Russia’s Diana Schneider has taken three ITF tournaments
Diane Schneider – like Iga Sviontek in the WTA – has been smashing everyone in the juniors lately. She took three ITF Pro trophies in a month on hard and clay to show her parents in Moscow.
“We cherish the time I have in junior tennis. It was exciting for me to move to the professional tour because it seemed impossible – other players, super tennis, a different mentality. But after three tournaments I realized there’s a certain level that I can improve on.”
She’s going to be a great tennis player
In recent months she has not flashed the results – in 2021 the junior player had already taken the doubles Wimbledon with Belarus Kristina Dmitruk, and in February 2022, the day before Daniil Medvedev and Rafael Nadal’s epic final at Rod Laver Arena, she sealed the Australian Open title in a duet with American Clairvie Ngunu. Lately, Diana has been preparing more mentally for tournaments.
“I’ve been more prepared with my head. I’ve become more confident and calm emotionally. A year ago I was actively engaged with psychologists. But, I think, no psychologist will not help until you do not set everything for yourself,” – says Diana. – Everyone has its own problem: someone afraid to hit the ball, the other can not run. And I’m a perfectionist, I want everything to be perfect and all my shots to be on the nines. I could make a mistake, get very upset, get mad at myself. Emotions were running high and I was shutting down. In three tournaments I managed to control my emotions and not to dwell on mistakes.
Diana has loved men’s tennis since she was a child, so she bases her game on attack, athleticism and power of attack. She often follows the ATP Tour – she takes a lot from her experienced peers in terms of mentality.
“I can’t keep my emotions in, otherwise it would be a disaster. Right away it’s a losing match. I just walk around like I’m dipped in water. Zero emotion on my face, and I play with a kind of indifference: win or lose the ball – it makes no difference. So if there’s a point, I have an unreal outburst of emotion: I cheer myself up and get fired up. It’s at once “kamon,” “you can,” “come on. I do it so loudly that the whole audience can hear: you don’t cheer for me, but I can praise myself. I don’t think it’s right to make contact with the audience, you’re wasting your concentration and emotions on the wrong people.
Surprisingly, no one foresaw a brilliant junior debut. Diana got into tennis by accident: she saw a billboard about training, and her parents immediately sent her to a class. “They gave me a racket, I played for two weeks and I liked it. Once it started, that’s how it went. I wouldn’t part with my racket, broke everything I could in the apartment, constantly walked around with the ball,” Diana recalls.
Her parents are far from tennis: Yulia’s mother is an English teacher, and Maxim’s father is a lawyer with boxing experience. But they gave up everything for the sake of their daughter’s future and moved to Togliatti from Zhigulyovsk in the Samara region. From his daughter’s first punch on the line, her father believed in her success.
“When I first started playing, my dad said, ‘She’s going to be a great tennis player.” He was always going to tournaments, taking her to practice, watching her. He’s very good at tennis now: he often helped with tactics and emotions. And my mom was always skeptical about tennis – 50/50. But even now she says that my game is something unearthly: “I believe in it and I’m not going anywhere.”
For the first couple of years, though, the family didn’t focus on tennis: four-year-old Diana went to group practice three times a week, and in between, she danced and practiced piano, spending all her free time with friends. “There was no definite goal. It was the life of a normal kid until she was eight years old. Then I moved away and training, tournaments, school – like a snowball.”
I aspire to become a Russian tennis legend
Next door at the public school, Schneider recalls, Daria Kasatkina was training, while Diana decided to try her hand at a private club. There, after four years, she was advised to move to Moscow – there was potential to develop further.
“Coach Sergey Konovalov put all the technique, all the basics from there. Probably the attacking style, which I love, also comes from there, because even in the summer I trained on hard. There were no dirt courts. I didn’t know what that was until I was nine years old. And on hard court it’s more of an attacking style.”
Even then it was important to play RTT tournaments and earn the first points, which was complicated by frequent flights from Moscow to Togliatti and back. Looking for the right coach in the capital, Diana changed three schools in three months, then briefly settled in the Ostrovskiy academy, but returned to private practice: Samvel Minasyan, the athlete admits, taught her to play doubles and on the ground, as well as calmness and self-control. European clubs, Diana said, have not yet contacted her.
In addition, last year she graduated from high school and enrolled at the Moscow University of Physical Education (RGUFK), specializing in tennis coaching, although she had once considered university sports in America as an alternative – all because of doubts about her professional future.
“I’ve always doubted myself. There were times when I wondered, ‘How is it that they [juniors] are already playing [on the pro tour] and I’m here. There must be something wrong with me, something I’m not good at.” But thanks to my parents, who over the years have explained to me that we’re not rushing anywhere, we’re not in a hurry. Everyone has their own time. They shot early, and there’s no telling what will happen next. Raducanu is great, but she can’t handle the problems right now. Alcaraz is an unearthly player. I’m sure he will play for a long time and at a good level. I expect to go gradually towards my goal and stay for a long time as well. Do I aspire to become a Russian tennis legend? Yes!”
Going for the RG2022 singles title
By the age of 18 Diana has not only a whole collection of titles, but also headgear: bandanas are her trademark, she tries on a certain one in every tournament. Since childhood, her parents were afraid that their daughter would get sunstroke, and Diana could not play in caps and visors because she could not see the ball when it was thrown. Her parents found an alternative and gave her one of her first bandanas, a white headscarf with black speckles. “It was comfortable: it didn’t get in the way of my hair and the sun didn’t sting. It wore off, others looked at it. And it turned into my highlight.”
The superstitious Diana usually wears one headscarf around the tournament, though she has five or six of them in her closet in different colors. Just in yellow and black she has won three tournaments in a row. For the title of “Roland Garros” will go in the same. “I’m going for the RG2022 singles title. That’s my goal for now. I’ll be playing the junior A category in a week in Milan.”
In addition to the trophy in Paris, Diana expects to break into the WTA top 200 this year. For now, she’s 326th in the world and No. 5 in juniors. “I’m going to try to keep going, add tournament levels. I’m planning to play in juniors, then I’ll try the 60,000s, 80,000s.
Besides, she adequately assesses her abilities and is ready to work on her mistakes.
“I like to criticize myself very much. I think we can work on the game and tactical moments. I think I have to work on my opponent, not to let them win, like I did in Istanbul and that’s why I lost that set, I got slack. You have to work on staying focused the whole match. It’s important not to lose that moment.”
It seems a new generation of straightforward, self-critical and ambitious juniors is rising in women’s tennis. Is the success of the noughties so close?
“The more Russians you see at tournaments, the more you think about what country you’re playing for. For me – the person who plays so much for the national team – patriotism is at an all-time high. These sanctions – no flag, no anthem – charge us to perform at our best. They’ll see what we’re capable of.”