Last August, Russian teenage tennis player Diana Schneider was traveling alone in Europe with a world-class forehand but without a valid bank card due to financial sanctions against her country. bottom. She had to pay for hotels, flights and food in cash.
Last week, she led the North Carolina State women’s tennis team as they ranked ninth in Division I, defeating second-placed Ohio State.
“It was bad, but it’s better now,” Schneider said Wednesday in a video call from Columbus, Ohio.
A left-handed player with a flamboyant and powerful style of play, Schneider found stability in the game even though many observers didn’t believe she would choose college tennis over playing full-time on the Pro Tour. I’m here. Her skeptics included her college coach, Simon Earnshaw.
“I didn’t expect her to come,” Earnshaw said in a phone interview. She’s very clear about what’s important and what’s not, and the only thing that really matters to her is, ‘How can I get better?'”
When she arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina last summer, she was ranked 249th in singles on the WTA Tour. She’s now climbed to number 90 after a surge in Australia. In Australia, she qualified for her first Grand Slam singles her tournament, the Australian Open, but in the second round she was beaten 3-6 7 by sixth seed Maria Sakkari (Greece). Lost by -5 6. -3.
Schneider has a big arsenal of slashing forehands and serves. Her quick feet and aggressive mentality have been inherited from her hometown of Zhigulevsk when she learned the game in Togliatti, across the Volga. In search of better training opportunities, she moved with her family to Moscow when she was 9 years old.
“I never wanted to be a pusher,” she said.
At the Australian Open, her fist pumps and cries of congratulations rattled Sakkari who thought it was directed at her. was shouting
Schneider said her run in Australia and the more than $140,000 in prize money that came with it didn’t make her reconsider her decision to play in college.
“In my head I know I’m doing everything right, but of course when people say mean things it affects my heart and soul,” she said. “But I’m trying to go my own way.”
Schneider is the first woman to rank in the top 100 in singles playing college tennis since 1993, when American Lisa Raymond played in Florida. For record, North Carolina State University is not a traditional college tennis powerhouse. But Wolfpack she’s 7-1 and she’s undefeated with Shnaider in the lineup.
Former Vanderbilt Women’s Coach Jeff McDonald said, “She is without a doubt the greatest player to ever play college tennis.
The American college game has seen a resurgence in recent years as a pathway to professional success, with college standouts such as Cameron Norrie, Jennifer Brady and Daniel Collins finding success. What distinguishes them from Schneider, however, is that she made it to professional competition before college. You can use it, but you must donate the excess to maintain your eligibility.)
Schneider’s decision was partly due to geopolitical reasons. It has allowed her to establish her stronghold in the United States while her country is considered a pariah in much of the West.
“I think it made a difference that she’s 100 percent Russian,” said David Secker, an assistant coach at North Carolina State University.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has resulted in sanctions against Russians. For tennis players, sanctions have complicated travel and training and increased the chances of Russian players being excluded from tournaments (Wimbledon being the only major individual event to do so so far).
Schneider, who parted ways with her coach in June, wanted to be able to continue playing competitively and improving on hard courts.
“I was really scared and wondering what I would do sitting in Russia without a manager and no matches,” she said.
She had to overcome her own doubts before enrolling at North Carolina State University. She “thought it would be like quitting her professional career, tennis,” she said.
Her father, Maxime, who helped shape her game, was against it. But her mother, Julia, a pianist by training and more focused on education, insisted on it, and last April, through her Russian family living in the United States, arranged her first concert with Secker. assisted in contacting
Secker, like Earnshaw, was skeptical that Schneider was serious about going to college, but organized a video call and met Schneider and her mother at the French Open in June. However, the family remained divided on the issue, and Schneider continued to make emotional phone calls with his parents when he returned to travel.
“I was in the middle of nowhere and thought this was useless,” Schneider said. “And my father told me that this is your decision, so make the first overall decision yourself.
Be in NC. Due to bureaucratic problems, she had to wait her five days for her student visa in Warsaw. She sprinted through the halls of the US Embassy to pick it up before closing time on Friday. However, she arrived in the US just days before the U.S. Open junior tournament, where she reached the semi-finals of the women’s event in singles and won the doubles with Lucy Habrikova.
However, Schneider remained athletic. She has a contract with her Swedish governing body, Wesport, and the NCAA has issued an order to ensure that any payments she receives are made in exchange for the use of her name, image and likeness. Earnshaw said the contract had to be investigated.currently licensed by the NCAA
This process took about five months to resolve. “It was a very protracted frustration,” said Earnshaw.
Schneider received clearance on February 3, the day before the home match against Oklahoma. Although she’s undefeated in singles with her team, she’s been pleasantly surprised by the level of play she’s had to save her points in the match before defeating Ohio State’s Sidney Ratliff, for example. I didn’t.
“I was afraid I was going to lose time and lose motivation,” Schneider said of college tennis. But she pointed out that it wasn’t happening. When I come back at eight o’clock, I pass out.”
She’s about to start juggling college and tour tennis and will be competing in the WTA event in Monterrey, Mexico, when the finals begin on Monday. Next comes the qualifying event at her BNP Her Paribas Her Open in Indian Wells, California. A high finish in either tournament means she’s likely to miss a few college games.
“I think logistics is the biggest challenge for Diana,” Secker said. “Also, I think suspicion is a big part of it too, because I think there’s always suspicion that if you’re playing college games, you’re missing an opportunity in the pro game.” If you’re playing, are you letting your team down in any way?”
For at least a few more months, Shnaider will try to do justice to both worlds, but the challenge pales in comparison to last year’s satellite circuit, which lacked chaperones and modern means of payment. When she won the title in Istanbul, her organizers had to hand her around $9,000 in cash.
“What am I going to do with it?” She said, holding her right thumb and forefinger apart to indicate the size of the pile of banknotes. “I was very careful.”
Another time, she said, she barely had enough cash to pay for a night’s hotel bill.
“My parents were really insecure about me,” she said. “My mother used to say, ‘Don’t carry your passport, don’t go out, don’t speak Russian, just stay in the hotel,’ because she didn’t know what people could do. is.”