In a surprising twist during her Wimbledon qualifying debut last month, Diana Shnaider, known for her blue and white polka dot headscarf, made a bold decision: she went bareheaded. Unable to find a high-quality, all-white scarf, she embraced the unconventional.
“I’m doing it all by myself,” Shnaider said. “I am buying the material and sending it to a woman to make a scarf that is the right size for my head.”
Headscarves were not originally intended as a fashion statement. Blonde Shnaider’s parents were worried she would burn when she played in the sun, but her daughter didn’t wear the usual tennis player’s headgear. Her caps and visors prevented him from seeing the ball when she threw it, so they resorted to a scarf they found in a supermarket.
However, the path of a pioneer is rarely easy. As a junior, Shnaider stood out and had his share of detractors.
“Half the girls said they really loved it,” she said. “But the other half told me that I didn’t look good. In fact, there was a time when I didn’t wear it because I felt so much pressure from girls who said that I looked bad and that I shouldn’t wear it.” .”
Shnaider, 19, has always prioritized being her own unique person.
“I never thought about inspirations,” he said. “My parents always said that you need to find your own style, just like you need to find your own game of tennis. You can watch for inspiration, but for you, it has to be yours.”
This goes for both the look she’s made her own and the unique brand of power tennis she’s made waves with this year. Anchored around a swashbuckling left-hand forehand, Shnaider is also hesitant when asked if he has modeled his game around any other player.
“The lefties that hit a big ball like me? Very difficult to think about,” he said. “[Rafael] Nadal is left-handed, but it is not the same style that I do on the court. I’m playing a little more aggressive. [Carlos] Alcaraz plays very aggressive, but he is right-footed. [Petra] Kvitova is left-footed and powerful, but she hits flatter.”
In any case, Shnaider’s results confirm the quality of his game. Entering 2023, he had yet to contest a tour-level main draw. This season, she knocked out her first Top 20 player, against Veronika Kudermetova in Charleston, and in each of her first two Grand Slams she pushed a Top 15 seed, first Maria Sakkari at the Australian Open and then Beatriz Haddad Maia at Roland Garros. This week at the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest, Shnaider defeated No.1 seed and defending champion Bernarda Pera 6-4, 7-5 in the first round.
Until Roland Garros, Shnaider was also in the unique position for a Top 100 player, juggling her transition to the main tour with college life. She had been accepted to NC State the previous year, and after her breakthrough in Australia, she returned to complete her first season, a decision that caused some surprise in the tennis community.
Shnaider doesn’t deny that this made his life difficult: Earlier this year, he found himself doing homework in the evenings, playing college games on the weekends and preparing for a professional tournament the following week. But she says her decision was made in light of the ongoing geopolitical situation as a Russian with no financial resources behind her.
“I didn’t have a coach and I still don’t have a coach,” he said. “I don’t have a training base where I can go and practice.”
The college route provided Shnaider with both, as well as an educational element that was appreciated by his family (his mother is an English professor and his father graduated from law school and traveled with Shnaider as a junior and now accompanies his younger brother).
She also credits her NC State coaches for their good communication. At every stage of her promotion, and whenever she had questions (for example, about her eligibility for prize money), they were clear and to the point.
“They knew I definitely wanted to turn pro and they had no problem with it,” he said. “But they said they could help me improve my game and my style. We said, let’s see a year. If I was going to get anywhere near the Top 100, they would let me play pro. If I got stuck around 250 for a while.” , he would continue to practice with them until he was ready.
We’ve been talking about it all year. We were all surprised by my results. [in Australia]and we agreed that he would finish the season and then go pro in the summer.”
Shnaider also feels her time at NC State better prepared her for the pro tour, even though it limited her schedule to five months.
“I improved a lot in college,” he said. “I know how to play those difficult points under pressure that you don’t think about, you automatically know where to go. I learned to play more aggressively, volley better, play a doubles match correctly and keep pace.” my energy. I’m still working on a lot of things, but they gave me a lot of information that I will use in the future.”
Shnaider’s professional career got off to a flying start in May, when he flew straight from the NCAA Championship in Florida to Roland Garros. He is now adjusting to life on tour and has his sights set on finishing the year in the Top 50. The next task is to find a full-time coach.
“[I want someone] who will see my game and improve my advantages, but also turn my disadvantages into advantages,” Shnaider said. “And to find a mental connection: that he likes me, how I am on the court and off the court, and that I trust him. . In tennis, it’s hard to trust people. For now, it’s just my parents and the North Carolina State coaches.”
One thing is guaranteed: whatever move Shnaider makes next, he will do it completely his way.