Two weeks after his heartbreaking loss in the New York Open final, Brayden Schnur spoke to LWOT’s Lukas Weese.
Brayden Schnur is walking to the podium at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The crowd is giving a supportive, thunderous applause. Schnur has just lost a grueling, hard-fought three-set final in the New York Open to Reilly Opelka 1-6 7-6(7) 6-7 (7). To most, making a final at an ATP event is a triumphant accomplishment. But for Schnur, he desired more. Before the New York Open, Schnur had not won an ATP level match. It was not surprising, given the unexpected run he had been on, that Schnur was hungry to win his first ATP tournament.
Losing 9-7 in the third set tiebreaker could not have been a more heartbreaking loss for Schnur. As he began to deliver his concession speech, Schnur’s emotions became apparent. The paramount result of his career was more than just his inaugural ATP final appearance. It was the culmination of years conquering the every day adversities of trying to achieve success as a professional tennis player.
“It was a lot. The tears were mainly stemming from the difficult way I lost,” reveals Schnur. “On top of that, to think about who I need to thank. There have been so many people along the way. It all comes back to my family. My parents, sister, grandparents, aunts and uncles have sacrificed so much in order for me to pursue my career of playing tennis.”
Schnur’s Tennis Beginnings at Dunmore in Hometown of Pickering
As a young boy growing up in Pickering, Ontario, Brayden Schnur’s interests weren’t initially towards tennis. Like many youngsters growing up, soccer would be the primary sport of choice to take up in the summer, to bolster athletic strength and skill. But Schnur’s parents gave him a different option.
“My parents couldn’t find an all soccer camp. So they put me in an all-day sports camp; half day soccer, half day tennis,” recalls Schnur.
As we speak about his time participating in this camp, Schnur reminisces and laughs about his continual run-ins with the instructor.
“One or two weeks into the camp, the coach pulled me aside one day and said, “Listen, your kid’s a troublemaker.” He’s disrupting the class,” stated Schnur. “Once I picked up the racquet, I started to fall in love with tennis.”
For the first 9-12 years of his life, Schnur cycled between playing soccer and tennis. At 12 years old, he decided to focus his efforts on playing competitive tennis full time at Dunmore Racquet Club. A five minute bike ride from his house, Brayden and his Mom, Anne-Marie, would set up the ball machine, where he would invest hours in honing the ground strokes and serve. The devotion to improving his game and repetitive hours of training would be the inception of Schnur’s temperament as a hard-working, persevering tennis player. While away from the court, Schnur would briefly catch glimpses of professional tennis players, competing in big tournaments. But it was those personalities who could entertain, while dazzle with tremendous shot making, that caught Brayden’s eye.
“I respect a lot of the top players who came before me,” says Schnur. “I can’t imagine how many hours Roger Federer has put into tennis…it’s why he’s the greatest of all time. But I really enjoyed watching Marat Safin and Gael Monfils. Two guys that could succeed but also entertain the crowd with remarkable shots.”
Schnur Credits Coaches, National Tennis Centre for Shaping Tennis Development
It is clear Brayden Schnur exudes gratefulness for the coaches that have shaped his tennis development along the way. Heath Turpin is one of those individuals. A Pennsylvania resident, Heath has 25 years of coaching experience, nine of which were at the Nick Bollettieri Academy in Florida. It was Turpin who recommended that Brayden come to Florida to train, in order to accelerate the growth in his game. Since then, the bond between these two is irreversible.
“He’s family,” says Schnur. “Heath has been there since I have been 14 years old, travelling with me to the ITF’s every week. The hours he would put in for me was unbelievable. I would wake up at 5:30 in the morning to meet him at 6 so he could drive me to school. He would drive me to the gym to train, then back home again. At the New York Open, he was crying because he was so happy for me and everything I have overcome.”
After training in Bradenton, Schnur moved back to participate in Tennis Canada’s National Training Centre in Montreal. Founded by world renowned coach Louis Borfiga, the training centre’s mission was to provide aspiring Canadian tennis players resources, coaches and facilities to one day succeed professionally. While in Montreal, Schnur was taken under Guillaume Marx’s wing. Marx used to coach Milos Raonic and is now the full-time coach of Felix Auger-Aliassime. Schnur credits Marx for being critical in giving him the confidence to unleash his serve and ground strokes, while also paying respect to the National Training Centre as a whole for efficiently utilizing its resources to produce top Canadian talent, including Filip Peliwo and Felix Auger-Aliassime.
“Guillaume was a fantastic coach while I was here in Montreal and really helped me with my game,” says Schnur. “Since the development of the National Training Centre, tennis has skyrocketed in Canada. It demonstrates that you don’t need the biggest country and lots of money to develop elite tennis players. The Centre has everything we need and despite playing inside six months of the year, the coaches and the people that the team put together are huge reasons why Tennis Canada has been so successful.”
Schnur Vowed to Progress Beyond Futures Tour
In July 2016, Brayden Schnur turned pro at his home tournament, the Rogers Cup. The Canadian was making positive strides in his game on the Futures Tour.
His first Futures Tournament win came in Calgary in August of 2013, where he defeated fellow Canadian Philip Bester in three tight sets, 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 7-6 (7-4). It would be the first of two Futures victories for Schnur in Calgary, adding to his five total tournament wins on that tour. He recalls lifting the trophy in Calgary with tremendous pride and joy for his country.
