis – Bridging the broken strings.”
Here’s the video of the interview –
Here’s the transcript of the interview –
Q.How’s it been, the last 70-80 days there’s been no tennis match no active traveling for you guys. So how have you been managing your schedule? How does your day look like?
NOAH RUBIN: Yea it’s difficult, right now I’m super busy with behind the racket, it’s allowing me to have time to do all the interviews I want. People are all on couches around the world so it’s giving me that time. But I haven’t picked up a racquet in over a month now besides in some videos I’ve made out on the street. So it’s been difficult and this is kinda the longest I’ve been without a racquet when I haven’t been able to have a racquet in my hand. So it’s been tough.
Q.How do you think this is going to affect you in the long run? If the tour isn’t going to resume until September or October maybe. So how do you think this is going to affect you personally?
NOAH RUBIN: I think I need some real-time to get back into playing shape. I’ll probably need a month to get comfortable to play matches. You know we’re all in the same boat. It’s going to take some time to feel comfortable again because I was feeling pretty good on the court before going into this pandemic. It was tough timing, but its something we’re dealing with and we have to understand that people’s lives are far more important.
Q.What about your fitness routines? Have you been able to keep up with your fitness regimes right now?
NOAH RUBIN: I mean it’s not my normal ones because there’s not been any need for it. I did in the first couple of weeks kind of similar workouts like I did in tennis and then I got bored and didn’t see the need for it anymore, to be honest. So I’m doing different ones with my girlfriend, having some more fun still really intense shorter periods of time just making sure I get a sweat in every day. But I’m definitely sweating after these workouts.
Q. When do you think the tour is going to resume on a realistic level?
NOAH RUBIN: I mean tennis is one of the best sports for quarantine and social distancing rules but at the same time it’s probably the worst sport when you talk about the actual ATP and WTA live. So yea, it’s great if you want to play with your friend.
It’s the first sport to come back as you are on other sides of the court and everything like that, but when you get to tournaments you’re talking about international travel, people coming from all over the world where there cannot be literally one single ban on anything or any travel or any country and that’s very difficult, I don’t see that happening for a few months. I mean probably 2021 is my best guess.
Q. The elite and top players are managing it very nicely, but what about the players down the rankings? Have they been able to cope up with the situation pretty nicely?
NOAH RUBIN: It’s tough, anyone outside the top 100 really will worry about the rent, how to pay their mortgage. It gets difficult as tennis is a sport you don’t make a lot of money in. It’s tough to save up money. So this why I’m trying to use this time. It will benefit tennis greatly, but it’s very difficult, there are a lot of moving parts. Anyone outside the top 100, you’re going to be dealing with financial issues.
Q. Have you heard from other players how they’ve been managing or if the ATP has been helping them out in these tough situations?
NOAH RUBIN: For right now, nobody’s helping. It’s just how it is so a lot of the players are struggling. I’ve made a group chat of about a 100 tennis players in it somewhere between 100 and 250 in the world. Some top 100 as well. Just hearing from them and trying to get their feels and what they think we should be moving forward with.
It’s been difficult to hear from them how much they’ve been struggling. I don’t know what we’re gonna be doing. Obviously, there’s a relief fund, but that’s only gonna help for a very short period of time. I think we really have to use this time to change the sport of tennis. So we take some major leaps and can do better in the long run.
Q. The Player Relief Fund initiative that has been launched by Djokovic in recent weeks, are you saying that the help is only going to come for the next couple of months?
NOAH RUBIN: Let’s say they manage to, let’s use these numbers of 250 to 700 in the world are going to get five or ten thousand dollars. Yea, I mean it’s great and they need that money, but I think the numbers are off. I do think that 250 to 700 ranking point is off and it’s a little bit skewed. It should be a little bit lower. I don’t know if a guy, 700 in the world deserves the check for that much right now that’s the honest opinion of it all but again you’re talking about five to ten thousand dollars, that’s great a lot of people are not getting that.
But it can only help for ‘x’ amount of months and then after that, we’re going to be in the same situation all over again. So even if tennis comes back I think we have to use this time to make the sport more exciting to bring new fans to the sport. To really break down the sport and what’s wrong with it. So we can have a better sport to come for many many years.
Q. This is an issue that many players like Vasek Pospisil and yourself have raised it on Twitter that the pay gap between the elite players and the lower ranked players is very huge. And this is not to be seen in the rest of the sports, but in tennis it’s huge. Why do you think that has been happening?
NOAH RUBIN: You know recently I saw something and I posted on Twitter. It was just a poll they made for the highest-paid athletes in the world. Two of then were from individual sports which is Roger Federer and Tiger Woods. But then it showed over 90% of their money was coming from endorsements. So you’re talking about anyone outside of a 100 if you don’t have something cool to show the world, if you’re not very highly marketable your not gonna have that many endorsements.
Now you’re dealing about the 10% piece and if you’re playing challengers as compared to slams. The money is 3-4, 10 times the amount. It’s getting very difficult you don’t have the prize money or the endorsements. So that’s what we’re dealing with right now.
