About 12 years ago, I covered a lesson for one of my colleagues at Long Beach Tennis Center. On the other side of the net were two curious and shy boys named Eric Rubin and Matt Barry. They were both five-years-old and lived around the block from each other. Three years later, I started teaching them on a weekly basis and soon started spending lots of time with them on the court or watching them play matches. They are seniors in high school now and are soon moving on to bigger and better things. They have both been ranked in the top of the USTA Eastern rankings in every age group. I thought a little Q&A with two of Long Island’s latest NCAA Division I bound products was in order.
When and where did you start playing tennis?
Eric Rubin: I started playing tennis around the age of four at Long Beach Tennis Center.
Matt Barry: I started playing tennis when I was five-years-old with my mom at Long Beach High School.
Did you play any other sports?
Eric Rubin: I played many sports when I was younger. I was on both a travel baseball team and a travel lacrosse team. I was very serious about my pitching in baseball, but eventually stopped to focus solely on tennis. I believe pitching in baseball really helped my serve when I was younger based on the similar motion.
Matt Barry: I played baseball, basketball, lacrosse and soccer.
When did you get more serious?
Eric Rubin: I really started taking tennis seriously around the age of nine. I remember going to the U.S. Open and being amazed by all of the professional players and wanting to try to copy them. Prior to this, tennis was actually one of my least favorite sports, but once I went to the U.S. Open, I fell in love with it. As I got older, I started to like tennis more and more. I felt like tennis was a sport where there was always something new to learn and work on.
Matt Barry: I started to get more serious about tennis when I hit the age of 10. I knew that I wanted to play tennis seriously because I loved the mental and physical aspects of the game. I am a very competitive person, and I think that tennis is the most competitive sport of all the others. When I was 10, I knew that I wanted to work hard and play college tennis. My parents and my coach, Tonny van de Pieterman, helped push me towards my goal.
Do you remember your first official USTA tournament?
Eric Rubin: One of the first tournaments I played was at Freeport Tennis. I ended up reaching the finals and won every match in a super tie-breaker. After every match, I would come off the court and my dad would tell me that the other kid changed the score multiple times, but I never had any idea. Looking back, I think this shows how much fun I was having to the point that I didn’t even care about winning or losing.
Matt Barry: My first USTA tournament was at the Deer Park Tennis Center, a Level 2 tournament. I was very nervous because it was the first tournament I ever played in and I didn't know any of the others participating. I remember that I was so nervous to go on the court for my first match because I was scared that the kid would cheat me. I won the match easily and the kid did not cheat. I then became much more comfortable on the court and eventually won the tournament.
What was your favorite Long Island tournament?
Eric Rubin: The Sectionals at Point Set are always my favorite tournaments. Aside from the fast courts which really help my serve, it’s great to play on your home courts. I always have all of the coaches from the club cheering me on, and it always helps to have a crowd pull you through that third set. Scott Axler is the tournament director for the Sectionals at Point Set, and he always has everything running smoothly, which is great.
Matt Barry: My favorite Long Island tournaments are the ones at Point Set Racquet Club in Oceanside, N.Y. I always love playing tournaments there because it’s my home court. I have been training at Point Set for a long time, and I feel very comfortable playing there. I also love playing there because my coaches always watch all of my matches there. They always get me fired up to play and give me great advice on my opponents.
Did you play high school tennis?
Eric Rubin: I’ve played high school tennis for Long Beach High School every year since seventh grade. When I was younger, it was great to have Danny Kreyman on the team. Danny was always a kid I looked up to and it was great always getting to play with him. Since I started playing in seventh grade, I always felt like Danny was the next level ahead of me in terms of tennis, so I always knew what I had to work on to get to the next level. I remember playing him when I was about 16 and he was acing me a couple of times every game. After that, I spent the whole summer working on my serve and it really paid off.
Matt Barry: I play high school tennis at Long Beach High School. I started playing tennis on the Long Beach team when I was in seventh grade as well. During my first year on the team, I met a player named Danny Kreyman. He helped my game out tremendously, and also helped me manage my time with school and tennis. I looked up to Kreyman because I knew he was a great player, and he also wanted to play college tennis. He showed me how hard work gets you where you want to go in life. High school tennis was always fun because I had my all of my friends playing, including Eric [Rubin] and Ethan Bogard.
Tell me about your college choice.
Eric Rubin: I decided to attend college at Columbia University in New York City. I started the search very early, and I basically wanted to go to a place where I thought my game would improve the most. I also wanted to go to a school with very serious academics. At first, I was skeptical about going to an Ivy league school to improve my tennis because of all the stories you hear about kids not taking tennis seriously once they get there. However, at Columbia, I felt like they were training just as hard as any top 10 tennis school. There were several kids on the team who were motivated to try to continue their tennis careers beyond the four years at Columbia which really showed me just how serious this team was.
Matt Barry: I will be attending Penn State University next year. I choose Penn State because the tennis is really serious there, and I connected well with the coaches and my future teammates. I felt that the Penn State coaches (Coaches Jeff Zinn and Chris Cagle) will help develop my game and also make me a better person. I also loved the campus and I have always loved Penn State football. My dream was to play tennis at a Big 10 school and my hard work made this happen.
How did you enjoy your tennis on Long Island?
Eric Rubin: Growing up playing tennis on Long Island is an experience that very few kids have, and I am grateful for getting to participate in it. Not only was I able to compete with kids at a very high level of tennis, but I’ve made some of my best friends playing tennis. I think Long Island is overlooked as a place where kids could improve their tennis game. It annoys me when kids leave Long Island to go to Florida and other “tennis hot spots” to improve their game because I believe there are several places on Long Island where you can train and compete at a very high level. Many of my friends and I have been training on Long Island since we were young, and we’ve been able to compete at a high level with kids playing many hours a day.
Matt Barry: I really enjoyed tennis on Long Island. The best part about it was that I made such great friends through all of the tough matches we played. Some of the friends I made are, Eric Rubin, Josh Levine, Ofir Solomon, Andrew Yaraghi and many more. We were all so close that we went to each other’s Bar Mitzvahs, sporting events and are always in touch with each other. At Zonals we all hung out with each other and had great times. We will all have great memories about Long Island tennis.
Tonny van de Pieterman
Tonny van de Pieterman is a tennis professional at Point Set Indoor Racquet Club in Oceanside, N.Y.. He has previously been named USTA Tennis Professional of the Year for the USTA/Eastern-Long Island Region. He may be reached by phone at (516) 536-2323 or e-mail Tonny@PointSetTennis.com.