Athletes from every corner of the globe are confronting a unique health crisis. The spread of the coronavirus has driven them into isolation, jarringly removing competition off the table. It's forced everyone from all facets of life to recognize this time in human history is unparalleled.
Lives have been turned upside down and routines have been largely upended. But not everyone in the tennis community is sitting around and moping. Some players are better than others at meeting the severity of this challenge and finding productive ways of dealing with the dilemma.
Enter Noah Rubin, an unwavering competitor who played for Wake Forest University and was a finalist at the 2015 NCAA Championships. The Long Island native is keeping as much on his professional plate as possible during this daunting period, pursuing all avenues of opportunity that can fill the void.
With the world forced into social distancing to flatten the curve, the 24-year-old is offering club players the chance to send him videos for critiquing.
“I had this idea in my head for a while,” Rubin explained in an interview I conducted with him. “I was just trying to create something. Now with this pandemic and human contact not easy and being frowned upon, I have cancelled all of the [in person] lessons I had lined up for the foreseeable future. I was thinking, ‘How can I be a part of people’s lives tennis wise?’ and that is where this idea really came from.
“I dropped my price from where I had it for lessons down to $30 or $35. I send them a video response after they have sent me videos of their strokes. If they want follow up second comments from me, I charge $10 for that. I have just started this and have done only a few, but it is fun and a nice way to be a part of tennis without having somebody next to me at a time like this.”
Behind the Racquet
Rubin used his social media acumen to spread the word about his new business.
“I just put it out there mainly on Instagram and Twitter plus a little on Facebook. About 50 people responded. I made a spread sheet with about 25 names of people who agreed on a fee,” he says. “That worked out extremely well. With the video messages, as people realize we have to be inside for an extended period, I will put it out again on social media. It is a really cool situation.”
The 24-year-old expanded on what he is trying to accomplish with the videos.
“The human issues that are taking place right now are far greater and more important, but we can make the best of it and try to stay healthy and use the time wisely. Sending video back and forth can be a really good thing,” he said. “I have done two of them and have a couple more lined up. I want this to be something that helps people pass the time.
“In the next few weeks the virus is only going to get worse and we are going to be spending a lot of time at home. It is very sad that this is happening, but at the same time we can utilize something like this to help ourselves and make a better future for when we hopefully get out of this.”
Rubin relishes interacting with amateur players and providing a personal touch to learning.
“I want them to feel like I am a part of it. For some people $30 or $35 could be a lot of money, but this is a video of me interacting with you. That is very important nowadays especially—the personal feel when we are kind of stuck alone,” he says. “I don’t know how many people have the opportunity for personal time with somebody ranked in or near the top 200 in the world, but that can be cool. I want to get other players involved.
“The people interested usually email me their video, and I respond and answer all of their questions. I do mine on my iPhone. I could do it on my computer as well but they just need a clear video of me talking to them and feeling like we are working together. That is the fun aspect of it.”
Behind the Racquet
Could the concept of video feedback be beneficial to people long after the pandemic is over?
“One thousand percent,” responds Rubin. “Hopefully things will pass on after the summer or in 2021, and then I will have the foundation set. It is even something I can work on when I am on the road traveling and maybe bored. When things become normal again I have it in place. I really do think this can be beneficial.”
Does the New Yorker envision a network of players joining him in this endeavor and others he is embracing, or is he more comfortable operating on his own?
“It is easy for me to create on my own, but I do want to have other players involved. That is the end goal,” he says. “The idea is to have a kind of Rolodex of players and then connecting players to players that want to give lessons. We can cover the globe with somebody from Australia, Asia, Canada, Barbados. We can do this from the confines of our house right now and help people around the world.”
The former world No.125 believes the social media world for tennis players during this crisis might change significantly.
“The times we are living in now have lit a fire under my butt about getting things done. We don’t have something to connect people right now,” he says. “People will say that we have social media but it is not the same. A lot of players in general don’t look at their social media and don’t answer messages all the time.
“But if they know we have a new app and everybody that is on there is basically willing to pay you for your time, that gives them a different motivation to be vigilant about what is happening. I know a lot of players—especially those around my ranking range of 100 to 250 in the world—would love to get involved with video lessons and other things.”
Meanwhile, Rubin is immersed in other professional endeavors during this unprecedented time for the sport. At the center of what he is doing is Behind the Racquet, which he started a year ago. It’s a platform for players “to share their stories on their own terms.”
“I use it to shed light on some of the issues involving mental health in tennis and other issues tennis players deal with in the sport,” he explains. “I am trying to allow fans to relate to players on a deeper level so I personally Interview players one on one, transcribe it, and send it back to them in case there is something they want to amend. They talk about very personal things like family, injuries, anxiety, and death.
“They talk about all of their fears and I post it on all social media platforms under behindtheracquet.com. I have really expanded it these past six to eight months and I have been on almost every news source including CBS Sunday Morning, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. I have over 100 interviews on my page. It has been incredible.”
Because Rubin is a colleague, his fellow players open up to him freely. The personal nature of the interviews became a focus after he was told by a friend that he did not want to read about forehands and backhands but preferred gaining a larger sense of the players as human beings.
“I started this in January of 2019 and within three days I had it up and running. I am working on a docuseries now, an on court line of clothing and a billion other things,” he recalls. “With what is happening in the world, I have the opportunity to talk to a lot more players, I already have about six interviews just posted or waiting to be posted like Daniil Medvedev, Belinda Bencic, Barbora Strycova, and a few others.
“Players are saying yes to my requests. They have so much time on their hands now. The fact that I send back everything for them so they can have a final say—and make sure nothing is misconstrued—makes a difference. I have done full interviews that had to be scratched. So the players trust me. I also do a podcast with Mike Cation who is a commentator known for his work on the USTA Pro Circuit Challenger circuit.”
In many ways, Noah Rubin is a man made for these times: a young individual with a clear set of communicative skills, and a tennis player who can shape a business strategy both on and off the court. His personality is very well suited to his aspirations.
“I am always looking for the next thing to make everything more efficient,” he says. “Not everybody is as outgoing as I am. You have to figure out what you do best. There are a million ways to go for it. I like being a pioneer. We are all basically sheltered now so I think opportunities are limitless. People like things easy and fast. We have short attention spans. You just have to create something that encompasses every part of this generation and the problems we are dealing with at this time.”