By John Delong
Wake Forest freshman Noah Rubin showed why he has so much promise in his ATP World Tour debut at the Winston-Salem Open on Sunday night.
But ultimately, the Wimbledon junior and USTA Boys National singles and doubles champion couldn’t reach the finish line in his first-round match against Bradley Klahn.
Klahn rallied with Rubin serving for the match, forced a third-set tiebreak, then ultimately came away with a 6-2, 0-6, 7-6 (5) victory before an appreciative crowd at the Wake Forest Tennis Complex at BB&T Field.
The win moved Klahn into a second-round match against two-time WSO champion John Isner, while Klahn heads to New York for the US Open with the confidence of knowing he can more than compete on a big stage.
“It was a great atmosphere, at my second home now, so it was just a great experience to get out there,” Rubin said. “I thought I came up with a good effort and just came up a little bit short. But I’ll get many more chances, hopefully.”
Asked what he hoped to take out of the match and to the Open, where he received wild cards in singles and doubles by virtue of his wins in Kalamazoo, Rubin answered quickly and emphatically.
“Number one is I can play with these players,” he said. “If nobody knew that, today I think I proved it to them. And if not, then I’ll prove it to them at the Open. There’s room for improvement, but I’ll definitely keep working hard.”
Klahn, a former NCAA singles champion from Stanford, was playing his first match in five weeks after being shelved with a foot injury. He was pleased with the way he responded after the layoff.
“This feels really good,” Klahn said. “It’s been a tough challenging six months for me with injuries and I finally feel really good. I knew going in that playing Noah, who’s been really hot winning the juniors and he’s coming to Wake Forest with the hometown crowd, I knew it was going to be tough for me. But I was really happy with the way I competed. Not feeling great in the third set but hanging in there. There’s a lot of positives to take out of that match.”
This was a match, obviously, with wild momentum shifts.
Klahn broke Rubin right out of the gates and breezed to take the first set 6-2. But Rubin eventually shook off some early jitters and dominated the second set.
“It was my first ATP match and I got a little tight,” Rubin said. “It rarely happens to me. But I think I took it pretty professionally and just went out there and played my game in the second set. I figured if I lost 6-0, then so be it, but I wanted to play my game.”
Klahn then took command again, racing to a 4-1 lead in the third set, before the momentum swung wildly again. Rubin broke twice and won the next four games and was serving for the match at 5-4.
It was at that point that Klahn dug deep and broke Rubin at love to get back on serve, and eventually he prevailed in the tiebreak, winning four straight points in one stretch to jump out to a 6-3 lead.
Klahn knew that the match hinged on breaking back with Rubin serving for the match.
“I just told myself to buckle down and hit balls and if he was going to beat me, then he needs to come up with something special,” Klahn said. “I wasn’t going to give him any errors. And I know how tough it is to serve out your first ATP match myself. Nerves are to be expected, and I tried to use that to my advantage.”
Klahn said he was impressed with Rubin.
“It’s difficult when you’re playing a young guy you don’t know much about,” he said. “So I really had to focus on my game and try and take care of myself and just do whatever it took to win.”
In other first-round matches on Sunday, Ryan Harrison beat Jan-Lennard Struff 6-4, 6-2; Nicolas Mahut beat Blaz Kavcic 6-3, 6-2; Benjamin Becker beat Pablo Carreno Busta 6-2, 2-6, 6-1; Dustin Brown beat Alejandro Gonzalez 6-3, 6-2; and Robin Haase beat Benoit Paire 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.
In the final four qualifying matches, David Goffin, Marcos Giron, Damir Dzumhur and Wayne Odesnik advanced to the Main Draw. Goffin beat Jason Jung 7-5, 6-1; Giron beat Mate Pavic 3-6, 6-3, 6-4; Dzumhur beat Philipp Oswald 6-4, 6-4; and Odesnik beat Simone Bolelli 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.