The 2017 Australian Open will almost certainly be remembered by the masses for the unexpected dominance of the 35-year-old Roger Federer. For Noah Rubin, however, it will be known as the time he first got the chance to play one of the best.
While spectators watched Federer’s second round match mostly to be reminded of the player he had been many years ago, keen tennis fans kept a close watch on Rubin, his opponent, looking for signs of potential greatness to come. Though the match ended in a prompt two hours and four minutes, Rubin never managed to let the match slip too far out of his grasp, losing by the small margin of 5-7 3-6 6-7.
Rubin is considered by many to be one of the next great things for American tennis. At 21 years old and ranked 177th in the world, that aspiration is still quite far from being realized. But there have definitely been glimmers of hope. In 2014 he won the Wimbledon Juniors Championship, beating fellow American Francis Tiafoe in a tight three sets. At the professional level, Rubin has jumped over 400 spots in the rankings over three years. He’s won two Grand Slam matches, both at the Australian, and in February he won the Launceston International Challenger while only dropping one set.
Obviously these accomplishments can only take a player so far. Now that he’s 21, analysts are hoping he has what it takes to make the leap to the next tier: the top 100. Players in this bracket play tournaments against each other, excluding those players still in the triple digits. Jack Sock, the current highest-ranking American, first broke the top 100 at 20. John Isner did it at 22. Rubin finds himself right in that sweet spot, still young enough to be judged on future earnings, but old enough to take his talents to the next level.
For now though, Rubin has to focus on winning one match at a time. One doesn’t simply become the first great tennis player from New York since the McEnroes without excellent focus and determination. Hopefully he breaks from the pack in time to make the U.S. Open, a home tournament, without a wildcard or qualifying berth. Who knows, maybe he can challenge Federer to a rematch.