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By Lucky Letcord Podcast | Friday April 17, 2020

Noah Rubin of joined Chris Oddo to talk about his web site and the issues currently facing the sport of tennis.

Below you will find a full transcript of the interview.

You can find Behind the Racquet on the web here:

You can find Behind the Racquet on Instagram here:

You can find Noah's podcast, "Coffee Cast" with Mike Cation here:

Topics discussed and hit points:

Noah's current life in NY during Coronavirus (interview starts at 2:45)
What it meant to be named as one of tennis' 20 most important people by L'equipe (5:15)
How the mission of Behind the Racquet has not changed due to the pandemic (14:15)
Why it's important to use the time to make tennis better so we can come back to a sport that is better than it was before, and why Noah is not holding his breath (4:30)
The importance of financial aid for lower-ranked players (8:09)
How Noah sees Behind the Racquet evolving in the years to come (14:15)
The future of ATP and WTA Collaboration (12:55) A player's union or just a union? (9:05)


Noah, how are you coping during these difficult times?

“I haven’t really left the house in a couple of weeks. Little cabin fever starting to kick in.”

How much media have you been able to do and how much working out and these sorts of things? Are you leading a fairly normal life?

“It’s been very very busy. Probably far busier than my actual tennis career. I’ve done my own Behind the Racquet interviews with players, anywhere from one to four a day, so that’s been prolific. And I’ve been doing about two interviews per day on top of that and doing a lot of work on the side so I’ve been extremely busy. It’s been difficult but also very rewarding.”

Does the mission of Behind the Racquet change at all as we head into these strange and very uncertain times with the Coronavirus pandemic?

I think it just kind of shows not only the issues in tennis but also elevating a lot of the mental health problems people are just going through and how this is a perfect time to keep pushing this forward and then make sure that people are understanding that there is a community that you can go to and speak to and there’s help because I think a lot of people are dealing with a lot of issues right now and they have to know they are not alone.

L’equipe mentioned you in their list of the 20 people that matter most in tennis and this is no joke. There’s ATP chief Andrea Gaudenzi. WTA CEO Steve Simon. There’s incoming Wimbledon chief Sally Bolton. There’s Federer. Serena. Novak. And YOU! What does that mean to you?

Really no words. I mean as a tennis player I’m used to not getting trophies. I mean I have done an article with them but I had no previous knowledge that this was even a thing that was happening or articles that was going to go out. To even be in the conversation—even if it was a typo—to even be in the conversation or be recognized, I don’t feel like I deserve it but again I’m going to work to make sure it’s worth it and it shows that the effort my team and I put into place is being recognized and that’s really rewarding and it really is motivating. I’m going to make sure and I feel like I am worth some kind of title, but again I don’t feel like I deserve to be at that level yet.

A lot of talk about aid to players, specifically players ranked 50 to 80 and on down, the lower-ranked players really need some financial aid right now. Dowse says that the USTA will be working with both tours to get something done in terms of aid. I know you are in touch with your peers on this. What air you hearing?

“It’s definitely needed. I’m like others, where rent is going to be a concern in a little while. And I have friends that are already concerned. It’s just kind of the life we live. We are hourly workers who sometimes get larger cheques than most hourly workers—that’s just the reality. I’m just hoping that this awakens the people at the top of the sport to say ‘Hey, these are highlighting the issues that we are all dealing with in the sport of tennis. Let’s use this time to evolve.’”

This pandemic, you see it in history, things like this, societies, or cultures can crumble or they can evolve and I’m hoping that we evolve, because yes I’m concerned about money and do I want it? Yes, of course. But at the same time I honestly know that there isn’t a lot of money to go around. Tennis just doesn’t make enough money, so I’m hoping this lights a fire to say ‘Hey, we have to create something that is a different system within tennis to actually expand the pool of players where we can protect players in certain situations like this and everybody can get their share, so I’m hoping that happens but I am not holding my breath.”

What about the Slams getting together and starting a slush fund that comes out of the prize money, which has been enormous?

