Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Schnack on Slams, hellish tourney, 'stinky feet'

About two months after playing mixed doubles together in
the U.S. Open, Eric Roberson and Yasmin Schnack won the
mixed title in the Sacramento Clay Court League.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   Playing in front of family and friends at the U.S. Open.
   Competing at Wimbledon with her best friend.
   A tournament that should have been heavenly but instead was hellish.
   And, of course, the "stinky feet" episode.
   Those were some of the highs and lows of Yasmin Schnack's two-plus years as a professional tennis player.
   Burdened by loneliness, financial struggles and family issues, the Sacramento-area resident retired last year at 24. The 5-foot-10 (1.77-meter) Schnack considered a comeback after playing mixed doubles in the U.S. Open as a wild card last August but decided to start nursing school in Phoenix next month.
   "I got really hyped up after the U.S. Open and really inspired to play again," said Schnack, whose father is a retired family doctor. "But I didn't fare well in Redding (in September), and my ranking has dropped so much. I'm not afraid of working hard, but I knew it would take a year or two to get my ranking back up.
   "I applied to different schools and found I could get in and start really soon. I weighed the pros and cons, my family supported me, and I decided to go to nursing school. I'm happy with my decision. It's something I've thought about off and on since college.
   "I'm glad I'm taking the step. I delayed because I was afraid to lose tennis, which has been such a huge part of my life. Once I was able to get over that fear, I was able to let go. This is a really good decision. It's a new direction, a new path."
   Schnack played on UCLA's national championship team as a sophomore in 2008 and was named the Pacific-10 Conference Women's Player of the Year as a senior in 2010. As a pro, she won 11 doubles and two singles titles and reached career highs of No. 140 and No. 371, respectively.
   Schnack might be too nice for the cutthroat world of pro tennis. She recently reflected on her career, providing a behind-the-scenes look at life on the tour and a glimpse of her warm personality.
   Most memorable match -- "Playing Madison Brengle in my first World TeamTennis season (2011), for the Sacramento Capitals. One of the big reasons -- or only reason -- I was drafted was Vania King (Schnack's best friend and the 2009 WTT Female MVP for the Springfield Lasers before being traded to Sacramento) pushed for me to be on the team. She said, 'I won't play if my friend Yasmin doesn't.' I owe her a lot for being drafted that first year.
   "I played some of my best tennis that night (against Brengle) and beat her 5-0 in front of a really big crowd (in Kansas City), all basically rooting against me, but I had my supportive teammates there. It was a great victory for me. I was able to earn respect not only from my teammates and coach but everyone in World TeamTennis."
   Biggest thrill -- "Playing U.S. Open mixed doubles this past August with Eric Roberson (of Sacramento). We've played mixed doubles together for a long, long time. When we won the wild card into mixed (by emerging from a national playoff), we were so happy. We actually came pretty close [in a 6-4, 7-6 (3) loss to Slovakians Janette Husarova and Filip Polasek in the first round].
   "What was nice was our families and friends were there. To experience that with them was definitely my biggest thrill."
   Biggest disappointment -- "I played a $50,000 tournament in Carson, California, in 2011 with (Sacramento native and doubles specialist) Christina Fusano. We played a lot of matches together. We won some tough matches to get to the final, and we ended up losing 6-2, 6-3 (to Americans Alexandra Mueller and Asia Muhammad). Neither of us played that well.
   "After the match, she gave a speech, and her whole family was there. I didn't know it beforehand, but she said she was retiring. I came off so disappointed in how I performed. I wanted her career to end with a victory. I definitely could have done a lot more, tried harder, just done something different."
   Toughest singles opponent -- "I played Jarmila Gajdosova [a 5-foot-7 (1.71-meter) Slovakia-born Australian] my first year I turned pro (in 2010). I think it was my fourth tournament. I played a 100K in Taipei, and I went through the qualifying, played really well, and bam, I got the first seed in the first round of the main draw.
   "I was nervous and really excited to play someone in the top 30. I lost 6-2, 6-3. It was indoors, so she had an advantage with serves and the fast pace of the court. She overpowered me, and not many people can do that. I'm pretty strong. I can handle difficult, hard shots."
   Toughest doubles opponent -- "Asia Muhammad and I played (Modesto native) Maria Sanchez and Irina Falconi in a $75,000 tournament in Albuquerque (last year). We had just lost in the final of World TeamTennis in Charleston (S.C.).
   "It's tough (in Albuquerque) with the altitude. Sometimes you have no idea what shot is going to come off your strings, and we had this epic doubles match against them. They were ranked 130 spots ahead of us, and we won 12-10 in the (match) tiebreaker. We were really lucky to sneak away with the 'W.' "
   Favorite tournament -- "Playing Wimbledon (last year) with (2010 women's doubles champion) Vania King, my best friend. When she asked me to play, I was beyond happy. Wimbledon has a lot of history, and there's something about playing on the grass courts. That's where it all started."
   (King and Schnack lost to eighth-seeded Czechs Iveta Benesova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova 6-4, 6-1 in the first round.)
   Least favorite tournament -- "I played a 100K in the Bahamas (last year). I went there thinking, Oh, it's the Bahamas. There's (the) beach. It's going to be fun. Unfortunately, it ended up being really unorganized, and ... no one got paid."
  (Schnack lost in the second round of singles qualifying to eighth-seeded Valeria Solovyeva of Russia 6-1, 6-3 and in the first round of doubles with Sanchez to fourth-seeded Jill Craybas of Huntington Beach, Calif., and Anastasia Rodionova of Australia 3-6, 6-3, 10-8 match tiebreaker. Schnack would have earned $570.)
   Best friend -- "Vania. We've known each other since she was 11 and I was 12. We were on a USTA trip to Costa Rica and Panama for ITF tournaments. It was my first time playing international tournaments, and I was really excited.
   "We roomed together that first week, and we were instant friends. We get along really well. She's my pseudo-sister, and her family is my second family."
   Funniest moment -- "Elizabeth Lumpkin, a former UCLA teammate of mine, and I roomed together at a $50,000 tournament in Raleigh (N.C.). We get back from practice, and we're sitting on the bed trying to figure out who's going to take a shower first. So she takes off her shoes and socks and goes, 'Oh, man, my feet are really stinky.' I'm like, 'Well, I can't smell anything, so it's not that bad.' She proceeds to tell me, 'Oh, no, they smell like rotten eggs,' and Jason, her husband, says the same thing, like, 'Keep your shoes on or take them outside, because if they're in the house, the whole house will be really smelly.'
   "It was hilarious. She's telling me this and looking at me, seeing the look on my face, and we just burst out laughing."
   Best thing about being a pro tennis player -- "Traveling. Staying with really awesome housing parents, as we call them. I traveled mainly in the U.S., but every place I went to, there are really no negatives. There's always something cool to see about this city, and the tennis community is really close. Everyone was just wonderful."
   Favorite destination -- "My first tournament as a professional, I went to Mazatlan (Mexico). It was just a small $10,000 tournament. I traveled with Ivana King, Vania's sister. We're also really close. We won doubles, and I lost in the final of singles. It was a fun trip because we went parasailing, we went to the beach ... We were able to do all these really fun off-court things, shopping ... It was a fun tournament."
   Worst thing about being a pro tennis player -- "Traveling alone for weeks and months on end. That's really hard. Coming out of UCLA, I had all these girls, my teammates. We used each other for support, so it was a transition to go from a team environment to traveling alone. No coach, no family. You'd meet up with the girls (on the tour), but it's a competitive environment. They're not there to pat you on the back or feed you balls. That was really tough for me."

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