THE air was hazy and thick with bushfire smoke, the heat was baking and the humidity was clinging at Court 19 of the Rod Laver Arena when the USA’s Noah Rubin played his qualifier against Japanese opponent Hiroki Moriya.
Rubin, a former Wimbledon junior singles champion and a former USTA junior national champion in both singles and doubles, who turned pro in 2015, was in Melbourne to notch up the next chapter of his climb up the rankings.
The 23-year old New Yorker, who has been passionate about tennis since childhood – his bar mitzvah had a tennis theme – has been steadily ranked just inside or outside the Top 200 in singles, and is currently at 249th.
Rubin, whose January 15 battle against Moriya came undone, going down to the Japanese player 7-6, 7-5, had something to say about the conditions, asking why qualifying rounds were not deferred until the muck cleared over Melbourne Park.
Speaking to Sporting News, Rubin lamented, “If this was [Roger] Federer or [Novak] Djokovic playing in the finals, would we have done things differently? That’s always the question, and you’d have to think they would not be playing in these conditions.”
He argued that lower ranked players had no choice but to play in really challenging conditions because of financial pressures.
“We don’t have too many chances to make this kind of money and move up in the rankings. Hypothetically speaking, if we lose in the first round, this is easily the most money we’ll make at any tournament, so to say that you’re going to pull out or not play is a very tough ask.
“If you qualify, you’re making really good money, you have momentum, good points and a lot of opportunity. That could easily allow for a great year of tennis. People say ‘just pull out’ but this is my livelihood, this is my life and my profession.”
Rubin was not the only player to complain about the conditions. Britain’s Liam Broady, whose qualification bid came a cropper, let rip about the smoky air, as Dr Brett Sutton, Victoria’s chief health officer, called for safety guidelines and an air-quality policy from Tennis Australia.
Rubin’s defeat, which came after Israeli star Dudi Sela’s shock exit from the tournament when he retired with a recurring foot injury from his clash with China’s Zhe Li, and Canadian Peter Polansky’s 6-1, 6-2 loss to France’s Alexandre Muller, meant no Jewish players managed to gain qualification during the pre-tournament week.
Jewish players already qualified for the Australian Open main singles draw are: (men) Denis Shapovalov, Diego Schwartzman, (women) Madison Brengle, Camila Giorgi.