“But learning is definitely easier with a teacher — having someone teach you it, and you actually know what they’re talking about is definitely better.”
Though Schnur’s transition from the professional circuit to UNC was relatively smooth at just 18 years old , not all of his decisions have been as easy to make.
At age 14, Schnur made the decision to leave his family in Pickering, Ontario for Bradenton, Florida — the hotbed of tennis academies in the United States. He made the move a few months later at 15, the summer before his sophomore year, and hasn’t resided at home for more than several days since.
In Bradenton, Schnur lived part-time with his private coach while attending Edison Academics . He said the initial time away from home was the most difficult to manage.
“It’s different. I’m a mama’s boy. At first it was really hard. I cried a lot. I missed my mom, I missed my dad, and I missed my sister,” he said. “But then you kind of get used to it. As long as I am busy I am fine.”
While moving away from home was tough, Schnur’s mother was by his side for the first six months in Florida — temporarily leaving her husband and daughter in Canada to help her son achieve his goals.
“My mom has always believed in me. If I had to dedicate one person that’s done the most for me in my tennis career, it would definitely be my mom,” Schnur said. “She’s helped me a lot, she’s sacrificed so many hours.”
Schnur thanks his mom, in part, because she introduced him to the sport of tennis, even if it did not go so well initially. She signed him up for a joint soccer and tennis camp when he was 8 years old, and while Schnur succeeded in the soccer portion of the camp, he flunked the tennis section due to a short attention span.
“At first the coaches didn’t like the way I was on the court, I guess, and they kicked me out of the tennis section,” Schnur said with a laugh.
“At eight I couldn’t stay focused or something like that, they said tennis wasn’t for me.”
Indicative of his intense work ethic, 9-year-old Schnur returned to camp the following year determined to participate in both sports. This time, he was successful.
For the next three years, Schnur played both soccer and tennis competitively. Though he enjoyed both, he said he knew he would have to decide between the two eventually.
That moment came during tryouts for the top U13 soccer team in Ontario , when his coaches told him he could not continue with soccer unless he quit playing tennis. Schnur’s parents agreed that he needed to commit his time to one or the other.
“My parents told me, ‘If you want to do something really great with your life, then you have to make a choice now,’” he said. “‘The schedules are going to intertwine. It’s going to be too complicated and too hard for you to do both sports and succeed in academics as well.’”
Schnur’s decision at age 12 was foretelling of the next six years of his life — tennis would carry him all over the world for tournaments and professional training.
“I don’t know if I really liked (tennis) back then, but I always liked winning, and in a team atmosphere I hated when we would lose, for instance in soccer, and it wouldn’t be my fault,” he said.
“I liked knowing that whether we win or lose it’s all on my shoulders.”
Similarly, Schnur’s success both athletically and academically relied entirely on his own efforts to succeed, beginning with his sophomore year alone in Florida.
One year later, the Tennis Canada National Training Centre selected 16-year-old Schnur to enroll in the full-time training program for his junior and senior year of high school.
At the NTC in Montreal, Schnur spent more than four hours on the court daily, and an additional hour and a half in the gym for fitness training. Between training sessions, he and the seven other students would read and complete assignments for school.
Schnur did not have teachers for his different subjects and did not have peers in the same classes — his high school education was entirely his to accomplish.
And for a moment, the likelihood of graduation seemed to slip away for Schnur. After many years competing on the road, his schoolwork could not keep up. In order to complete high school, Schnur’s tennis schedule was drastically reduced for two months so that he could play catch-up with his education and graduate.
As a result, he said his tennis game suffered.
But to compensate for lost time on the courts, Schnur, his family and his coaches decided he could commit seven months strictly to tennis and give the ATP World Tour a chance.
“They figured because I took those two months off in the beginning of the year it would be nice if I could just focus on tennis for about six to seven months and just try to take my game to another level,” he said.
“Which it did eventually.”
Instead of attending UNC in the fall, Schnur traveled the world as an amateur competing in professional tennis tournaments. After seven months on the professional circuit, he reached his career-high ATP singles world ranking of 547 and a junior world ranking of 26 .
Schnur claimed his first professional tournament title at the ITF Calgary Futures Tournament in August and was the first male Canadian to capture the 2013 Canadian Open Junior Championships.
Some of his more notable competitions included the 2013 Summer Canada Games, Junior Australian Open, Junior French Open and Junior Wimbledon.
Though he was not training with his future teammates in Chapel Hill, freshman Ronnie Schneider said that Schnur was still very much a part of the team.
“I kept in touch with where he was all the time,” Schneider said. “I’d follow his results online, and if I knew what time he was playing I’d get on the computer and follow his match live.”
Schneider said that displayed the team’s sentiment toward Schnur while he competed internationally.
“To show the support, for him to know that everybody here in UNC was backing him even though he hadn’t even stepped foot on campus yet, that’s how it was,” he said.
“Once he committed he was part of the Tar Heel family, part of the Tar Heel tennis family, that’s how we treated him.”
While coach Sam Paul anticipated Schnur’s arrival to Chapel Hill with excitement, he admitted that he was somewhat uneasy.
“It’s always your concern when you bring in a player midyear,” Paul said.
“You don’t have a season to acclimate them, but it couldn’t have gone any better.”
Schnur has helped lead the No. 9 Tar Heels to a 18-3 start to the season and has only lost two matches at the No. 1 singles player spot. Schnur is ranked No. 10 in the country, the highest ranked freshman in the nation, defeating the very same athletes he once used as inspiration.
“A lot of the guys I actually saw when I was 14 and 15 and was like, ‘I hope I can play like them one day,’” he said.
“I was jealous of how good they were, and now I’m playing with them and beating some of them. It’s pretty amazing to see how far I’ve come.”
Paul echoed those sentiments, adding that while Schnur’s current loyalty lies with the Tar Heels, the freshman hasn’t been sidetracked from his ultimate dream.
“I think his goals are obviously to be successful playing professional tennis,” Paul said.
“So we’re trying to get him stronger and trying to get him fitter.”
Schnur said his training in Chapel Hill has helped him mature both physically and mentally — something that will bode well for him in his future endeavors.
“I wouldn’t say I want to just play professional tennis, I want to make it — I want to be top-10 in the world, and I want to win a Grand Slam,” he said.
Then he paused.
“And the Rogers Cup, I don’t think a (Canadian) player has won it in over 50 years, maybe a player has never even won it.”