MACKENZIE MACDONALD – THE HAPPY HIGHLANDER WHO LOST A TENNIS MATCH
Guess what? British tennis and Northern California tennis have something in common. The best men’s players ever from Britain and Northern California have Scottish connections. Andy Murray, who has won three Slams, is from the Scottish village of Dunblane. And the parents of Northern California’s best player ever, Don Budge – the first player to win the Grand Slam, when he won all four majors in 1937 – came to America from Scotland for health reasons.
Now California’s most exciting male pro of this century has a Scottish connection. Yes, part of his heritage is Chinese and English. But you can’t have a more Scottish name than Mackenzie McDonald, unless you’re called Scotty Kilt.
Plus, Scottish historians inform you that those gritty MacDonalds were the scourge of the Highlands. (And yes, the nickname of the Piedmont High School team Mackie played on was the Highlanders). For four ancient centuries, the MacDonald clan was dominated by hefty Viking invaders from Scandinavia. Now, go figure, Mackie is trained by a no-nonsense hunk who recently trained the NFL’s Vikings.
In World War 1, the Highlander regiments fought in kilts. Today, Mackie wore Fila shorts. The MacDonald clan were known for their on-target stalking ability, which brought down deer in Scottish hills and German generals in World War II. Despite his modest 5’10” build, Mackie was a considerable first-week stalker at Wimbledon, as he swept to the fourth round. McDonald’s ancestors used swift boats to rule their less speedy foes. Mackie’s speed is his greatest weapon. After they beat back the Vikings, the Macdonald clan was long in control of the Western highlands. But to the east were the mighty Kings of Scotland. As for Mackie McDonald, the average ranking of his first three foes was just 81. The Californian hadn’t beaten a seeded player or ever beaten anyone in the top 40.
Yet considerable foes still lurked in the draw. No, Mackie didn’t face the tennis king of Scotland – it seems like a century ago that Andy Murray withdrew due to his hip injury. Instead, NorCal’s McDonald faced the “Toronto Tower” – 6’5” Milos Raonic.
It’s said that the MacDonalds were so fierce that, until recently, they wouldn’t serve customers from rival clans in shops. And speaking of serving, today Mackie faced one of the most booming serves in the game. The 23-year-old lost the first eight points of the match. He was aced 37 times. Raonic blasted a 143 mph. first serve and a 141 mph second serve – can you believe? When one 137-mph blast from the Canadian came his way, Mackie simply whiffed. To make matters worse, the ball careened off the courtside scoreboard and made a terrible racket. Mackie winced. He looked to the sky. The Californian seemed to be wondering, “What the heck can I do?”
Later, Mackie confided, “Honestly, I have never faced a server like that before. I’ve played Ivo [Karlovic] and Sam Groth. I feel like I’m a really good returner, but I’ve never felt so uncomfortable out there returning…I swear I have never played a match where I’ve never had a break point.”
At one point, in frustration, Mackie blasted a ball so far out of Court 12 that it almost descended on Somerset Road. Brits gasped, but it had to feel fine. Other times Mackie awkwardly protected himself from Raonic’s brutal body serves or stood hapless as the giant hit delicate drop shots (that trick should be illegal).
Mackie was broken at the outset, and he dropped the first set in twenty minutes. In the second set, he again dropped his serve early and lost. But he remained calm, fought hard and, to his great credit, started to hit brilliant groundies to win the third set in a tiebreak. It was an important marker.
Still, as loud as the McDonald clan yelled – from the Bay, Lake Nona, Westwood or Tacoma – their shouts were futile. Centuries ago, the MacDonalds couldn’t fend off the far mightier Scottish kings to the east. Today, Mackie had no answers to blunt the Canadian from the north, who once was No. 3, who just two years ago had reached the Wimbledon final, and who was playing in his 100th Grand Slam match. Raonic’s 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (5) 6-2 win propelled him to a quarterfinal “Battle of the Boomers” against 6’10″ John Isner, on Wednesday.
Milos generously said Mackie moved well, is strong mentally and his serve “will continue to improve…He can definitely climb into the top 50 in the next few months.” In a similar vein, McDonald’s former coach, Wayne Ferreira, told IT, “It’s the best time of [Mackie’s] career. It will only help him get better. He’ll get stronger and he’ll believe he can play with the best in the world. Confidence-wise, this is fantastic. Milos just served too well, his firepower was too good. That’s something Mackie’s not used to. He’s never played someone like this. This is a learning experience.”
In an upbeat post-match press conference, there was no mention of that nifty $100,000 grant Mackie got from the Oracle Corporation after he came out of UCLA. Instead, McDonald, who first played when he was three, recalled his early days in tennis.
“I used to practice really early at 6:30 in the morning, three times a week. I remember in first grade doing it with Rosie [Bareis, who has long been at Berkeley’s Claremont Resort]. It was a lot of hours. I remember just sitting on a milk carton and she would drop balls and I’d hit them. Then we’d do all these running drills and jump rope. I remember learning how to keep score in her office.”
As for his Wimbledon results, Mackie was modest. It was a “really good run,” he said. “I’m just excited…I’m just honored that I could do this well here. It’s really a dream come true. I hope it’s just a start.”
Yes, Andy Murray remains – today and just maybe forever – the King of Scottish Tennis. Still, around this world, members of the clans MacDonald and MacKenzie – some friendly, others still fierce – are lifting a pint in praise of the wee lad from Piedmont, California, who today is one happy Highlander.
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE: There were plenty of explanations. Simona Halep said she was tired, Madison Keys confided she was looking ahead in the draw. But in any case, amazingly, none of the top 10 women’s seeds reached the quarterfinals. No. 7 Karolina Pliskova lost today to the surging Dutch woman Kiki Bertens. The foe with the highest seeding Serena would have to beat to win the title is No. 13 German Julia Goerges.
BATTLE OF THE MOMMIES: There’s always a twist. Saturday we reported that the Karen Khachanov vs. Frances Tiafoe match featured two players with first names that are generally associated with women. Today two mothers were facing each other – Serena and Evgeniya Rodina. “These women,” said Martina Navratilova, “are just ready to go, just to be out on the court, and not having to deal with those kids.” Today Mama Williams prevailed, and will next face Camila Giorgi in the quarterfinals. Another parent on court today was Ernests Gulbis, who recently became a father.
On Radio Wimbledon today there was a debate on the impact of parenting on tennis players. Some said that having a child leads to a lot more hassles on a whole new front in life. Some even panic. But more often the wonder of childbirth leads to calm, gravitas and a sense of responsibility. The youngest parent on the tour is the twenty-year-old American, Taylor Fritz, No. 68, who reached the second round of the singles and doubles at Wimbledon.
BRYANS UPDATE: Due to the hip injury his brother Bob is struggling with, Mike Bryan played with Sam Querrey in Paris and is playing Wimbledon with Jack Sock. Mike was amazed by Sock’s shot-making and the duo are through to the quarterfinals. Bob is trying to use stem cell therapies to avoid surgery. But if they don’t work, surgery might be the only alternative – in which case it might be the end of the Bryans’ truly glorious, inspiring run.
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