(Part 5 in a 9-part series on the 2013 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame inductees)
(Written for the Louisiana Sports Writers Association)
Chanda Rubin doesn't dwell on the injuries that shortened her professional tennis career.
She's more pragmatic than that, too well-grounded to dwell on what-ifs and let them dictate who she is.
Rubin has her real estate license, has just completed a degree in marketing and finance, is a successful business woman, has done commentary on tennis telecasts and serves her sport in a variety of other developmental roles.
So, she's not one to live in the past.
Still, it was nice to be recognized for her career brilliance by this year's inclusion in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. She will be enshrined Saturday, June 29, at the sold-out dinner and ceremony in Natchitoches.
“It's a real honor to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, to be included with a class that includes people like Shaquille O'Neal,” said Rubin, who retired after the 2008 WTA campaign. “The fact that it's the sports hall of fame – not just tennis – says a lot.
“As you get further away from your playing days, things like this become nicer.”
The Wimbledon juniors champion in 1992 and Australian Open women's doubles champion with Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in 1996, Rubin was the No. 6-ranked singles player in the world, and No. 9 in doubles, in 1996 before injuries began to chip away at her forehand-driven game.
She made the U.S. Olympic Team for the Atlanta Games that year, but had to withdraw.
“I was on the team and trying to play,” Rubin said. “You earn your way there. I was hoping to play. It was still a great experience. It was completely different, an interesting connection with other athletes.
“But it (not playing) was rough, confidence-wise. It was a hit, a definite blow.”
Still, she fought back to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2002. In doubles, she reached the U.S. Open finals in 1999, the 2002 Wimbledon semifinals and the 2003 French Open semifinals.
The 1996 stress fracture in her wrist began a list of injuries for Rubin that would include knee surgery, Achilles tendon woes and shoulder problems. She battled back until retiring in 2008.
“It was a challenge, but I wanted to play,” she said. “I knew I had the game. The question was always whether my body would hold up. It was a struggle, confidence-wise. You have to believe in your ability once the match is going on.
“I had a weapon, that was the big thing - my forehand. If I wanted to win a point, I wanted to get to that shot. I also had speed to get around the court. I loved competing. I always had the will to keep fighting, to not give up.”
That tenacity was evident at an early age, as Rubin began to dominate junior tennis foes.
“I wanted to be the best I could be, and kept getting better and better,” she said. “I moved pretty quickly. I kept building and stayed grounded.”
The product of a tennis-playing family that kept its perspective, Rubin flourished first under mentor John Bryan.
“He gave me my base,” she said. “Fundamentals are a big part of the game, and he was big on that. You always go back to things you learned when you were 7-8-9. You have to be technically sound.
“John also helped me with my ability to compete, too stay in the moment. He helped me to understand the need to stay calm in the face of change, to keep doing what you're doing.
“He taught me how to play the point and to compete at my best.”
There were attitude adjustments along the way.
“Off the court, I tend to analyze things,” Rubin said. “But with tennis, I'm the opposite of that. I like to hit, be aggressive and go after it. Tennis was a release for me. It clashed with my innate tendency to over-think things. You still have to process; the challenge is to balance it.”
Rubin recalled growing pains around ages 16 and 17 as she made the transition from junior competition to the pros.
“You have to figure out how you want to live,” she said. “You become a little bit jaded. But you get past it and learn from it. It helped that my parents didn't coach me on the court. There was that separation of roles, and that helped.”
Asked what was fun during her pro career, Rubin allowed herself a rueful chuckle.
“Not much,” she said, then added seriously, “I enjoyed playing and competing. Making the top 10 for the first time was big. My comeback at the French Open (a marathon 9-7, 4-6, 16-14 win over Patricia Hy-Boulais in 1995) that changed my perspective.
“Things started to work for me. I enjoyed the process. It's always a journey.”
Some of the best times were with Sanchez-Vicario in doubles.
“She had such a different style,” Rubin said. “She was a counter-puncher. You couldn't hit through her. I had power. She was quick around the court and at the net, so that was a great counter to my game.
“I was quick, too, though. There were no gaps where the opponent could go. We won most of the matches we played together.”
Now the question is whether there are stars like Rubin on the horizon. She sees her sport at a crossroads in the United States.
“We're in a bit of a transitional period,” she said. “We have young ones coming up, but they haven't broken through to the top level like Serena and Venus (Williams).
“I'm not sure about the next couple of years, of players' ability to sustain a high level of play week-in and week-out.”
She doesn't see the same type of drive seen from players like Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier as when she was on the rise in the early 1990s.
“It's a big country, with so many assets,” Rubin said. “So many things can undermine focus and concentration. You don't see the same hardness, that ability to dig in.
“I think early notoriety is a problem. Players think they're in a place where they're really not. You've got to be honest. There's no hiding. Courier, Sampras and Agassi had that competitive spirit. We've got to get some of that back.”
Spoken as someone who thrived on the challenge and rose to the occasion.