©Colette Lewis 2014--
Noah Rubin qualified for the for the $50,000 Challenger Monday in Champaign, a first for the 18-year-old Wake Forest freshman, and another first came just a day later, with Rubin defeating Ed Corrie of Great Britain 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 this evening at the Atkins Tennis Center on the campus of the University of Illinois.
"My best tournaments have always been through qualifying," Rubin said. "Wimbledon was through qualifying, my final at the $15,000+H in France was another big one through qualifying. So all of my big ones were when I grind qualies and I come out. I guess it's just momentum, having that competitive spirit all the way through."
After a great start, Rubin's level dropped a bit, and Corrie, a 26-year-old who played for the University of Texas, began to find more rhythm lengthening the rallies. Rubin thought his status as a newcomer may have worked in his favor early in the match.
"Since I have won too often, or played too often on this tour, people don't know me as much," Rubin said. "It's not like, oh, this is Noah, he does this, he does that. So maybe he was just trying to figure me out a little bit and it took some time. But I thought I was playing solid in the first set, didn't let any balls through, was moving well and I think I kind of surprised him."
Rubin fell behind 2-1 in the third set, but immediately got the break back. At 2-2, he saved two break points, winning four points in a row from 15-40 down, and Corrie didn't have a game point after that. The points were often long and physical--Rubin had an impressive hole worn in his shoe from all the violent side to side action--but Rubin felt prepared.
"It's great to be out here," Rubin said. "I'm having a great time in school. I'm enjoying myself and working harder than I ever have, and I feel like I'm in the best shape I've ever been. We were grinding a little bit. That's at this level, and the next level is going to be even tougher, so I need to get mentally and physically prepared for that."
Rubin's opponent on Wednesday is No. 8 seed Frank Dancevic of Canada, who defeated Kevin King 6-3, 7-5. Rubin and Dancevic have actually played once before, in the first round of the Savannah Challenger this past April, with Dancevic winning 6-1, 7-6(2) on the Har-Tru surface.
Although Rubin played the most recent slam as a wild card, getting his US Open main draw berth as the Kalamazoo champion, he is not dreaming of winning the USTA's Australian Open wild card, which is still mathematically possible.
"You just play, just have fun," Rubin said. "That's why we're out here."
Denis Kudla was a bit more direct in his discussion of the possibility.
"It's on my mind, especially now, it's getting tight," said Kudla, who beat Christian Lindell of Sweden 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-1. "Me, (Rajeev) Ram, (Jared)Donaldson, (Tim)Smyczek, we all have some kind of chance, so we'll see. I've never been in this position in a wild card tournament, been this close, with the points thing, I haven't played all the tournaments. But this one, as long as I keep winning, it's on my racquet and I'm happy that it's like that right now."
Smyczek lost to qualifier Frederik Nielsen of Denmark 6-2, 1-6, 6-2, ending his chance at the wild card, but Ram won on Monday, and Donaldson defeated Alex Kuznetsov 6-4, 6-4 today to keep his hopes alive.
Jared Hiltzik, the University of Illinois junior, plays Kudla in the second round Wednesday, and he too is still in the running for the wild card, as is 2014 NCAA champion Marcos Giron. Giron, a wild card, defeated Illinois senior Farris Gosea of Great Britain 7-6(4), 2-6, 7-6(2). Gosea, a left-hander from Wales who is taking the fall semester off, stayed with Giron on every point, but wasn't able to summon his best tennis, particularly his best serving, in the tiebreakers.
Giron served for the match at 5-3 in the third, but double faulted twice and made two errors to give the subdued but significant Illini crowd a reason to make some noise. Gosea was down 0-30 at 5-6, but won the next four points to force the tiebreaker, but he won only one of his four service points, and Giron closed it out. Gosea had 15 aces in the match, but wasn't able to find that weapon when he needed it most.
Giron will play No. 7 seed Gastao Elias of Portugal in the second round Wednesday. Donaldson's opponent Wednesday is No. 2 seed Malek Jaziri of Tunisia, who survived a third set tiebreaker against Great Britain's Liam Broady 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(4).
Complete results are available here. Wednesday's order of play is here.