“There’s a lot being discussed. Again, a lot of these tournaments rely on their money every year. They rely on that money to help their organization, help their federation, help their players so without that money it becomes very difficult. With that being said there are things being discussed and budgeting in the past has been very poor with the percentage that actually goes to player, so I do think there are things that can be done to help but I think we have to actually and fundamentally and at the foundation level change the sport of tennis.

Do you feel like you now as the founder of Behind the Racquet, do you feel like you have a voice? Do you have the ear of Vasek Pospisil of the player’s council? Can you characterize the conversations that happen between yourself and some of the players?

“I think a lot of players kind of rely on me to actually be a voice. I think regardless of the player’s council and to be honest they do a lot of good work but I’ve been a little bit upset of how it’s been run in this circumstance. There has been a little lack of communication, but at the same time I have a group text of about 100 tennis players right now, inside the Top 250 in the world, some inside the Top 100, and we talk about things and I am talking to the ATP at times and I am talking to a lot of people gathering a basic consensus of what is going on, what they are thinking, what they would be on board with, talking to World Team Tennis and Oracle and UTR and just getting a gist of ‘How can we go about this, what can we do?’ Is it about creating an alternate league, is it about finding change here?"

"There are a thousand things that we are working on and I am fortunate enough that Behind the Racquet has given me a platform and a voice to speak."

In a recent Racquet Magazine Article you said that your No.1 priority was unifying the voices of the players. You think that the pandemic is highlighting how segregated we are. So what are your thoughts? Are you speaking about an actual ATP Player’s union or are you just talking generalization?

"We definitely need somebody to speak to us. I don’t think that the people in the player’s council, I think they’re good I just don’t think that they are qualified to truly speak on our behalf when it comes to financials and everything else. I think we do need some kind of actual representation, but looking into a lot of the things that are taking place, there are too many moving parts in my head. There are too many egos to actually assume that change can come and I was hopeful in the beginning but now it seems like it might be too difficult to actually enable change in our current system and that’s why I’m looking at competing leagues and everything else going on because it might be easier to start over rather than to fix what we have."

You’ve just shared some of your thoughts about a new style of tennis. Maybe more regionalized, maybe more team play and maybe more inclusive of the women’s game. That’s one thing I wanted to ask you about This new show with Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Vasek Pospisil called Tennis United. It seems like maybe a small step taken for tennis with the men and women working together, we’ve seen joint statements from the WTA and ATP, do you think this is a positive step, do you think this something that needs to happen down the road in order for the sport to capitalize on it’s “co-ed” nature, how men and women are so successful in pro tennis unlike so many of the other major sports?

"Yeah I don’t. I just think that we can’t play in this no-man’s land anymore. So we either have to go in one of two directions and neither the WTA or the ATP have actually blatantly said something about this so it’s been very difficult. There have been times where it’s like ‘Okay, we’re working together’ and other times where it’s like ‘No, they have nothing to do with this.’ So we can’t play in this no-man’s land, we have to be where we are either completely together or completely separate because right now we are not reaping the benefits of either and we are in this limbo stage so I think that has been hindering us.

To be honest I think the ATP can thrive without the WTA in certain cases and the same with the WTA and at the same time we can work together on many things and that can work out as well. I just think that in this limbo stage right now, it’s hurting both of us."

Seems like that is a recurring theme, this limbo stage.

"I think a show like Tennis United, it’s a good first step, I think it’s a little but superficial, that’s nothing to do with the players I just think that the actual action, there should be other actions taken on a more severe stance right now and this is not we should not be putting all our eggs into this basket, I think there’s more aggressive ways of going about it but again we have to have people that are taking gutsy steps, we need gutsy steps right now."

“We have to have people that are taking gutsy steps, we need gutsy steps right now.”

Circling back to behind the racquet and the evolution of this great site. It’s been just over a year since you started is that correct?

"Yeah, it started in February of 2019."

Can you just talk a bit about the evolution of this project, where you see it heading. I know you’ve talked about the potential of sort of an art gallery showing for yourself as a passionate photographer. What do you have planned for the current future and then maybe on down the road?

