Schneider’s journey takes him from tennis prodigy to IU’s assistant coach

An 18-year-old Ronnie Schneider stood in the player’s locker room of Arthur Ashe Stadium, preparing to compete in one of the biggest tennis tournaments in the world. Just a few feet away stood the locker of Roger Federer, perhaps the greatest tennis player of all time.

Schneider himself was considered the cream of the crop in his age group, having earned a place in the main draw of the 2013 US Open before he had even played a college match.

Five years later, he’s back in his hometown of Bloomington, Ind., where he now spends his time as a volunteer assistant coach for the Indiana University men’s tennis team. The player’s locker room isn’t for him anymore, and the best athlete he regularly interacts with is struggling to crack the top 100 rankings of American collegiate tennis.

But this isn’t a fall-from-grace story. Not in the slightest.

Schneider didn’t leave professional tennis because he wasn’t good enough, and his career wasn’t derailed by injuries. When he made his decision this past winter, he realized that he had already gotten everything out of tennis that he had ever wanted.

“I never was in it for professional tennis. That was never a dream of mine,” Schneider said. “My whole dream and my whole culmination in my head was college tennis. That was it for me. I wanted to play for the team.”

Schneider’s emphasis on team tennis played a role in his decisions as early as high school. He declined the opportunity to enroll in tennis academies in Florida and California, instead winning three state singles titles with Bloomington High School South. As a blue-chip prospect and one of the best high schoolers in the nation, Schneider committed to the University of North Carolina, where he was immediately thrown into the top of the lineup.

“If you’re playing top two at a top school like that, you’re playing unbelievable guys every day,” Schneider said. “It was either sink or swim.”

Apparently, swimming came naturally to him. By the end of his first season, his 32 singles wins were a freshman program record.

Schneider would go on to build himself an unforgettable legacy as a Tar Heel. He was named to the first-team All-ACC in each of his four years, accruing 120 singles victories and 90 doubles wins in that span. During his junior season, he cracked the top 10 in the individual rankings. A year later, he was named 2017 Intercollegiate Tennis Association Senior Player of the Year.

“I didn’t care so much about myself,” Schneider said. “I wanted the joy of the team success.”

Luckily for him, the Tar Heels earned their share of it.

“The peak of my tennis was my junior year when we won the National Team Indoors and we were ranked No. 1 in the country,” Schneider said. “And my senior year, when we made the finals of the NCAA tournament. That was it for me.”

Following his graduation, Schneider was never able to recapture the thrill he got from team tennis. Even the idea of representing the United States as a team didn’t provide the same type of atmosphere he was looking for.

“You’re all there for your country and everything, but you’re not around them every day,” Schneider said. “When you’re a college team, you’re surrounded by these guys.”

Following a year-and-a-half stint competing around the world, Schneider moved back to Bloomington. He now splits his time volunteering for his hometown team, searching for finance jobs and putting in hours at Game World, a family-owned local video game store.

Schneider is still fully capable of competing at a high level. He won a singles and doubles title in Thailand as recently as August. Yet his heart has moved on to different things, and he is using his experience to teach.

“When he’s in there hitting in practices, we’re all watching because we know how good he is,” said IU sophomore tennis player Andrew Redding. “He can still go out there and beat any one of us.”

Schneider brings what he calls a ‘been there, done that’ approach to coaching. The team is well aware of his accomplishments, making what he says all the more impactful.

“When he gives advice, we really take every word, and we know it means something,” Redding said.

Since returning to college athletics, Schneider is also making an impact through his passion for his team, providing an overall boost of energy for IU.

“He’s a little different in his coaching style,” Redding said. “After every point he’s saying something to me, and he really makes sure that we’re engaged every minute of the time.”

Schneider has been one of the best through every stage in his career, even working his way to US Open wildcard as a teenager, but that was never what he cared about. He will always cherish those moments, but at age 24, he wants to start what he considers a normal and much more stable life.

“I knew I was getting these great experiences and seeing the world, and I will never ever, ever regret that,” Schneider said. “It’s just, I feel that I wanted to leave before I ever regretted playing.”

With a degree from one of the top business schools in the nation, Schneider envisions a future in finance, but he admits he’d have a hard time saying no to college coaching if the right situation came along.

When asked about a potential coaching career, he said that if the right situation came along, he would have a hard time saying no.

In the meantime, his heart is with IU. He has no regrets about his decision to leave professional tennis.

“There hasn’t been a moment where I’m, ‘Shoot, I really want to be back out there,’” Schneider said.