Noah Rubin Downs Kozlov to Claim Wimbledon Boys Title
Any unseeded qualifier capturing a Wimbledon title is bound to be cast in the role of underdog, but 18-year-old Noah Rubin's 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win Sunday afternoon over fellow American Stefan Kozlov could hardly be called an upset.
Once No. 6 in the ITF junior world rankings, Rubin devoted most of 2014 to ITF Men's Circuit events, but with his ATP ranking currently 539, the New Yorker was able to get into qualifying of the French and Wimbledon junior championships in his final year of eligibility. Although he was careful to say he knew there was a chance he'd lose in qualifying, he was not buying the Cinderella story.
"Nothing said I couldn't be here," said Rubin, who had lost in the first round in his previous two Wimbledon junior championships. "I believe in my competitiveness, my mental capability, and speed. I don't see why not."
Kozlov was the one with the experience in a junior slam final, having played on Rod Laver in the boys championship match at the Australian Open in January, but even he was awed by the atmosphere on Court 1, which was approximately two-thirds full with thousands of ticket-buying fans applauding every winner.
"When I played on Rod Laver it was really quiet," Kozlov said of his experience in Melbourne. "I don't know why, I don't think anyone was into the match, I mean it was 3 and love. It was not even half way filled. Today was an unbelievable atmosphere, one of the best I've ever played."
"I didn't expect it to be that packed," admitted Rubin, who said he wasn't distracted by the cheering crowds watching the men's final on the big screen on the famous hill just outside. "I actually thought nobody was going to come out to the match, but that was not the case. They were all very enthusiastic to be out there. I kind of got the crowd into it a little bit. Just the atmosphere was unbelievable."
Fans didn't side with either player, but after Rubin won the first set, breaking Kozlov for the second time in the set in the fifth game and holding the rest of the way, they were actively supporting Kozlov's push to take the second set. Rubin went up a break 3-2 in the second set on a dazzling backhand cross court pass, but Kozlov broke right back, taking advantage of two unforced errors by Rubin.
With Rubin serving at 4-5 in the second set, he played one of his worst games of the match, with Kozlov just required to stay in the point long enough for Rubin to make an error. After maintaining laser-like focus in his quarterfinal and semifinal matches against the big serving Tim van Rijthoven of the Netherlands and Taylor Fritz of the US, Rubin wasn't as sharp against Kozlov, who averaged 102 mph on his first serve.
But Rubin's maturity showed in the final set, especially when he failed to convert two break points with Kozlov serving at 3-3, 15-40. Rubin made two errors on those break points, but when he got a third, he yelled "let's go, right here, come on," urging the crowd to get behind him. When Kozlov sent a forehand long on the next point, Rubin got his wish, and Kozlov sensed his opportunity was gone.
"I kind of choked at 3-all in the third," said Kozlov. "I gave away a service game which I should have won, and that was it. After that, the match was over. Down 15-40, I played two good points, and got a little bit relieved, and then I shanked a forehand, when I should have hit a winner. Then, on the next point, I played carelessly."
Two hours into the match, Rubin held for 5-3 and was bouncing up and down on the baseline as Kozlov served to stay in the match. He missed a drop shot to start the game, won the second point with a good first serve, but Rubin snuck in for a rare forehand volley winner to make it 15-30. A long rally on the next point ended with a forehand winner by Rubin, giving him two match points. He missed a forehand long on the first one, but Kozlov gave him the second one, netting a routine backhand. Rubin didn't celebrate wildly, but he did go over to hug his father Eric in the stands before the trophy presentation.
The champion's lap with the trophy is a Wimbledon tradition, but Rubin wasn't quite sure what to do.
"We were both a little confused about that," Rubin said. "I didn't know if that was a tradition or not. I didn't want to break any traditions here, so I just followed their rules."
But Rubin invited Kozlov, a friend and occasional roommate, to join him.
"They told me to go. I was like, Stefan let's go, let's do it together," Rubin said. "I thought it was interesting, but it was good."
Kozlov then gave Rubin the American flag Kozlov's father had put in his bag before the match, and they joined in displaying it and posing for photographs with it.
"Stefan brought the flag. He said, 'I have a flag, I have a flag.'", Rubin said. "I was like, dig it out. It's been a long time since an all-American final, so might as well support."
Rubin is the first American to win the Wimbledon boys singles title since Donald Young in 2007. He believes the young US boys, seven of whom reached the round of 16 and three the semifinals, could give the country hope for a new set of stars.
"At the end when we were holding the American flag, I was like, this is pretty special," said Rubin. Hopefully we'll keep rising together and none of us will fall off, and we'll, as a group, get to the top and show the results American wants."
Rubin said his title at Wimbledon does not change his plan to attend college for a one year, at either Wake Forest or Virginia, with that decision to be made in the next few weeks. He will play the Godfrey Illinois Futures, then Kalamazoo, with a week off to rest and recover from his eight wins in the past ten days.