Ruben Gonzales is a professional tennis player from Terre Haute, Indiana, and represents the Philippines. He is currently 36 years old and is currently ranked 122 on the ATP Doubles tour. He has 14 Futures and 7 ATP Challenger titles with his most recent Challenger Title being in August. Ruben had an impressive career on both the junior ITF tour and at the University of Illinois.
- Can you briefly describe your childhood growing up in Indiana? How did you start playing tennis?
I grew up in a small town outside of Indianapolis, I started when I was around 3 years old because my older brothers played recreationally and I grew up watching them play. There was a natural progression because of that. I also enjoyed being a ball boy at the ATP 250 event in Indianapolis when they still had it.
- You got to play on the biggest stages as a junior tennis player, how did that prepare you for college tennis?
I think being around the top players at the grand slams is very inspirational. I prepared myself for Illinois by playing at those junior grand slams. When I ended up going to Illinois they were ranked 1 in the country so it was important to do so.
- At what point during your college career did you decide you wanted to go pro? Who was included in that conversation?
When I was 10 or 11 years old I told my coach I wanted to become a professional tennis player. I was lucky to have parents that supported me as long as I worked hard towards that goal. When I decided which college to go to when I was 18 I chose Illinois because I thought it was the perfect stepping stone to becoming a pro after college.
- What kind of support did you have right out of college? Did you have any sponsors or family to help you afford the startup costs of going pro?
My parents have always been there throughout my whole career. They helped me with everything when I first started. A few years later I started playing Davis Cup for the Philippines and was able to get a sponsor from that and they continue to help me today. I am super blessed to have them.
- What was the first thing you noticed was the difference between the level of college tennis and the pro circuit?
The highest level of college tennis and futures tournaments are very similar level-wise. I was lucky enough to be on the team with Kevin Anderson and Ryler Dehart at Illinois so I saw such a high level daily. Once you start playing at the challenger and tour events you will notice a difference, especially in professionalism. Once you get to the challenger level as well the players have established their play style and walk on the court knowing what they are going to do.
- How excited were you when you won your first ATP point in August of 2003?
It was before US Open Juniors so it helped me feel confident going into the US Open. I had to play 4 rounds of qualifying and then won the main draw match. I almost celebrated before the point was over. I shook my opponent’s hand and ran over to my parents and gave them a big hug, it felt good and at that age, you feel like you made it.
- Are there common ways for players to make additional income other than playing pro tournaments?
The international leagues are a great way to make money and get matches in. A lot of us played in college so it’s fun to get that team atmosphere again. I would also teach lessons and coach when I was starting out on the futures tour. I still do that sometimes as well, it’s just hard to do that while traveling and training a lot.
- Would you go the college route again?
Yes, I would. The idea of going to college and going professional after in my mind is smart. There are not many 18-year-olds whose body is developed enough to go pro. College gives you time to develop mentally and physically. It costs money for a coach as well as traveling and there are a lot of expenses to keep in mind.
- You have been traveling the world for 10+ years now. What has been your favorite country to travel to? What has been your favorite country to play in?
I love playing and traveling to the Philippines, Korea, and many countries in Asia. They have awesome facilities, people, and food.
- How special is it to represent your country in tennis? Does it feel differently walking out on the court for a Davis cup match compared to a challenger final match?
I felt like I always play better in team events and atmospheres. I love the idea of playing for your teammates and something that is just bigger than yourself, it always brought the best tennis out of me in my career. You feel so much pride doing so. I won a gold medal with my partner, Treat Huey, in the South East Asian games in doubles and it was one of the most special moments I have had.
- I saw that you proposed in 2020 to your long-time girlfriend. Have you been able to travel together to tournaments? How important is it to have someone support you at all times on the road?
She does not get to travel to a lot of tournaments with me because she works. She lives in the Philippines so she will get to travel to the tournaments with me that I have coming up in Asia. It has been tough because there have not been many tournaments in Asia recently. We have been together for a long time. Not many girls would put up with the lifestyle of traveling on tour like I do but she knows when I am done playing I will be bugging her all the time. As of now, I split my time in Indiana and San Jose with my coach.
- You are currently ranked the highest you have ever been. What do you attribute to that?
There are a lot of different factors. I felt like I was turning the corner in 2019/2020 and then Covid hit. I attribute a lot to my coaches, they have helped me a lot with the physical side as well as the mental side. I did not use to handle the highs and the lows well. I do a better job not letting the losses dwell now. I have also improved as a tennis player a lot working on my game. I still believe my best tennis is ahead of me.
- Do you have any goals for the rest of the year?
I would love to get as close to the top 100 as possible to give myself a chance to get into the Australian Open. My coach talks about ”moving the needle” as getting better every day. If I can do that I can achieve my goals for the rest of the year.
- What made you fall in love with the sport of tennis so much, doubles in particular?
I grew up watching it and seeing the best players in the world at a young age made me fall in love with the sport. Seeing how Agassi and Rafter entertained the crowd and how it affected people is what inspired me to play tennis and fall in love with the sport. As far as doubles go, as a kid, I always did well in doubles. I always had better doubles results in juniors as well as in my first pro tournaments. I wish I got to play singles longer but that is just how it worked out.
- If you have one piece of advice to give yourself in 2008 when you graduated college what would it be?
To enjoy the process a lot more. I always love practicing but at that age, I always thought about getting to the next level. I was not in love with the process, instead, I was in love with what I could get. Father time is unbeaten and I know at one point I am not going to get to play tennis. I wish I could have told my younger self to enjoy it. I took losses so hard and wish I would have embraced them and just gotten better every day. Unfortunately, I don’t think I fulfilled my potential as a singles player but I think I will do so as a doubles player.