"I think there’s no boundaries. The player’s tribune which is one of the few other initiatives in the world of sports that is opening up in the mental health field and they’ve been doing it a lot longer than I have, but specifically in tennis, it hasn’t really been done too often. I don’t think there’s any end goal right now. I think there’s a lot of things I am working towards, obviously this is built on the mental health field.

Now I’m on the advisory board for NAME, which is the National Association for Mental Illness. I’m really making ways there because I want to create a legacy and I want this to actually continue to help people on a larger, broader spectrum.”

“I want to create a legacy and I want this to actually continue to help people on a larger, broader spectrum.”

"With that being said I’m working on a clothing line, I’m working on a documentary. It’s all about spreading the world and making a community that corrects some of the wrongs that I’ve seen specifically in tennis and, broader, in the world of sports.”

Would you ever consider and do you ever think about branching into other sports, there is clearly need in other sports as well or is your vision limited specifically to tennis?

“There is going to be a time where I will have a limited amount of subjects left so I do believe that this will branch out into other sports initially and to other fields. I think there is no end here and I think all sports deserve to be a part of this, so I’m excited to see how it takes place and how we go about this but this is something that’s needed, we need to continue the conversation and we need to have people. Not only is it important to break the stigma of mental health, specifically in the world of sports, and then you have to humanize these athletes because I think a lot of people view them as superheroes and they don’t understand that we go through the same things they may go through and it helps to relate on a deeper level."

“Then you have to humanize these athletes because I think a lot of people view them as superheroes and they don’t understand that we go through the same things they may go through and it helps to relate on a deeper level.”

Do you now find that players, rather than being sought out, are coming to you and asking to tell their stories?

“Obviously for the top players I am still reaching out but why it works so well is that I am a competitor like them. I have a lot of these people’s numbers, I’m friends with 90 percent of them, so that’s why this has worked out because one, I give them final say, they know that this platform was built for them and it’s not for me, two, I’m a competitor, I feel what they feel. And I’m not trying to take that away from them. They feel a comfort level with me that they don’t feel with other media sources.”

Circling back: Tennis, due to start in early July in the States… There has been a lot of discussion right now about playing events with fans, without fans, maybe a hybrid where a socially distanced element is added and fans can perhaps be kept safer. Where do you come in on all of this talk?

“I think we have to think of a few more creative paths just for the health. We can’t keep promoting this idea of ‘We’re going to get on the court ASAP,’ that’s just not going to happen especially bigger tournaments, they are just not going to take place this year that’s just the plain truth. I just can’t imagine a US Open-like event going on three months from now. Yeah I think we have to think of more creative events I don’t think we can get people gathering even from the same community—that goes against everything. We have to work hard to think of creative ideas and events that you can do from home or you can do on your own and still get people watching and maybe bring revenue in, so I think right now we have to look at the broader scheme and not look too far forward and say ‘Hey, how can we actually fix tennis right now and make it where we come back and we are in a better system than when we started (the Coronavirus lockdown). Just fix all these problems we have. I think we have to use our time much more wisely. Rather than trying to react to the situation, we have to try to be proactive and learn how to use this situation to our advantage."

When you communicate with the 100 professional players that you are connected with do you feel a push towards wanting to rush or a mix? What is the vibe of the players?

“It’s tough. You want people to want to play tennis. And they want their money and they want to pay their rent and get out there but at the same time most of them are like ‘Yeah I can’t imagine having the US Open right now.’ Tennis is such an internationally based sport that you can’t have the ATP or WTA going on while there is no vaccine or while Coronavirus is still roaming around in certain countries. You can’t just tell certain areas of the world ‘You can’t play this tournament’ so that’s going to be an issue."

Last question. As a New Yorker I know you are from Long Island and you’re there right now. Maybe you can help the listeners understand… what has it been like to be in a place that has been so significantly impacted by this pandemic?

“Yeah the morale is a little bit low right now but we are doing anything we can to help first responders even if it is just trying to make them smile because we are reaching record highs of deaths and people in hospitals and it is just terrifying and sad and depressing and we just have to be there. But if there is anything New Yorkers know how to do well it is to move past and join together, to come out of better and more united than ever. We are doing what we can but morale is low right now and we just have to stick together."


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