Wolfpack & the WTA: NC State freshman Diana Shnaider eyes Charleston Open quarterfinals
When the North Carolina State Wolfpack women’s tennis team takes on rival UNC, the No. 1-ranked team in the country, on Thursday afternoon, it will be without star player Diana Shnaider.
The 19-year-old will, instead, be facing former world No. 2 Paula Badosa for a spot in the Credit One Charleston Open quarterfinals.
“I’m really happy,” said Shnaider, who celebrated her birthday Sunday (April 2). “I really like being here.”
It’s an unlikely story: A college freshman who is also a Top 100-ranked player on the WTA, with the teen currently ranked No. 96 in the world. And a coaching staff in Raleigh that understands she is considering going full-time pro after this collegiate season.
“I really appreciate their help; it’s really nice of them,” said Shnaider, who won three junior Grand Slam titles in doubles. “Not every college coach will let you play [pro events]. The coaches understand my situation and they’re really positive about it.”
AO breakthrough and a signature look
Shnaider made waves in tennis circles in January when she qualified for the Australian Open and took sixth-seeded Maria Sakkari to three sets in the second round.
While Sakkari took issue with Shnaider’s fist-pumping ways, it was a tense clash between a virtual unknown and one of the game’s top stars, with the second set going to 5-5 before Sakkari won it – and turned things around.
Fans also took notice of what has become Shnaider’s signature look: An old-school bandana, which she ties over the top of her hair to protect her scalp from the sun.
“I’ve worn [a bandana] from when I was nine years old,” Shnaider said with a smile. “I couldn’t wear a hat because it was hard to see the ball when I tossed it, but the [bandana] was the way my parents helped protect me from the sun.”
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What comes next for Shnaider?
Shnaider will wait for the French Open next month to make a call if she will turn pro or not, but her win Wednesday over world No. 13 Veronika Kudermetova – her best by ranking – has catapulted her to a career-high No. 87, likely assuring her a spot at Roland-Garros.
After she made the semifinals of the French junior event in 2021, she had a meeting with an NC State assistant, who offered that the college route might be an option for her. A year later, without a coach and struggling to decide what to do, she opted to go the college route.
She explained: “I didn’t have a coach or anyone to travel with me. I was traveling alone. I didn’t have facilities [I could use]. It was hard to do it all by myself.”
The “by myself” feels far away: She gets support from NC State fans wherever she goes, especially in this part of the world.
“I see a lot of people with NC State [apparel] who are cheering for me,” she said. “They give me this power; this energy.”
Don’t sleep on Shnaider 💤🙅♀️
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 18, 2023