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Unseeded Brayden Schnur defeats Sam Querrey to reach NY Open final

Brayden Schnur with the backhand return against Sam

Brayden Schnur with the backhand return against Sam Querrey in a men's singles semifinals match during Day 6 session of the New York Open tennis tournament at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on Saturday, Feb. 16, 2019. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Brayden Schnur’s “Cinderfella” story continues at the New York Open.

Unseeded, unheralded and unknown, Schnur now will play for the title of the first ATP tournament in which he ever won a match.

The 23-year-old Canadian defeated American veteran Sam Querrey, a finalist here last year, 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-3 , in Saturday’s first semifinal on the black court at NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum. Turning pro in 2016, he’s been a toiler on the Challenger and Future tours. Now he’s won four ATP matches this week, his first wins ever at the ATP Tour level.

His opponent in Sunday’s 4 p.m final also will be seeking his first ATP title. Reilly Opelka won a slugfest with top-seeded John Isner, 6-7 (8), 7-6 (14), 7-6 (4).

Schnur, the 154th-ranked player in the world (which happens to be his career high) had to win two qualifying matches just to get into the tournament. Then he had to win three more matches to reach the semifinals, beating Columbia University’s Jack Lin, scoring a huge three-set win over American Steve Johnson, then toughing out another three-set win over Italian veteran Paolo Lorenzi.

“Coming from Dallas last week, not feeling well and sick, and honestly, I didn’t get in till the last minute in this tournament,” Schnur said. “I talked to my coach and he said you’re playing well, go and see what happens. Sure enough, I show up here, played a local wild card and thought I played a good match against him, and ever since then I’ve been building on the success.”

He’s talked about mental toughness, about staying in the moment and not letting the unfamiliar surroundings of an ATP Tour event distract or intimidate him. And that toughness was crucial in a high-quality match against Querrey.

It was no more evident than in the 10th game of the first set with Schnur serving and Querrey up, 5-4. It went to seven deuces and Schnur saved four set points. He went on to win the set in a tiebreak.

“Mental toughness is something I’ve been working on really hard,” Schnur said. “Tennis is a mental game, but you don’t really believe it until you are in these situations. Now I’m a huge believer.”

He was tested again in the second set. After going up a break early, Querrey broke him twice to force the third set.

“Up 3-0 in the second set, I let my energy drop maybe five percent,” Schnur said. “I missed too many first serves, gave him too many second-serve looks. Sam is a great player and he’s going to take advantage of that. He played well to break me, but I had a bit of a letdown.”

But he bounced right back, gaining an early break in the third he would not relinquish, leading him to a place he’s never been before — the final of an ATP Tour event. “I knew I couldn’t make the same mistakes, and it paid off in the end,” he said.

There is one aspect of Schnur’s game that sets that sets him apart. He doesn’t bounce the ball before he starts his service motion. That started last season in a grass court run-up to Wimbledon, for which he failed to qualify. But when he was bouncing his ball on less-than-Wimbledon-quality grass, he was finding it difficult to field.

“At the Challengers where they play the lead-up tournaments, the grass isn’t as pristine as the All England Club,” he said. “The bounces are very uneven and I just had a hard time finding my rhythm. I kept dropping the ball and it was going everywhere. So ever since then, I stopped bouncing the ball. I actually served really well those three weeks by not bouncing the ball. It kind of carried over to the summer, and then sure enough, I haven’t done it since.”

Now on to the biggest moment of his career.

“It’s an extremely big moment for me. These last two days have been unbelievable,” Schnur said. “The biggest night for me was when I beat Steve Johnson and I came back from 5-2 down. It was the second round of the tournament and I’ve come along way since then. Over the last two days, I’ve matured a little bit, taking all these wins and being able to focus on myself and kind of relax. After Steve Johnson, I didn’t go to sleep until 3:30 in the morning. But after the last matches I’ve been able to relax.”

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