Brayden Schnur’s New York Open may well have exceeded his expectations after he won his first career ATP Tour main-draw singles match on Monday night.
But as the week has gone on, he has had to set his sights higher with every passing day.
The 23-year-old from Pickering, Ont. pulled off a third consecutive upset win in Saturday’s semifinal – his best so far.
Schnur withstood the big-serving attack of No. 6 seed Sam Querrey and prevailed 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-3.
And so in the same week he posted his first win, the Canadian will play in his first-ever ATP final.
“The first set was a real nail biter, could have gone either way. I think I flipped the switch in the tiebreak at 5-5. In the second, I had a bit of a letdown. Sam played some good tennis to get up two breaks on me. In the third set I stayed strong, focused on one point at a time, and used (the crowd’s) energy,” Schnur said during his on-court interview.
“Sam’s obviously a tough veteran, I’m kinda new at this. But it’s a tennis match. I’ve played millions of tennis matches in my career, and this is just another match,” he said about successfully serving it out. “I tried to treat it as just another match.”
In search of his maiden ATP Tour title, Schnur will face a player even younger, who also is looking for his first. American Reilly Opelka, 21, defeated 33-year-old John Isner in a three-tiebreak serving spectacular Saturday night.
The two have never met, not even at the Challenger level.
Schnur kept it simple for his first trip to an ATP Tour weekend, asking friends and family who were thinking of making the trip to Long Island to stay home.
But he had an enthusiastic group of supporters just the same – some old friends, some new.
“It was incredible. Obviously these guys, my Day Ones from college, came up from Washington, D.C. And my Day Ones for this week – starting from Monday, they’ve been absolutely incredible,” he said. “And tickets for you guys tomorrow again. Let’s go!”
Prize money, points – it’s all happening
Schnur had earned just over $30,000 this year, coming into this week. Nearly half of that came from losing in the first round of qualifying at the Australian Open. He earned another $13,000 by reaching the Newport Beach Challenger final.
He has already earned twice that much this week. And if he can win on Sunday, he would get up to nearly $150,000 in prize money for the first six weeks of the season.
Even without the title, Schnur already has earned more in 2019 than he did all last season.
More crucially, his ranking will soar.
Already at a career high of No. 154 coming in, Saturday’s win will put him at No. 107. And if he can win, he would jump into the top 90.
His short-term goal to start the season was to get seeded at Wimbledon – in the qualifying. In other words, be in the top 140 or so.
“It seemed farfetched,” he said. “Now, obviously, I’m pushing to try to get into the main draw. That’s the next step.”
Schnur has two Challenger semifinals to defend between now and May. But he also has three zero-pointers on his rankings tote board. So there’s everything to gain.
After Delray …. China
Making the semis this week allowed Schnur to get into next week’s Delray Beach Open with a “special exempt”. He will face France’s Adrian Mannarino (also still in New York as he’s in the doubles semifinal) in the first round.
It’s a bonus tournament for Schnur, who hadn’t intended to stick around the U.S. after this week.
The Canadian would be just a couple of spots out of making it into the Indian Wells qualifying for the first time, with a few weeks still to go for spots to open up. And he easily would make it into the qualifying in Miami.
He could still enter Miami, as the deadline isn’t until Feb. 25. It would be the first time Schnur played in a Masters 1000 tournament other than his home-country event, the Rogers Cup.
But Schnur is sticking with the original plan. He’s headed to Asia to play a series of Challengers.
He won’t play the week of Feb. 25 in Yokohama, Japan, because of Delray Beach. He’ll need time to refresh the body a little after eight straight weeks of tournaments. Not to mention get over the jet lag.
But after that – instead of trying his luck at two of the biggest events on the ATP Tour – he’ll be grinding it out in a series of $54,000 Challengers in Zhuhai, Shenzhen and … Zhangjiagang. (Yes, we had to Google Map that one, too).
The schedule was made during the offseason with Schnur’s Tennis Canada coach, former Tour player Fred Niemeyer.
Schnur shares Niemeyer with Filip Peliwo, a 25-year-old former top junior champion (two junior Grand Slam titles and two finals in 2012) still working his way up the ranks. Peliwo also is going to China.
“We said that regardless of what happens, let’s put this plan in place and stick to it no matter what,” Schnur told Tennis.Life.
The two were separated by about 45 spots in the rankings to start the season. That gap is now an abyss. But Schnur points to several examples of players who have done a good job building on big results the same way.
“Kind of like (Mackenzie) McDonald did last year. He moved up to 110-115, and still went and played three Challengers in Korea. (Cameron) Norrie has done the same. It’s not the worst thing in the world to cement my level of play.”
After that – a medical timeout
If Schnur is loading up on the tournaments to start the season, it’s for a good reason.
He’ll have an enforced five-week break in the spring.
On the schedule is surgery to fix a deviated septum, after which Schnur has been mandated not to step on the court for 2 1/2 weeks.
“I’ll take a little vacation, too. Because I didn’t even take one in the offseason,” he said.
After 10 tournaments in three months – and a big step up of level in store come the spring and summer – he not only deserves it.
He’ll need it.