The tournaments that are successful are the 1000’s the Grand Slams and only ‘x’ amount of players can play those. So for qualifying guys around 200-250 in the world they have to ensure that they do well in a Grand Slam just to ensure that they make a little bit of money here and there.
Q.Coming back to the first point you made. The 90% you’re talking about. The sponsorships and the deals. How do you think these players can leverage this 90% because right now social media I think has a lot of wingspan for each player. Do you think lower-ranked players should be propagating themselves on social media platforms?
NOAH RUBIN: Yea I think they can be doing a lot more. Even the guys who say I only play video games I do this. So I’m okay, live stream it, twitch do something. I think as tennis players it gets very difficult as a lot of them are taught from an early age that even if you have a different passion put it to the side, only focus on tennis and I think that becomes a very difficult thing so that becomes one dimensional.
And for guys like even Kyrgios and Medvedev and they love video games. Like, twitch it more, and even for some of the other guys who don’t need to market themselves further are the guys who are 75 in the world. Use what you have whether its playing music and I think this pandemic has allowed players to look at their other passions and allowed them to market and hopefully once tennis comes back it doesn’t change their perspective and allows them to keep going.
But you never know, I think a lot of people around them are saying make sure you focus on tennis. You can do this for now, but when you come back, focus on tennis. So I think it’s not only the players’ fault by any means. Tennis has done a very bad job of marketing the players, but I think the players too have a little bit to do with it.
Q.What do you think about the tennis structure? Do you think there is a change that needs to come in the monopoly of an organization for tennis?
NOAH RUBIN: Yeah I mean you know in my head the ideal situation is connecting all the 7 entities together. And that’s a very tough thing to do between ATP, WTA, ITF and the 4 slams. It’s that’s a lot of moving parts and the biggest issue is I don’t think they see a vision. They don’t have a vision that says hey I know slams are making the most money right now. But if we all combine and work together there’s more money 5 years from now.
And I don’t know if they don’t see it or are not willing to take the chance. Whatever the case may be, I think that’s preventing the sport from moving forward. So I think that’s been a very difficult situation and I don’t know how to get around that. I’ve spoken to everybody on all fronts and it’s tough to get everybody on the same page. That’s what we’re dealing with there’s too many moving parts and too many conflicts of interest.
Q. We’ve seen some changes over the last 16 months with Djokovic getting re-elected as the President a couple of players leaving the players council to make way for Federer and Nadal. Federer has said the ATP and WTA should merge. So do you think in the next couple of months we could see some huge changes coming up?
NOAH RUBIN: I think it may take longer than that, especially if it’s further than the ATP and WTA merging together. Speaking about the player council movement, I’m not a huge fan of it. I know those guys are working hard. But, I’m not a big fan of having Nadal and Federer in the Player’s Council. There are a lot of different ways you have to go about it. You have a guy like Federer and Nadal, you don’t need to be a part of it. Anything they say, they have the platform to speak already.
I think we need more guys outside the top 100. Or a guy like myself or someone who really cares about it, to have the impact. Right now, we don’t feel like we have a voice as much as them. Even though the same guys are playing Slams. So that’s been difficult.
I don’t think, Federer and Nadal are up for what it really takes to be a member of the council, be communicating and open to talk. I know they are very busy, I understand that. But then, don’t sign up for the job, maybe this is not the right place for you guys so you can do it at your own time.
Federer can literally tweet out something and it can be caught by the tennis community. So there’s really no need and if he needed he could call the player council and anybody’s going to pick up to Federer so that’s not the issue. I think him taking one of the spots is a problem. As well as Nadal.
Q. Djokovic, the head of the council seems to be okay with these couple of guys coming in and has given his opinion that it gives the lower-ranked players a platform because these guys have more weight when they talk. Maybe they do have a point?
NOAH RUBIN: Again, have Federer and Nadal in those spots is great for tennis, they have done amazing things in the sport. They will continue to. I just think using those spots for those guys is not helping the overall cause of the player’s council.
If you have a meeting and Federer is super interested which I don’t even know if he is. If he’s very interested in being involved, and nobody will say no to Federer he can be in that meeting, he can be a part of it. So I think using one of those spots, I just think it hurts the overall outcome in what the players’ council was for and I’m talking to my friend everybody from the 100 to 250. We don’t feel we are part of the communication process and I think that’s been a problem which I’ve been trying to fix.
Q.What do you think is the first step to fixing this problem and where does it start?
NOAH RUBIN: I’ve spoken to a lot of guys at the top of the sport. I’ve spoken to the Vaseks and the Djokovics and all these guys. I think I’ve made a name for myself. I’m trying to help the sport of tennis and the players understand that.
In the end, I’m trying to take the pressure off their plate as well as helping them out and doing it my own way as well cause I don’t agree with everything they do. But I’m also telling them, hey, you don’t have to go to the guys 100 and 250. I can take care of them I can be the middle man of communication while also doing whatever I’m doing to help the sport. It’s a lot of groundwork.
A lot of tennis players that need to be taken care of. Allow Vasek Pospisil to take care of one to 100. He’s done that. He knows those guys. I’ll take care of 100 to 250. I’ve gained their respect and trust and this will allow for better communication.
