Brayden Schnur Leaps Forward

By Mike McIntyre

Winter 2018/19

Twelve years ago, Brayden Schnur was the Under 12 Ontario Junior Provincial Outdoor Singles Champion. He aspired to be a pro like many others and after playing 3 seasons at the University of North Carolina in NCAA Division 1 and building his game, he made the leap to the pros full time. It was a giant leap!

Brayden Schnur feels like his professional career is in some ways just starting now despite the fact he has been playing on the ITF and ATP Tours since the summer of 2016. The 23 year old from Pickering, Ontario says that his first couple of years were such a learning experience that only now does he feel completely prepared to play his best tennis. After a self-described “roller-coaster” of a season in 2018, Schnur now believes he has a better grasp of how to plan his life off the court as well as what he needs to continue to improve upon on the court to find his way up the rankings. It certainly seems to be working as he is playing the best tennis of his life to start the year after recently making the finals of the New York Open where won the first four ATP Tour matches of his career en route to the finals. Despite being beaten by American Reilly Opelka 6-1, 6-7(7), 7-6(7), Schnur has seen his ranking improve to a personal best of 107 in the world and he provides Canada with yet another talented new face to watch in 2019.

I spoke with Schnur just a few weeks before he went on his epic run in New York. In light of his recent accomplishments, it’s quite interesting to see where his mind was at just prior to the best month of tennis he’s undoubtedly ever played.

“Coming into 2019 I think a big lesson that I learned last season was to not put so much pressure on myself when I’m not winning matches and to not get as upset..."

“Coming into 2019 I think a big lesson that I learned last season was to not put so much pressure on myself when I’m not winning matches and to not get as upset. I don’t take losing really well so I think coming into 2019 I really wanted to emphasize not taking those losses so hard. Obviously always working hard to find out why I lost a match but not to dwell on it so much.”

In terms of analyzing his own strengths and weaknesses, Schnur says he is happy with both his serve and return game, but is working hard to improve his aptitude at the net. He says that his attacking game is still, “nowhere near where it has to be for me to go out and compete on a day to day basis with the best in the world.”

Avoiding setting specific ranking goals, Schnur instead had set his sights on three other objectives as this year began. After his stunning result in New York, it now seems he will have to adjust those modest targets.

Firstly, Schnur talked about wanting to get his ranking high enough that he could be seeded this year for the qualifying draw at Wimbledon. He feels his game is well suited to the grass and you can tell just by talking to him for a few minutes that he is already anticipating the short grass court season on the lawns of Europe. As for the difference of competing on the biggest stages of the world at the majors, Schnur says, “It’s definitely the most pressure. You can feel it as you get closer and closer to the match. When the matches start you can feel the tension climbing in the locker room, all the guys are just a little on edge. It’s tough at times to manage all of those emotions because everyone wants to do well at the Slams so badly.” It looks now like getting seeded for the qualifying draw at Wimbledon won’t be an issue, and instead if Schnur continues his strong play he may even be able to get direct entry into the main draw.

Schnur’s second target for 2019 was to win a Challenger event and he already came very close to accomplishing that in January when he reached the finals in Newport Beach, California. Despite falling to Taylor Fritz 7-6(7), 6-4 in the final, Schnur defeated American Mackenzie McDonald who is ranked inside the top 100 on the ATP Tour, as well as the former highly touted Donald Young.

Schnur, third left, from Pickering Ontario won the U12 and U14 Ontario Junior Outdoor Provincial Singles titles in 2007 and 2008.

The final goal for 2019 that Schnur shared with me was that he wanted to win the first main draw ATP match of his career. After two wins in qualifying rounds at the New York Open this week, he scratched that one off his to-do list by defeating wild card and fellow Canadian Jack Mingjie Lin in the opening round. Not satisfied with just one ATP victory, Schnur added another three before bowing out in the final against the big-serving Opelka. Wins over American veterans Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey en route to the finals – both ranked in the top 50 in the ATP Tour rankings – were quite impressive and a sign of the enormous potential that Schnur hopes he can tap into on a more regular basis this year.

Schnur, left, won his first ever ATP match in Febuary, on his way to the final of the ATP 250 New York Open, where he narrowly lost to American Reilly Opelka..

Another area where Schnur is seeking results in his development as a professional tennis player is off the court. He has shown a willingness recently to engage in discussion aimed at improving the viability of a career as a full time tennis player for those outside of the top 100 in the sport. For many pro athletes if you’re even one of the best 500 players in the world you’re making enough money to earn quite a good living. In tennis however, the struggle for players like Schnur is real and it is an area that he – along with many others – feel needs to be properly addressed.

“It’s extremely tough I’m not gonna lie. I think that the ATP and ITF have a lot of work to be done. I think the prize money today where it stands is extremely - it pays well at the top and it’s kind of like a pyramid. It pays huge at the top and as you go down there’s a huge drop and I think that needs to improve. Like I said on Twitter, we need the top guys to voice their opinions. If they don’t say anything then nothing is going to get changed, but the hard part is that they’re getting paid well so why would they complain?”

Schnur was quick to admit that in our country players of his ranking are lucky enough to receive assistance from Tennis Canada. Clearly in recent years that strategy is working out as Canada can boast about the rise of several players such as Genie Bouchard, Milos Raonic, Vasek Pospisil as well as in more recent times Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger Aliassime and clearly this year both Bianca Andreescu and now Brayden Schnur.

“I’m fortunate enough to have Tennis Canada support me and help me out with a coach. If that wasn’t the case I’d be losing money every year. Even (inside the top 200) in the rankings I would be losing money. To have a coach who can travel with you – it costs a lot of money. On top of taking care of your own expenses and your coaches expenses. I don’t think that anyone ranked 150-200 in their sport should be losing money.”

One very positive aspect to belonging to this Canadian contingent for Schnur is the close vibe that prevails amongst them. “Yeah for the most part I think we’re really friendly…I think we’re all a pretty tight knit group. We get along extremely well, we practice a bunch, we do things off court, grab dinner just as friends all the time and it’s a great group of guys.”

The success that Canada’s players have been enjoying in recent years was really sparked over the past five years with breakthrough singles performances from Raonic on the men’s side and Bouchard on the women’s. Both of them are still well under the age of thirty and have made the finals of Wimbledon among other achievements. For someone like Schnur, those accomplishments do not go unnoticed. He went out of his way to acknowledge the impact that Raonic’s results have had on him personally. “It pushes us to do better and expect more of ourselves which you find is what happens with countries that get these groups of players that come up on the rise. I think that obviously Milos was the first once to do all of this, he was the leader and kind of set the tone for everyone else moving forward.”

Regardless of what level of success Schnur can achieve himself, his outlook for this coming season has already taken a gigantic leap forward thanks for his incredible week in New York. His main priority overall is to, “Stay healthy and keep a positive outlook on things. Focusing on my game, more than the results and knowing that when my game is put in place the results will come.” He proved that statement this week and then some with the first ATP final of his young career.