“Anywhere in Canada is home to me. I love Calgary as a city. It’s the first moment that I saw where I can go as a professional and what I can actually do.”
But when Schnur turned pro, he realized quickly the demanding realities of trying to maintain financial success on the Tour. The narrative seems simple: win matches to make more money. But what complicates this reality is the portrayal of tennis players communicated to the public. When we watch tennis tournaments on TV, and witness the players’ lives on social media, it paints a false narrative that all professional tennis players live an opulent, lavish lifestyle.
For players like Brayden Schnur, trying to increase their ranking professionally by playing on the Challenger and Future Tours, there is often financial insecurity. Players have to pay out of pocket for expenses. There aren’t the fancy cars or upscale hotels. It’s this struggle and adversity, according to Schnur, that made him vow not to remain in the Futures Tour, with the hope of garnering more success at the ATP level.
“Playing on the Futures is the biggest grind in all of tennis,” states Schnur. “I would rent a car and drive around Florida playing tournaments. There were times where I checked into my hotel for a tournament. Then, checked out the next day, because if I lost in the tournament, I would not have to pay an extra night because money was low. There is no skipping the Futures Tour. But knowing the grind I went through and conquered, it motivates me to play every match with the highest level and intensity.”
Schnur Achieves ATP Success; Defeats Steve Johnson and Sam Querrey En Route to New York Open Final
Before the New York Open, Brayden Schnur had not won an ATP match. His attempts at qualifying for tournaments fell short numerous times. While the obstacles were fierce, Schnur never gave up.
“It’s all about getting the opportunity,” states Schnur. “I had to work to build my ranking to get into those tournaments and to qualify to get into main draw. Going into the qualifications can be quite tiring. There’s no easy way to the top. But given that I am 23, there will be many more opportunities.”
Schnur would not have to wait long for his opportunity to arise. After qualifying into the main draw at the New York Open, the Canadian would defeat his co-patriot Jack Lin in straight sets for his first ATP match win. Taking on the American Steve Johnson in the next round was no easy task. Especially on American soil. But Schnur utilized his powerful serve to catch Johnson off balance, winning in three sets 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4). It would be a career defining victory for the Canadian.
“Steve Johnson was the biggest win of my career,” says Schnur. “To do it on American soil, it’s special but at the end of the day, I didn’t feel like I was playing in the States. As I progressed through the tournament, the crowd was starting to pull for me. It was a great feeling.”
After a three-set victory against Paolo Lorenzi in the next round, Schnur would take on Sam Querrey in the semifinals. The serve where Schnur never bounces the ball put on its best show in front of the New York crowd, winning 80 percent of his first serve points. The Canadian would beat Querrey 7-6 (9-7), 4-6, 6-4, to advance to the final. The adversity never bothered Schnur in all the three set matches. In fact, he raised his level, utilizing his powerful serve that is the backbone of his game.
“The serve is something I center my game around. It’s a huge weapon of mine. I need to keep improving because it is the only shot in tennis that you can fully control. Had a great week serving in New York.”
A lot Will Change but the Grind Continues for Schnur
Schnur wishes his serving was extra perfect in the final. The pivotal point in the match came at 7-7 with Schnur serving. Despite Brayden’s serve looking like an ace, Opelka’s proved to be pivotal. The call was out. Second serve.
Unfortunately for Schnur, the second serve went into the net for a double fault. Opelka would blast an ace to win the third set tiebreaker and secure the title. A crushing moment for the Canadian, who had culminated a three week stretch of back to back quarterfinals on the Challenger Tour with his first ATP tournament final.
But after the match, the Canadian camaraderie of tennis players came to support and congratulate Brayden for his incredible result. The first phone call Schnur received was from his Montreal teammate and close friend, Felix Auger-Aliassime. Brayden also received supportive remarks from Milos Raonic, Vasek Pospisil and Philip Bester. Given the current state of Canadian tennis, with so many players rising in the rankings, Schnur feels honoured to know the team has his back.
“It’s a great camaraderie. The closest guys I am with on the Tour are Felix, Peliwo, and Polansky. We play in an individual sport but we do take the time to wish each other to do well. It is exciting to see.”
As Brayden Schnur came back to Montreal, he was met with instant media attention and interview requests. His social media presence increased, as he became the latest Canadian to have a successful result at a professional tournament. With a career-high ranking of 107th in the world, Schnur will be going to play some tournaments in China, alongside his coach Frederic Niemayer. At one time, Niemayer was the top Canadian player in the world. But now, Schnur is happy to have that guidance and influence in the coach’s box.
“He has worked with Milos, Vasek, and now me and Peliwo,” says Schnur. “Niemayer has done tremendous things to help people improve. I can’t thank him enough for the hours he has put in.”
There are no guarantees in tennis. It’s on to the next tournament. No matter how much hard work put in, it does not always translate to success. But Brayden Schnur is different. He does not want to experience the feelings of losing in a final. The Canadian is committed to improving his game so he can get over the hurdle to eventually winning a tournament. The adversity experienced earlier his career has molded Schnur into a mentally tough player, eager to use his past as a motivation for future triumphs.
“Now I truly do believe that I can win these matches. I can make deep runs with the Top 50 players in the world. I’ll go back to the Challenger Tour and keep working on my game. Confidence is everything.”