Mackenzie McDonald Making His Mark
When Mackenzie McDonald was 12 years old, he competed in Delray Beach at a junior clay-court tournament. Little did he know that just more than a decade later, he’d be playing on Stadium Court in the Delray Beach Open.
“I didn’t know about the pro tournament at the time, but I definitely had pro aspirations when I was super young,” McDonald. “I’m living out my dream now, so it’s pretty cool.”
Much of the attention on the young Americans has gone to three 21-year-olds: defending champion Frances Tiafoe, 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals qualifier Taylor Fritz and last week’s New York Open titlist Reilly Opelka. McDonald followed a different path than his compatriots, attending UCLA for three years and winning the 2016 NCAA Singles Tournament before turning professional. On Tuesday afternoon, McDonald defeated Fritz, his good friend, to reach the second round in Florida.
“They’re ranked higher than me and they’ve had some great results. I’ve had my fair share, too. But Taylor’s played this tournament four times. This is my first time, so I have some catching up to do,” McDonald said. “I’ll make my mark. I still consider myself pretty young. I know I’m not the youngest, but wins like that help prove that I’m at their level, maybe better and I just have to keep doing my job.”
McDonald first broke out on the international scene at last year’s Australian Open. After qualifying in Melbourne and beating Swede Elias Ymer in the first round of the main draw, McDonald pushed 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov to the limit. The American extended Dimitrov to a fifth set, with the Bulgarian ultimately winning 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 0-6, 8-6.
“I was happy I got a couple matches before playing on that big stage in my first Grand Slam draw off of qualifying, not a wild card,” McDonald said. “That match was massive for me, showed me what I could do, showed me my top level in a way.”
The California native maintained his momentum, reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon. Later in the season, he qualified for the Rolex Shanghai Masters, an ATP Masters 1000 event, and beat former World No. 3 Milos Raonic. McDonald may not be as young as some of his fellow Americans, but he’s improving his level just the same.
“It’s really only his third year on the ATP Tour after winning NCAAs. He started off playing the Futures circuit and had the success there and went to Challengers, had success there and really broke through last year at Wimbledon, and that’s when people really started talking about him,” said one of McDonald’s coaches, Michael Russell. “He’s had some great wins and he’s a player to contend with and we’ve been working really hard to make him believe that and [give him] the mindset that he could be a Top 50 player.
“That’s a lot of it with most of these players. All of these guys are so talented and such great athletes, but it’s having that belief and the confidence when you go out there that you are the best player on the court. Having the player buy into that and really believing that is super important.”
McDonald brings an interesting game to the court. While he stands just 5’10”, McDonald is plenty aggressive.
“I play flat and fast. I like to come in and volley, I have good returns and I’m really quick,” McDonald said. “I think some of those long points [I play] are fun to watch.”
“He’s a great ball-striker, an excellent returner, very quick and he uses his speed to take time away from his opponents,” Russell said. “He continues to look for opportunities to come to net and force the issue.”
McDonald has shown his potential, but he has only advanced to one ATP Tour quarter-final, in ‘s-Hertogenbosch last June. The World No. 84 is determined to keep working hard daily to improve his game, and with it, his results.
“Tennis is such a weird sport. You’ve just got to keep fighting every day. That’s the thing. When I first started, it was really tough at first but I was not going to give up, I just kept fighting and trying to find a way, because that’s all I could do,” McDonald said. “I really want to be good at this sport… when you keep working hard, good things happen.
“Now I’m in the Top 100, so it’s just chasing those little goals and gains and trying to make the most out of it.”