Things That Make You Go Mackie!

Mackenzie McDonald has reached the Round of 16 on this first Wimbledon. From the pro debut at 18 to UCLA to the Top 100

Things That Make You Go Mackie!
Mackenzie McDonald - Wimbledon 2018 (foto via Twitter, @Wimbledon)

Some of the most dedicated tennis fans may remember him from a few years ago: Mackenzie McDonald, the American player who has reached the Round of 16 at Wimbledon on his first attempt, had already made himself known in the tennis world in 2013, when as an 18-year-old fresh out of high school he got through qualifying at the Cincinnati Masters 1000 defeating two top-100 like Nicolas Mahut and Steve Johnson. A few weeks earlier he had lost in the Round of 16 at the USTA Under 18 National Championships in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the main appointment for all young American tennis hopefuls, an the then-USTA Men’s Player Development Director Jay Berger awarded him a wild card to the qualifying draw at the Masters 1000 in Ohio. “I had considered whether to go play a college tournament in Indiana instead, but eventually I decided to play in Cinicinnati”. The lack of pressure and expectations freed his arm and made him play above his actual level leading to the surprising victories against Johnson and Mahut, before being brought down to earth in the first round of the main draw losing 6-1 6-1 to future top-10 David Goffin.

Despite that smashing debut on the pro circuit, Mackie (this is his nickname in the locker room) decided to forfeit the prize money and to take a scholarship at UCLA, the prestigious state university in Los Angeles, California, were it’s safe to assume that his win against former NCAA champion Steve Johnson from UCLA’s archrival University of South California scored him some brownie points with his future teammates. In 2013 his tennis was showing a lot of potential, but his serve and his physical strengths were nowhere near pro-ready: he himself was estimating his weight back then to 142 pounds “on a good day”.

During his college years, Mackie worked very hard with his coach Billy Martin, confining his pro activity (looking for points but not money, as the NCAA rules impose) to the off-term season, but he never approached the levels he showed on his debut tournament. After spending two years at UCLA playing and studying political sciences, and after achieving the prestigious “daily double” in 2016 (winning the NCAA title both in singles and in doubles on the same day), he turned pro and started hitting the ATP Pro Tour full-time.

He started obtaining some good results in the fall of 2017, when he reached the semifinals in the Tiburon Challenger (where he lost to Tennys Sandgren) and, two weeks later, he won his first Challenger title in Fairfield, California. This success projected him into the top 200 of the ATP ranking for the first time and allowed him to end the year at n.178. “That week in Fairfield was very special for me as a California boy. There were a lot of fires in that area and we had to suspend play several times during the week because of smoke and ash; furthermore, I had no coach with me that week, but luckily I wasn’t too far from home so there were quite a few people to support me anyway”.

In 2018 he stepped into the spotlight playing an excellent Australian Open, where he got through qualifying, won his first round match with Elias Ymer and played an epic match with Grigor Dimitrov, losing only 8-6 in the fifth during a marquee night match on the Rod Laver Arena. “It was a tough loss to take – said Mackenzie – but for me it was the first match on a big stage, and it was a great experience anyway”. That result pushed him into the Top 150 of the ATP ranking and gave him enough confidence to reach the final of the Dallas Challenger two weeks later, where he lost to Kei Nishikori.

The 23-year-old Piedmont, California native now reportedly weighs 160 pounds, that is 18 pounds more than he was weighing five years ago on his pro debut. Like most of US top prospects, he works with a coach assigned to him by the USTA whose name is Mat Cloer: “Mat is a great coach, he is not afraid to change my shots if he believes it is necessary. We worked on my serve and we changed that, but above all we worked on my fitness to increase my resistance and my muscle mass”.

Here at Wimbledon he took advantage of the void left in the draw by the elimination of n.3 seed Marin Cilic and reached the Round of 16 in the most prestigious Grand Slam tournament on his first attempt.I can’t believe it – he declared after defeating Guido Pella in his third-round match – if anyone at the beginning of the tournament had told me that I would get to the fourth round I would have never believed it”.
McDonald, who is now certain to take home at least 163,000 British Pounds (roughly 216,000 dollars, almost half of his entire career prize money) earned his spot in the last 16 with a 3-set victory on Pella bus also with an epic 11-9 in the fifth win over Nicolas Jarry in his second round. During these Championships he can also count on the advice of the coach who looked after him from the age of 11 until he went to college: Wayne Ferreira, former ATP n.6 and twice semi-finalist at the Australian Open. The South African ex-player is at Wimbledon as a TV commentator and helped his former pupil to remain calm before his match with Pella.

After turning pro, McDonald left his native California and moved to the USTA Campus in Orlando, Florida.It was a tough choice, it’s all very different from California. But the facilities are excellent, I can train with a lot of great players there, it’s one of the things that needs to be done”.

With the points he is going to obtain at Wimbledon, McDonald will break into the Top 100 for the first time in his career, securing direct acceptance into all Grand Slam draws and climbing approximately to n.80.

Like the majority of players in his generation, his favorite tennis players are Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.But it would be stupid to model my game on theirs – he points out – I rather have to learn from players that are more similar to me, such as Goffin or Nishikori or, as John [McEnroe] told me, I should try to study David Ferrer’s game”.

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