Few would have predicted that at the end of the Australian Open’s first day, Mackenzie McDonald would be standing strong while the likes of Jack Sock and John Isner packed their bags. But after a stellar college career, the 22-year-old from Piedmont, California is on the rise. Inside Tennis caught up with him after his impressive four-set victory over Sweden’s Elias Ymer. The discussion includes his NorCal roots, his collegiate stint, and a certain famous hitting partner.
INSIDE TENNIS: How would it feel if someone came up to you and said, ‘You’re gonna last longer than John Isner, Jack Sock, Venus, Coco and Sloane?
MACKENZIE MCDONALD: [It’s a] pretty crazy feeling. Just happy to be in the second round now. A tough day for American tennis.
IT: Who are you working with now?
MM: Mat Cloer. He’s a USTA coach. He’s been working with me for about six months now and he’s doing a really good job. Brenton Salazar is my fitness coach.
IT: How does Mat add to your day?
MM: He’s been awesome. I really like his support, I really like his demeanor. He’s put in a lot of hard work. He’s got a good eye for the game, and we work well together. So I can see the improvements, and we’re just going to keep going.
IT: Talk about what it means to you to get through the qualies and to win a main draw match.
MM: This kind of shows me I can qualify for Grand Slams. Winning my first match, it’s just kind of getting some things out the way, some milestones for me, just cause everything’s pretty brand new to me. I haven’t spent as much time out here playing as some of these other guys, but now I feel like I’m getting more experience in moments like this and getting more opportunities and taking them – like today – so I can keep growing as a tennis player.
IT: Double back to your UCLA years. Were there ever times you doubted and said maybe i should be out there, or were you all-in at the time?
MM: During my junior year, I was winning a lot, not losing much at all, so there were times in that season where it was tough. But at the same time I knew once I turned pro it would be a full commitment, and I kind of wanted to enjoy my time at UCLA. It doesn’t last forever. College really is some of the best years of your life. There are parts of it I miss, and some parts I don’t, but I think everything happened appropriately in the right way so im happy with it.
IT: You won the Fairfield Challenger last fall. What were some of your good wins up there, and what did that mean to you?
MM: I beat [Stefan] Kozlov, Darian King, Tennys Sandgren, Christopher O’Connell and Bradley Klahn. For me that was my first time beating Tennys Sandgren – I’d lost to him a bunch of times, so that was another milestone for me, because Tennys really does own me. Darian was a big one too – I beat him the week before, but he got me good the year before in Tiburon. Kozlov’s always a tough opponent, and then Klahn in the final was someone I’ve always looked up to. I remember warming him up after he won his first round in the main draw at the US Open in 2012, so playing him and beating him was pretty cool for me.
IT: You got a $100,000 grant from Oracle. Did you put the money to good use?
MM: Oracle’s been so generous and so kind to me. I’m really fortunate i got that. Coming out i didn’t have support, and getting that from them has taken a lot of pressure off and, helped me just play tennis and [focus on] tennis. It’s helped me get here, so I’m really thankful for Oracle.
IT: Have they been in touch with you since Indian Wells?
MM: Not much, my agents talked to them a little bit, and i know they want the best for me and are supporting me. My agent is Alex Sohaili from Octagon [Sports].
IT: You have a contract with Fila. What’s it like to be with such a storied company, going all the way back to Borg?
MM: They’re pretty awesome. Marty Mulligan’s the guy there and I love Fila – they’re such a classic brand. I feel like the clothes are pretty sick, the outfit [hey have for me] out here’s my favourite one.
IT: Brad [Gilbert] tweeted about you the other day. Have you had much contact with your fellow Piedmont native?
MM: A little bit. Whenever I see the guy we will chat for a bit, We actually grew up on the same street, King Avenue in Piedmont.
IT: When and where did you first pick up a racket?
MM: With Rosie Bareis at the Harbor Bay Club [in Alameda, California].
IT: Let me throw out a few coaching names and tell me what they’ve given to you. What did Rosie do for your game?
MM: She introduced me to tennis, and started me. She’s pretty much built my foundation and developed me from there. I’ve been working with her forever and she’s been really supportive and wanting the best for me. I couldn’t have asked for a better first coach, and she’s helped me throughout my career.
IT: Did she first take you to the US Open when you were a kid?
MM: She took me to Indian Wells. That was a big one for us when I was nine years old. She bought tickets and I got to hang out with Mike and Bob Bryan, and Wayne Bryan. She was good friends with Wayne too.
IT: Did he encourage you?
MM: Yeah. I’ve talked to Wayne a lot throughout my career too. He sends me emails and he’s congratulated me after some of my big victories.
IT: How about the other Wayne, Wayne Ferreira?
MM: i worked with him throughout my junior career. He was a big part of everything too, and he’s been so supportive. He was out there today.
IT: He has such great technique – is that what has he worked with you on?
MM: The guy’s an animal. He really introduced me a little bit to fitness, and developed my technique along with Rosie, together. That’s who i worked with in NorCal, and they helped me get to where i am.
IT: Billy Martin’s one of the great college coaches in history, talk about what he did for your game over the years at UCLA?
MM: Billy’s been awesome too. He’s always been supportive, throughout my whole career. Whatever i needed, he was always there for me , he helped me a lot.
IT: You’ve talked about tennis as such a challenging game. We saw all these Americans go out on day one, and you lost [in the] first round last tournament. Now that you’ve turned professional, what’s it like to be a young pro – the game, the profession?
MM: I’m glad I’m young and just startin, because i could get used to hanging out here and doing this stuff for many years. That’s pretty cool. I dont know as far as [what happened with] the other Americans. I’ve been pretty focused on my own business this week. Now that my match is over and i can look at all the scores and everything that went down. It was a really bad day for Americans.
IT: In your mind, in the quiet of the night when you go to sleep, what do you want to do in tennis?
MM: I want to go deep in Slams, maybe win one, hopefully win one.
IT: If you can choose one, Wimbledon, US Open?
MM: I’ll take either, I’ll take anything.
IT: Do you have a player now that you look up to or appreciate?
IT: For his professionalism or his grace? What aspect of his game?
MM: I’ve spent a little bit of time with Roger. i did a couple of hits with him for a couple of weeks, so I’ve been spending time with him, getting to know him. That’s pretty cool – just learning that he’s such a nice person, and that goes in front of the tennis. Obviously he’s the best tennis player ever, but he’s just a great human being and it’s nice to know that [about] the best player in our sport.
IT: Talk about his forehand – what’s it like to be on the receiving end of it?
MM: [Sarcasm] It’s not that big – I’m just kidding
IT: Dimitrov is up next for you. Thats a big ask, obviously.
MM: It’ll be fun. I’m looking forward to a big stage.