Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Martin Rubeo - A Pittsburgh Native's Quest for Stat-Driven Improvement

        What feature of the league is the most appealing to you? If you ask Martin Rubeo, a player in the Pittsburgh Tennis League who leads a double life as a history teacher and a musician*, it’s the neat record-keeping that the site maintains online. For Martin, the ability to quantitatively track progress ranks among the most exciting aspects of playing in the league. The most memorable matches are not necessarily the ones in which he blew out the opponent or staged an impossible comeback, but simply the ones that demonstrate improvement over past matches.

        Martin joined the league in Fall 2012 and won the championship only two seasons later in Summer 2013. This accomplishment is quite impressive, considering that Martin had just started playing tennis right before joining the league. (All that love for stat tracking seems to pays off!) Before tennis, Martin’s sport of choice was ice hockey, but he started to feel a tad too old for all the skating and body-checking. That's when he decided to put down the blades and pick up the racquet. As he explains, “Tennis is a nice exercise. It’s fun to chase a ball, as opposed to chasing nothing as a runner.”

        Martin is currently a 3.5 player, and he tries to play 2 or 3 times a week. In the past two years, he has put together a nice list of favorite rivals: Justin Macuga, Kent Jones, Justin Linette, and Gabriel Pascasu. Justin Macuga has a special place on this list—he was Martin’s first opponent ever in the league. Not surprisingly, they have compiled quite a history of matches, but Martin is comfortably leading the head-to-head 10-5 at the moment. Martin also remarks that each of the other three players has unique strengths: “Kent is a great athlete and gamer who never gives up a point. Justin Linette has a power game, and when he’s on, his topspin is intimidating. Gabriel has a tough mental game that makes you stay on your toes.”

        Reflecting on his own game, Martin describes himself as a defensive player—a pusher who can get a lot back. Not content with this, he wants to be more aggressive and maybe even channel Stefan Edberg’s serve-and-volley game. This year, he's promised himself to take more chances and hit winners rather than wait for the opponent to make unforced errors. Martin also aspires to be more consistent and self-aware, both of which are qualities he most admires in pro players. To get a step closer to reaching these goals, he practices with a ball machine, watches tennis lessons on Youtube, and occasionally trains with a coach. 

        Martin draws a lot of inspiration from the mental aspect of tennis: “Focus is required in tennis, and it translates into life in general. It’s important to practice being even-keeled and not let emotions—both positive and negative—guide our actions.” He also notes that while he's struggled a little bit with his technique recently, he still loves getting on the court: “Not losing sight of that love is crucial. It’s what makes things fun and worth persevering for.” 

       Martin is currently leading the 2014 Player of the Year competition in Pittsburgh:  http://pittsburghtennisleague.com/player_of_year/2014

        *Check out Martin’s band, Gramsci Melodic: www.youtube.com/gramscimelodic. They are on Amazon, iTunes, and Spotify. They played alongside Elvis Costello recently!

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