WIMBLEDON – Mackie’s Magical Mystery Tour Rolls On

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Photby o DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

HEY, GET YOUR BIG MAC SHIRT – McDONALD’S ON FIRE: Californian Mackie McDonald comes from a big state. But he doesn’t have a big game. He’s fast, smart and and graceful, and it’s no shock that a lot of his matches are close and long. Today was different. He dismissed giant killer Guido Pella – who had shocked last year’s finalist, 6’6” Marin Cilic – in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 to continue the sweetest feel-good tennis  breakout run in recent memory by any American anywhere.

Whether he was moving Pella from side to side, hitting laser returns of serve, smart volleys, an occasional lob or a 122-mph ace, the Mackie machine was again in gear. Almost cruelly, the UCLA grad forced his foe to dash from corner to corner. “Left-right, left-right, left-right – volley winner,” joked a German writer. Let us be direct: This 23-year-old is a master at re-directing balls.

Yet this morning his coach from years back, the considerable former pro Wayne Ferreira, needed to redirect Mackie’s emotions a bit. The still-emerging kid was nervous. The tennis gods had smiled. Croatians mourned – mighty Marin Cilic had just fallen. The path to the second week of the most beloved tournament in the world was now not nearly as steep. In any case, Mackie chilled out – and then some.

Now he’s beaten two South Americans ­– Chilean Nicolas Jarry and Argentinian Pella – in three days and won three Wimbledon matches overall. The swift battler has a presence on court – he’s calm – one senses a quiet confidence. And he fights. He’s prevailed on scramble points, and hasn’t let big occasions scramble his brains. He put aside the fact that he was playing on the same glorious Court 18 where John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played their eleven-hour marathon. And never mind that there was all kinds of hoopla coming from nearby Henman Hill, or that a shameless Pella fan – obviously a bird fancier – was chanting “Pella-can! Pella-can!”

Mackie’s first wins here drew little fanfare. In contrast, if he had been at the US Open, drums would have been pounding and some savvy kid from the Bronx would be hawking “Big Mac” shirts on the boardwalk. But at Wimbledon things were low profile. The ‘tude was mellow: “Well done lad, that’s just fine.”

Now, at last, a few photographers were coming courtside to get pics of the man wearing Fila white, the fellow with the No. 103 ranking who is, with Serena, his practice partner John Isner, and Frances Tiafoe, the only American still in the singles draw. And dare we note Mackie finally had a press conference with other publications than ours? A cadre of fine American writers crowded into a small room to ask foundational questions. Where do you train? With the USTA at Lake Nona, Florida. What was it like to move from California to Florida? It was a sacrifice. What did you major in at UCLA? Political science. Do you have a girlfriend? Yes. Do you have any hobbies? No.

But what this kid does have is a deep well of calm, great wheels, lots of smarts, a good team and a ticket to the fourth round, where he’ll face either Milos Raonic or Dennis Novak. No wonder another Mac – “Johnnie Mac” McEnroe – came down from his broadcast perch after McDonald’s win to give his fellow Mac a hug. He whispered: Keep on going.

American fans hope so. And who knows? A clever English lad some day might hawk Big Mac shirts on Church Road en route to Wimbledon. Stranger things have happened.

VENUS FALLS: The late, great Bud Collins once gave the Dutch tennis legend Betty Stove the nickname “Big Bad Betty.” Stove didn’t like it. Today there was little not to like about the game of Big Bad Bertens, the six-foot Dutch player Kiki Bertens, who played great power ball against Venus Williams. Bertens won the first set 6-2, but Williams, who has come back to win from a set down ten times at Wimbledon, clawed her way back to even the match, one set all. But Bertens hung in there and forced overtime in the third set. Up 7-6, the Dutch woman gained two match points.

Williams was gallant. She fought back and scored a brave forehand volley winner. But on Bertens’ third match point Venus left a backhand short. Bertens left the court with a 6-2, 6-7, 8-6 triumph, while Venus’ fans were left with puzzling thoughts. Will Venus, the women’s game’s grand elder, again return to Wimbledon’s fine lawns, where she once leaped with glee, where she poignantly comforted her stricken sister, leaped high in triumph and ultimately prevailed five times? As she strode 25 steps to leave Court 1, the great lady, as usual, was impassive. There were no waves to the crowd, no expressions of emotion, nothing. She told the media, “Yeah,” she will come back – she didn’t seemed convinced. But she loves this game and seems eternal, no matter what clocks and calendars indicate.

LITTLE LOW COUNTRIES ON A BIG HIGH: Within 24 hours Belgian Alison van Uytvanck beat defending champion Garbine Muguruza, while Kiki Bertens from the neighboring Netherlands beat five-time Wimbledon champ Venus Williams.

THE BRAVE CONFESSIONS OF MADISON KEYS: The hard-hitting, grass-friendly Madison Keys was considered a serious Wimbledon challenger. But today she fell in three curious, up-and-down sets to Evgeniya Rodina 7-5, 5-7, 6-4. The loss was a surprise. Rodina is ranked No. 120. An even bigger surprise was how candid Keys was in her press conference. Players are reluctant to confide their shortcomings, let alone admit they were committing the very human lapses of both feeling nerves and getting ahead of their skis.

“Today,’ Madison admitted, “was a massive mishandle of nerves. I felt good, when I was up 5-2 [in the first set], and then…felt my mind go away. I played a couple of sloppy games…That’s when nerves hit me. Then it was just dealing with that…When you’re down a set and 4-0, it’s a lot easier to play better…Then in the third set when I was down I would bring my level up and then go up to serve and would get nervous – and just didn’t play well enough when it mattered.”

Keys was then asked why her nerves were bad today. “Honestly, for the first time in a long time it was [the draw].” She explained that a reporter revealed what her draw would be. She was to play Serena in the next round. Then Madison confided, “that kept being in the back of my mind. That’s something that with experience I have to be able to completely push aside…I don’t think I did a great job of that today…I felt my mind go. I don’t think I did a good job of keeping in the moment and playing the person who was in front of me…I started playing passive and not to lose……Right now it sucks. But the awareness is there, where maybe before, it wasn’t, which is good. But…it still sucks.”

FRITZ FALTERS: Thursday night the former world junior No. 1 Taylor Fritz, who is now No. 68, was on the brink of a huge upset over Alexander Zverev, the No. 3 seed. For 90 minutes in the long London dusk, the German claimed he couldn’t see the ball. But Zverev saw the ball just fine in Friday’s mid-day sun as he quickly disposed of Taylor.

THE TWO WORDS THAT BURGER KING, WENDY’S AND ARGENTINA’S GUIDO PELLA ALL HATE TO HEAR: Advantage McDonald.

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