Q. How has the ‘Behind The Racquet’ initiative helped in raising awareness in the tennis community?
NOAH RUBIN: I think it’s been great it is gotten a new level of excitement to the tennis community because I built it for a few reasons but one because I thought before that tennis doesn’t market the players well. It markets the top 3 players very well but doesn’t know what’s going on in the other players and in the individual sport like tennis.
In order to follow the sport and follow the players in it, you need to know who the players are. You have to know their story you have to relate to them. I don’t think that was done before at all so that’s why I built this to bring that new level of excitement and bring new fans to the sport so you can relate to them on a deeper level.
Q. How is it to manage two things on your plate right now?
NOAH RUBIN: ‘Behind The Racquet’ is only a year old. So I had time on the professional tour. So I think honestly it’s helped me in a lot of cases. I was in some dark places in tennis where I didn’t want to play anymore. I wasn’t happy with the system and ‘Behind The Racquet’ gave light to the happiness in my life it gave way for my passions so I don’t have to put all my eggs into tennis because I love tennis and I don’t love the system of it.
So it allowed me to have forms of therapy to help people, to be involved in so many other things that I wanted to do while doing my first passion and love which is playing tennis, but not focusing about the results as much, but it’s allowed me like right before this pandemic I was in the best place I mentally was. I got some great wins and I feel good and its just about putting happiness on a pedestal.
Q. You take inspiration from a page called Humans of New York. So how do you think that has helped?
NOAH RUBIN: When I first came across the account it was 3’o clock in the morning. I was jetlagged from 2019 Australian Open and I was looking at the Humans of New York page and this was at the time I was thinking of what to do to utilize my downtime and also to make a difference.
I love this and I wondered how was it not done in the sports world and specifically tennis where you’re not wearing a helmet or a mask. You have to know the individuals and that’s where I started and within 3 days. I trademarked it, I had the Instagram the URLs, the logo and I had my first story up. It was really quick and I believed in it. I’m thrilled to see how much it’s grown.
Q. In the interviews, do the players get really personal with you, and how are the questions?
NOAH RUBIN: Recently, I didn’t know what it was going to be like. I’m asking really tough questions and few players didn’t know if they felt safe at first. I think they understood I’m giving them the best platform. The best environment to give them the platform to share their story.
It’s been incredible. I mean people have thanked me. People have hugged me. They’ve cried with people. It’s been incredible feedback and a place like social media where there’s hate mail everywhere and people are crapping on everything I think this has given everybody a chance to be positive and you feel the support and I think that’s been incredible.
Q.What has been your most memorable match?
NOAH RUBIN: It’s tough not to put Federer in play. Beating John Isner was great. But I think my first Grand Slam win was Benoit Paire. 6, 6, and 6 first round of Australian Open is definitely up there as one of my best matches. But each match I play is one of my best for one reason or another.
Q. Have you been a video game fan and have you watched the recent Madrid Open?
NOAH RUBIN: That’s been interesting to see, I kinda got bored of it after a while. It’s fine. I don’t love tennis video games that much besides Mario tennis maybe. I am a video gamer, I do play when I have downtime. I play NHL which I’m sure nobody plays. I love hockey and call of duty every once in a while. But I’ve been busy with behind the racket. Any of these games is a way to decompress and slow down a bit.
Q. Who have you idolized growing up?
NOAH RUBIN: James Blake is the American for me. Andre Agassi I always loved watching. I mimicked my backhand from Agassi. And then David Nalbandian, Leyton Hewitt. Huge fighters, people I loved watching. I’ve always loved the backhand side of the sport and they were great competitors.
Q. Have you got any really close mates on the tour?
NOAH RUBIN: At this point, I’ve gotten very close to people through ‘Behind The Racquet.’ But the Americans have a great connection. I think I started off as an introvert, but then I opened up and players see that I make a lot of jokes. I’m super sarcastic for the most part inside the top 100 to 250. I’m friends with a lot of guys. ‘Behind The Racquet’ has brought a lot of people together.
Q. If you had to give us a date as to when tennis will resume what do you think?
NOAH RUBIN: If you talk about exhibitions they will be held around the world. But if you’re talking about true tennis. It will be the Australian Open next year maybe even later.
Q. What in your head would be the perfect player?
NOAH RUBIN: Serve probably Kyrgios or Isner. Because Kyrgios serve is toughest, but Isner’s is incredible. Forehand the James Blake forehand is my favorite. Backhand probably Djokovic. Fitness Djokovic and Nadal. Returns Djokovic. Volleys Federer. Movement Monfils or myself. I think it’s tough there’s a lot of guys out there, but you’ll get the same for attributes. Mentality is probably Nadal, Ferrer.
Q. How do you think injury affects players and how has technology helped out?
NOAH RUBIN: Injuries are very tricky in tennis. You lose your ranking. It’s not like other sports where you just hop back on the other team. You lose ranking, you’re going down, you’re not making money. It’s a snowball effect you’re really sad and dealing with it on your own.
It’s a difficult situation, I’ve dealt with is 2 and a half times. I think this time down is different because we’re all dealing with it at the same time but I think you have to make the most of it and you have to be prepared the best way you can before stepping back on the court.