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Tennis Player Noah Rubin’s ‘Behind the Racquet’ Shines Spotlight On The “Back” Story

Photo by Behind The Racquet via Facebook

Noah Rubin’s ‘Behind the Racquet’ shines spotlight on mental health in tennis


By Thomas Cluck


With all the fame, fortune, busy schedules, globe trotting, and constant pressure encompassing the life of a professional athlete at all times, very few tennis players step outside the sport and go above and beyond this. Yet, for a 23 year-old from Long Island, NEW YORK he has brought passion and an exciting new project to highlight the very raw, human side of pro tennis that so few ever see.


A former collegiate player for Wake Forest and the 2014 Wimbledon Junior Champion, Noah Rubin has found a new interest • to give the everyday men and women of tennis a platform to shine a light on the daily struggles so pervasive in such a demanding, often lonely sport.


And for so many fans and followers worldwide, this platform and community Rubin has created has helped those struggling with depression or other mental illness relate and to realize they are not alone.


In an interview last week at the New York Open with Tennis.com, Rubin explained his purpose in starting the Behind the Racquet Instagram account in revealing the true multifaceted, complex lives of players on the pro tour, the good and the bad. “This is teaching me, along with teaching everybody else, that we’re not just tennis players. There’s many levels to us. We go deeper than that. We all have a story,” explained Rubin.


“We all work our asses off, and [casual fans] only see the Slams. Not everybody knows what we go through on a day-in, day-out basis and the thoughts and the depression and the obstacles that we each have to overcome personally,” said the 23 year-old, who owns a career-high ranking of 125 on the ATP World Tour.


Opening the series with his own raw, honest story, Rubin revealed “to let down the people closest to me, my friends and family, is my most daunting fear.”


“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,” explained the young American, giving a candid and clear look at life for so many on the pro tour, the struggles Rubin faces everyday.


In providing this platform, Rubin is also allowing players of lesser stature, those everyone’s not talking about everyday to share their stories with the world.


One of Rubin’s first posts in the Behind the Racquet series featured 34 year-old German-Jamaican journeyman Dustin Brown, a largely obsolete player best known for his “ Lifetimes Dreds” and his stunning upset over 17-time major winner Rafael Nadal in the second round of Wimbledon 2015, discussing his multicultural background and the racism he has faced due to his different ethnicity.


Photo by Behind The Racquet via Facebook.

Explaining his incredibly unique background, Brown posted “My dad’s Jamaican and my mother is German. I was born in Germany in ’84 and moved around ’96 to Jamaica. I pretty much have both cultures inside of me.”


“They are both a part of me but at the same time, growing up, I was a little bit of an outsider in both places,” commented Brown, shining a spotlight on the still difficult topic of race. “A colored kid growing up in Germany, when racism was prevalent, which I definitely had to deal with it often, whether at school or tennis, was very tough.”


“Whether German or Jamaican, which are completely opposite, I change based on the culture I am dealing with,” revealed Brown. “I believe it’s not necessarily being black, it’s what anyone sees as different. They will pick it out and target it.”


One of the most open and honest posts to date on Rubin’s account, the often outspoken Nicole Gibbs, a 25 year-old American, shed a light on the very serious challenges she has faced regarding her own mental health and battled with depression she has faced since her early teens.


Revealing an extremely vulnerable and emotional moment during the best year of her career in which she achieved a career-high ranking of number 71, Gibbs said “I’m sitting in a busy locker room, facing the nearest wall, with a towel draped over my head so no one can see the silent tears rolling down my face.”


“All of the standard questions and doubts roll through my head with relentless persistence. ‘Why couldn’t you handle the nerves better?’ ‘Why didn’t you play your game?’ ‘Would a someday champion wilt under pressure that way?’ And perhaps the most haunting question, ‘At a career high ranking of 71 in the world, competing at the French Open in Paris, how is it possible that you are this miserable?”


Explaining her current status in her bouts with depression and mental illness, Gibbs says “While meditation, a healthy lifestyle, bouts with medication, and a solid support system have helped me immensely in the past three years, there are still days where it’s tough for me to get out of bed. Feelings of guilt and shame for ‘not being as good at tennis as I once was’, or anxiety about life after tennis still consume more of my mental energy than I care to admit.”


“I’m working toward being more honest with myself and others about when I’m feeling down, but it can be difficult to show vulnerability in such a competitive, high stakes profession,” concludes the 25 year-old.


Rubin’s project has allowed another typically difficult, often taboo, topic to be highlighted by one of the game’s biggest stars, 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys. Keys, one of the biggest faces of women’s tennis in America, has soared to big titles and headline wins over the last few seasons, reaching a career-high ranking of number seven in the world, but before Behind the Racquet, only those closest to the American would have known even she struggled with depression and an eating disorder.


Photo by Behind The Racquet via Facebook.

“When I was fifteen, I had an eating disorder,” revealed the 24 year-old star. “There were people in my life and others who would see me on tv, that would tell me I was fat, or needed to lose a few pounds.”


“I struggled with this problem for almost two years, which led to some issues with depression. I completely shut my friends and mom out of my life.  I felt like I put this mask on to get through each day, hoping no one would ask how or what I was doing. I became super paranoid because I wanted to keep it all a secret and didn’t want anyone to worry.”


“I couldn’t get through a week of practice because I had nothing in my body,” explained Keys. “I let other people change how I felt about myself and that hurt the dream I’ve been working towards since I was four years old.”


Opening up to fans about her current situation, Keys said “it’s something I still struggle with when I get stressed or upset, but I have a much healthier relationship with food now.”


In the often hyper-competitive and egotistical world of professional tennis, many view giving the world an insight into themselves beyond the court, the struggles and battles they face on a daily basis, as weakness, as giving an inch in a sport determined by millimeters.


But in courageously going above that and opening up to the world, Rubin and those sharing their stories on Behind the Racquet are giving voice to the very often voiceless and inspiring so many along the way. At just 23, Rubin’s project has given a platform to such key, often unspoken issues, in the sport of tennis and in doing so he has created a community. And from a community comes unity, and from unity the world sees healing and prosperity.


Editors Note • We are thrilled Noah allows 10sBalls  to share his stories. Each one is a gem.


You can check out more Behind The Racquet stories on the link below:

Facebook | Behind The Racquet

Twitter | @BehindTRacquet

Instagram | @behindtheracquet

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