Little girls with big games and even bigger entourages are all over the pro tennis circuit these days. What's unusual is someone like 17-year-old Chanda Rubin, who is climbing the rankings largely on her own, without the dubious support of hovering parents, overbearing coaches and professional racket-carriers.
Two weeks ago Rubin reached the quarterfinals of the Family Circle Cup in Hilton Head, S.C., before losing to Steffi Graf. As a result of that showing Rubin's world ranking moved up 20 notches, to No. 74. She is an offensive baseliner with big strokes off both sides and a lacerating serve that was the fastest clocked at the Australian Open earlier this year. She turned pro in 1991, and at Wimbledon last year she won the junior title and threw a scare into Jennifer Capriati in the main draw before falling 6-1, 7-5. She then reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open, upsetting 15th-seeded Katerina Maleeva along the way. "I'm just trying to keep going forward and not be at a standstill," says Rubin. "Right now it's all mental."
It's also part-time. A senior at Episcopal School of Acadiana, in Cade, La., Rubin won't take to the tour full-time until she graduates next month. When she does start playing full-time, she will pretty much be on her own. Her parents didn't travel with her to Hilton Head. Edward Rubin, a newly elected district court judge, and his wife, Bernadette, a retired elementary school teacher, arc determined to remain unobtrusive supporters rather than front-row fanatics like some parents on the circuit. Bernadette sometimes accompanies Chanda on extended trips, but more often stays home with Chanda's 15-year-old brother, Edward, who is a nationally ranked junior player. On those occasions Rubin is accompanied by one of her sometime coaches: She alternately works with Ashley Rhoney of Lafayette or one of the coaches from the floating staff of the U.S. Tennis Association.
Rubin took up tennis when she was five. She awakened one morning to find herself alone in the house. She searched in vain for her parents before finally spying them on their backyard tennis court. "I thought they had left me," she says.
Chanda seized a racket from a closet and, still in her red nightgown, joined them. "They sat me on a fence," she says, "and made me watch, because I was such a pain."
Rubin eventually got all the playing time she needed. What she needs now is more big-match experience. At the Family Circle Cup she went as far as the quarterfinals of a Women's Tennis Association primary tour event for only the second time in her pro career. Along the way she easily defeated 16-year-old Lindsay Davenport of Palos Verdes, Calif., this year's most promising newcomer, yielding only two points on serve in the entire match. Against Graf, however, the chief flaw in her game—lack of patience—was all too obvious. "She went for too many shots," said Graf. "I showed her I could stand up to it. She needs to wait a little bit longer."
Rubin had to concur. "I need to hit a few more balls to win a point," she says. "Usually when I hit a certain shot, I expect it to be a winner, and if it comes back, I get a little impatient."