As a qualifier, Noah Rubin won eight matches in all to claim his first Grand Slam junior title.
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Sunday's final marked the first all-American boys' singles championship at Wimbledon since 1977.
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By Sandra Harwitt, special to USTA.com
LONDON – When the first boys’ singles final between two Americans to take place at Wimbledon since 1977 ended, there was one champion, Noah Rubin, and one runner-up, Stefan Kozlov.
But while the two of them wore their game faces during the match, urging themselves on with “C’mon’s” and fist pumps, after Rubin laid claim to the title with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory, the good friends presented a united front of country pride.
“Stefan brought the flag,” said Rubin, who then invited Kozlov to join him on the traditional victory lap around the court, with each one of them holding one end of the stars-and-stripes.
“He said, ‘I have a flag, I have a flag. I was like, ‘Dig it out,’” said Rubin. “It’s been a long time since an all-American final, so might as well support it. At the end, when we were holding that American flag, I was like, ‘This is pretty special.’ Hopefully we’ll keep rising together and none of us will fall off, and just we’ll as a group get to the top and show the results America wants.”
Indeed, it was a momentous occasion. After all, neither the 18-year-old Rubin nor 16-year-old Kozlov were even close to being born when Van Winitsky defeated fellow American Eliot Teltscher for the Wimbledon junior boys’ title 37 years ago.
It was also a tough result for Kozlov, who lost in the Australian Open junior boys’ final earlier in the year. It must be said, however, that Kozlov showed great maturity afterward.
“That was actually easy,” Kozlov said of taking out the flag his father had given him that morning. “I don’t know why it was easy, but everything else was pretty tough. I didn’t want to think about it for those 15 minutes. I was just going to praise the guy – I’m happy for him.”
What Kozlov meant about everything else being difficult was that later in the day he teamed with Andrey Rublev of Russia as the top seeds in the boys’ doubles. That outcome also didn’t go in Kozlov’s favor, as he and his partner lost to third seeds Orlando Luz and Marcelo Zormann of Brazil 6-4, 3-6, 8-6.
Besides for sharing a patriotic stance, Rubin and Kozlov, often are roommates on the road, were both in awe to find a crowded stadium of fans awaiting their match. The 11,000-seat capacity Court 1, which was about three-quarters filled, wasn’t a free pass for spectators either – watching the junior finals came with a steep price tag of 28 British pounds, which translates to approximately $50 per seat.
“Really, people paid to watch me? Interesting,” said Rubin, smiling. “I didn’t expect it to be that packed. 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. Just the atmosphere was unbelievable.”
The fact that Rubin even played in this Wimbledon junior event, not to mention win it, would’ve been unexpected just a few months ago. When he left the 2013 US Open Junior Championships, the teen had declared his days in the juniors were over. He was moving on to the lower-level Future tournaments, although he would remain an amateur so he was still eligible to play college tennis in the fall.
The key moment in Sunday’s match came midway through the decisive third set. On serve at 3-2 for Kozlov in the third, Rubin won the final four games to be permanently etched into Wimbledon history.
“I kind of choked at 3-all in the third and gave away a service game I should have won and that was it, then the match was over,” Kozlov said. “It was 100 percent me, I was 15-40, played two good points and then played carelessly.”
Rubin’s road to victory did not come easily here in London.
He lacked the proper junior credentials – his ranking wasn’t high enough. And he didn’t have the proper ATP credentials – his ranking was lower than the 550 needed to be straight into the junior main draw.
So Rubin rolled into England early and played the qualifying event to earn his spot in the main draw. There was no doubt that playing eight matches in a row – six in the main draw and two in the qualifying – had taken its toll as Rubin stood outside the press area bending and massaging his cramping legs before heading in to talk to the media as a Wimbledon champion.
In truth, Rubin hasn’t had great results until this Wimbledon at the Grand Slams. He never made the trip Down Under to the Australian Open, and his best other outing was reaching the 2012 French Open quarterfinals. But this year, on the grass, it just clicked for the Long Island native.
“You know, I didn’t expect much coming into these tournaments,” said Rubin, who also played the qualifying and made it to the second round at the recent French Open. “Just wanted to get out here and enjoy myself. [I] haven’t had the greatest results in the past, as people know.”
As he left Wimbledon, he knew he’d not be back as a junior again – he would be too old. But he was already thinking ahead to the future, saying, “I’ll always remember this time. Hopefully [I’ll] be back [playing] in the seniors shortly.”