Each of the 2017 National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Sam Lacy Pioneer Award winners has a historical tale worth knowing about. The MSR heard them all at this year’s banquet during the NABJ’s August convention in New Orleans. We will share them with our readers over the next few months in our “Listening to Greatness” series. This week: Chanda Rubin.
Chanda Rubin made tennis history when she played in two of the longest matches ever in women’s tennis. She played a 58-game match in 1995 and a 48-game match in 1996. She also came from behind 0-5, 0-40 in the third set and saved nine match points for a win in 1995.
“I wanted to get to number one in the world,” Rubin told the banquet room of Black sportswriters at this year’s NABJ Sports Task Force’s Sam Lacy Pioneer Awards in New Orleans in August. She was the only female among the eight honorees.
Now 41, the Lafayette, Louisiana native turned pro in 1991 at age 19 and later became only the third Black female to make tennis’ top 10 (with Zina Garrison and Lori McNeal). Rubin in 1996 was ranked sixth in the world in singles and number nine in doubles. She was a three-time French Open quarterfinalist (1995, 2000, 2003), made the semifinals in 2003 and the Wimbledon semis in 2002, and amassed a 399-254 singles record and 226-160 in doubles.
All total, Rubin won seven World Tennis Association singles titles, 10 doubles titles, and was 1996 Australian Open doubles champ. But her two marathon matches left a lasting impression on two young Black females in California, the Williams sisters. Years later, the two soon-to-be stars brought that to her attention, Rubin recalled.
“Is it true, is it true?” asked a giggling Serena Williams when the two met at a match, the tennis legend recalled. “I said I didn’t do anything special but stay in the match as you are supposed to.” Rubin later snapped Serena’s then-21-match winning streak in 2002 and finished with a 1-1 career mark against her, but only 1-9 against Serena’s sister Venus.
Injuries to her wrist, knee, Achilles and shoulders dogged Rubin throughout her career, in which she was renowned for her killer forehand along with exceptional speed and persistence before she retired in 2008. She was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 2013, the same year she earned an economics and finance degree from Harvard.
Now a real estate developer, Rubin and her husband Mireyou Hollier have a daughter. She said being called a pioneer is at the least shocking. “Arthur Ashe is a real pioneer,” she pointed out of the late tennis legend, the first Black man to win Wimbledon. “His influence in the sport made a difference.”
Rubin downplays her influence, the Williams sisters notwithstanding. “I thought about it later. They saw me and possibly they took that and learned from me.”
Although she never reached the world’s top female tennis player, “It also was about the way I went about it. It was about a journey, the way I approached my craft,” Rubin said.
She started her Chanda Rubin Foundation to mentor youth soon after turning pro. She is a United States Tennis Association board member and helped steer top-notch tennis tournaments to New Orleans since her retirement. She also does color commentary for the Tennis Channel.
“I hope I will be able to really continue to give a leg up as I was given a leg up,” said Rubin, “that I gave encouragement as I was given encouragement. Hopefully I can do that for others.
“There are great life lessons I learned certainly in being a woman of color in a predominately White sport. It made me stronger, and I’m so appreciative of it now,” Rubin concluded. “My mom and my dad really taught me a work ethic. I am so thankful for that.
“I did OK.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.