A couple of big names in the sports world can trace their roots back to Carefree Racquet Club on Jerusalem Avenue in North Merrick.
Noah Rubin, 21, of Merrick, played in the club’s Police Activity League program roughly 16 years ago. Now Rubin, No. 186 in the world professional rankings, is preparing to compete in the Association of Tennis Professionals’ New York Open.
Jeffrey Gewirtz used to practice in Carefree’s five-court tennis arena. Now he is the executive vice president of business affairs for Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, which oversees operations at Nassau Coliseum.
With the New York Open, an ATP World Tour tournament, set to debut at the Coliseum on Feb. 11, Gewirtz sought out Carefree to become the event’s official practice site. Rubin will be warming up in familiar territory, and professionals from around the world will see what Long Island tennis has to offer.
Club Manager Kathy Miller explained that, in addition to Gewirtz’s experience with the club, he chose it because of its proximity to the Coliseum, and its privacy. It’s a 10-minute drive from the Coliseum, and has a secluded two-court practice area with a separate entrance and exit.
“It’s exciting to have the pros coming here,” said Miller, who was introduced to tennis by her parents and passed her love of the sport on to her children and grandchildren. It means a lot to her to play a role in a big-time tournament, she said.
The New York Open marks the return of the ATP World Tour to Long Island for the first time in 13 years. The tournament was formerly known as the Memphis Open and debuted in 1975. Its relocation to the newly renovated Coliseum was announced last April by its parent company, GF Sports. Josh Ripple, the tournament director, said that the move was made in part because of the increasing success among American male tennis players.
“We thought that this was a perfect opportunity for us to go into a brand-spanking new arena,” Ripple said, referring to the Coliseum. “It would be state-of-the-art, it would be in the New York market, and we knew that the players would love it.”
“[The New York Open] is definitely going to help Long Island,” Miller said. “New York is already a pretty big hot spot for tennis because of the U.S. Open, but this is going to get people thinking of Long Island.”
Miller added that the local tennis population is growing, with roughly 4,000 players currently enrolled in U.S. Tennis Association adult leagues in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
Rubin, she added, will be a focus of attention next week. “I think a lot of people are looking forward to cheering on the hometown boy at the Coliseum,” Miller said.
In addition to hosting the pros, GF Sports gave local fans an opportunity to participate in the New York Open as ball boys (and girls). Carefree hosted tryouts in December and practices leading up to the tournament. There are usually around 10 ball boys on the court at a time.
Gus Bresnaider, a freshman at Mepham High School in Bellmore, is one of 50 kids who earned a spot. His mother, Leslie, said that he and his friends “all grew up hearing about Noah” and jumped at the chance to take to the court alongside him.
The tournament will begin on Sunday with the New York Tennis Expo, which will feature a faceoff between honorary New York Open ambassador John McEnroe and U.S. Davis Cup champion James Blake. There will be on-court activities for fans of all ages, speakers, autograph signings and live entertainment.