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From the Court to the Broadcast Booth, Chanda Rubin Is an Eternal Champion

Chanda Rubin

Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.

When Chanda Rubin watched the recently released film King Richard, the scenes in the movie took her back to her time spent on the WTA Tour, surrounded by tennis.

“I just remember hearing a lot of the stories with Richard Williams back in the day, about his girls and how they were going to be, these great No. 1, No. 2 players,” she says. “And you wonder, Is that really going to happen? And it did. And it's amazing. I think, for me, it’s the greatest story in sports. I just loved feeling all the energy surrounding their story being brought to life.”

But in the early 1990s, when Venus and Serena Williams were still young girls at the junior level, Rubin was already rising in the WTA ranks. She turned pro in '91 at the age of 15 and just five years later, reached the Australian Open semifinals in singles and captured the doubles title with Spain’s Arantxa Sánchez Vicario. That same year, in '96, she reached a career-high World No. 6 ranking in singles.

A child prodigy from Lafayette, La., Rubin was one of the Black women who laid the foundation for the next generation of women of color to be accepted, seen and given an opportunity to become winners. She’s always operated at full throttle in tennis. Her parents played competitively but never had to push Rubin into the sport. Her desire and drive were 100% personal.

“It was never their journey. It was always mine,” says Rubin, who played in her first tournament at age 7. “It fit into what they loved, which was the game, but they didn't feel like it was their path, or that they were living through me. It was always my decision. It was a good mix in terms of having the support and having them totally behind me and encouraging me. But it's still coming from within, especially in moments where you need it most. I mean, you have to be able to draw from what you desire.”

Before Venus and Serena both turned pro in '94 and '95, respectively, Rubin remembers meeting the sisters and how wonderful it was to see these two Black girls on the court.

She says she admired the camaraderie between Venus and Serena—it was a relationship that she didn’t have when she was training as a young athlete. Rubin says that she was always “a Black player out there on my own, and the only one in a lot of these spaces.”

“It was always interesting to me to see two Black girls,” she says. “They're both trying to become great pros and get to the top of the game. It was always a fascinating dynamic. It would have been amazing to have that, as a player. I just loved watching them and how they interacted with each other laughing and giggling, and it was just kind of fun for them.”

Later on, Rubin would go toe-to-toe with Venus during matches—even toward the end of her career, Rubin says she was one of the toughest competitors she played against.

“I would go into the third and I would lose. I just couldn't quite match the physicality, the athleticism and the movement of Venus,” says Rubin, who has won two matches against Venus and one against Serena. “I mean, at 6' 1" [Venus has] the intensity, she’s moving incredibly well and she's aggressive. A lot of the things that I brought to the game made our matches kind of these clashes. But she, at times, just had that little extra. It was amazing for me to continue to match up against a player of her caliber.”

As Rubin’s career overlapped with the Williams sisters’ rise in the sport, she eventually suffered some injury setbacks and started to try her hand in broadcasting while she recovered and trained to get back on the court.

“I did my first real commentating stretch while I was still in that competitive space and trying to get back onto the court,” says Rubin, who says she enjoyed every minute of it. “I felt like it gave me an opportunity to push myself in a different way. I watched former players that I was working with and how they approached this other side of the camera … learning about how they transition.”

Soon, Rubin made the leap from playing the Williams sisters on the court to commentating their matches from the broadcast booth. She “officially” retired in 2008—it was a bumpy transition, because her heart was set on getting back in professional shape. But eventually she had to let it go and pursue other interests.

Rubin has a special way of converting a challenge into a success. After retiring from tennis, she got her real estate license and went back to school to earn her bachelor’s degree at the Harvard Extension School, fulfilling her goal of studying at “one of the best schools possible.

“I ended up getting my degree in economics and a minor in finance because it all tied into my business and investment [ventures],” says Rubin, whose studies included corporate finance, how to do pro formas, spreadsheets and work through profitability margins. “[It was important for me] to expand during that time and explore ways that allowed me to keep growing.”

In 2011, two years before she earned her degree, lightning struck the home she built in '08 and burned it to the ground. “You could hear the lightning boom and all that, but nobody thinks it actually hits their house,” she says. “It's about nine o'clock and I’m home by myself in bed. All of a sudden, the fire alarm starts going off and the company calls me. I'm like, ‘I don't see any problems. I think it's O.K.’”

But then she had a gut feeling. “I thought to myself, let me get my car out of the garage, because if my electricity goes out and I can't open my garage door, I have to walk outside,” she recalls. “I'm pulling my car out and the roof is engulfed. And that's where I got shaky. It was the weirdest feeling. I was like, ‘Oh, my God!’ It was an out-of-body experience.”

Most people would have been immobilized by this life-altering event. But Rubin gathered her crates of books, purchased a new computer, quickly settled into fully furnished temporary living quarters and continued on in her studies to obtain her degree. She says it wasn’t easy, but it was simple. And she viewed the tragedy as an opportunity to start fresh.

“Sometimes you just have to make the best of it and just keep rolling,” says Rubin, whose life is a wonderful juggle of motherhood, entrepreneurship, philanthropy and commentating for Tennis Channel. “I had no idea where things would end up. But I knew I just had to keep rolling.”

Her self-proclaimed most important job is being a mother to her two girls, ages 12 and 5. This position is fully equipped with drop-offs, packing lunches and putting her name on every volunteer list possible. She says she kind of overcompensates for when she’s traveling for work.

“When I'm on the road, it's usually commentating and whatever events I'm doing,” says Rubin, whose daughters play tennis, which motivates her to hit around about once a month. “I can have a five-hour day, or I can have a 12-hour day. What's interesting is that no day is ever the same, and no match is ever the same.”

Empower Onyx/Sports Illustrated present Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports

Bryna Jean-Marie is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multichannel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.