Pro Interview: Catching Up with Mackenzie McDonald Heading into the US Open
Coming off a hamstring injury that kept him sidelined from competition for the second half of 2019, Northern California’s Mackie McDonald was healed and prepared to hit the ground running in 2020. He started the year returning to the tour ready to find a good rhythm and build back the momentum he had going pre-injury. Then came the global Coronavirus pandemic putting a pause on everything.
But after months with no sports, tennis is back! However, we are looking at tackling a new world of revised schedules, controlled environments, and strict guidelines to ensure the health and safety for all involved.
As we head into the first major since the pandemic, USTA NorCal recently sat down with Mackie before he headed to New York for the 2020 Western & Southern Open (Cincinnati Open) and the US Open to discuss how he is preparing his game in these crazy times and what he is looking forward to most for getting back on the court.
Q: The US Open Series has been trimmed down to one tournament (the Cincinnati Open) before the US Open. Did that change the way you prepared for the Open? And how are you feeling about the Cincinnati Open?
A: It’s definitely a different preparation. I’m trying my best to make it as realistic as possible, but you can’t really compare to the actual experience you get in competitive matches. However, I am still going to Cincinnati and playing in the qualifiers there on a wild card. Then I will stay in New York and play the US Open. The pandemic has obviously made things unique, so training has been a little more difficult and making sure we are following all of the guidelines. But, I have been playing a lot of practice matches at home to prepare for the tournaments and I am just going to do the best that I can.
Q: What are you most looking forward to in competing in the US Open and getting back to playing?
A: For me I am a big competitor. I have always loved competing, playing matches, and playing for ranking points, money, or titles. I love it all, so I am honestly just looking forward to getting out there. Ultimately, I am just ready to compete against another player. And of course, I am also looking forward to seeing some of my friends on the circuit that I haven’t been able to see lately due to COVID-19.
Q: Have you taken any new steps or approaches to prepare for the US Open given all of the new playing circumstances with COVID-19?
A: Honestly, nothing too crazy. I’ve been in Orlando and it’s really hot here, so for me it’s just been a lot of training in the toughest conditions so I can be ready for those intense, three-to-five set matches. As a player, it’s hard because so many things are still up in the air, and I don't know if we will have ball kids, towels, or those types of things. Even though I don’t train with any of that in practice, it’s still weird going into a major with so much uncertainty with the tournament.
Q: What do you think will be the biggest difference for you between this upcoming US Open and past events? How do you think it will impact your game?
A: I actually haven't thought too much about it, but I do think the whole experience in general is just going to be a little bit different. As a player, you always visualize yourself playing in these big tournaments from the last time you played there, whether it’s the good or bad memories. So for me, it’s hard to imagine the Open this year. The hotel is different. We are all going to be in a bubble. I feel like I will need to be prepared for whatever is going to happen and be adaptable. I have put in a lot of hard work over the last 5-6 months and I have to trust that. So, that is what I am banking off of. But in terms of the actual playing, it’s hard to know what will happen, so I am just prepared for whatever.
Q: Given there are restrictions on how many people from your team can come with you to the US Open, do you have a plan in place on how to stay in touch with them throughout the tournament from afar?
A: This year I am bringing one coach and my physio, but I will not have any guests or family come along. There are strict rules, such as if someone is staying in your room and that person tests positive, even if you don’t test positive, you're automatically pulled out. So, I think due to the circumstances, most players will be by themselves and won’t have guests or family members with them. Since my coach and physio will both be there, I feel as prepared as I normally would be for a tournament. It’s all new, so we will see how it goes.
Q: COVID-19 put a pause on tennis right as you were getting back into the swing of things and recovering from an injury. Can you talk a little about your recovery and how you are feeling today?
A: As far as my injuries, I feel like that is really behind me now. I’ve always been pretty healthy, so that was the longest I hope I will ever be out of the sport. I put a lot of hard work into recovery. It was a pretty bad injury and my team and I did a good job to come back from it, so that isn’t a concern. As far as tennis goes, I will be more focused on managing my play. I am ready to go. It was tough being out for so long, so I am ready to compete and work on my ranking.
Q: How have you stayed focused on both your physical and mental game during the quarantine?
A: I stayed in Florida for the most part, even though I really wanted to go back to NorCal for a visit once a lot of the tournaments were canceled. It would have been great, but my team and I decided that it wasn't smart just in case something happened. This gave me the time to put in a lot of work physically to stay fit and stay strong. I’ve also been working with a psychologist to do the best I can, stay focused, set goals for myself, and work toward accomplishing those goals. So far, it seems to be going well.
Q: Have you had time to do anything fun in terms of tennis. Have you used the quarantine to work on trick shots?
A: No, I haven’t really done anything with trick shots. I have mostly been serious about training, staying dialed in, and focusing on the things I need to do for my game to compete well and make things as simple as possible going into the US Open. With all of the uncertainty around the Coronavirus, the more simple we can make everything, the better.
Q: Given the pandemic do you feel any added pressure or stress going into this major?
A: I don't feel added pressure, but I would say there is extra stress with the traveling and the little things we didn’t have to think about before. We just have to be more aware, so that does add a little more stress. Pressure-wise, it is hard to know since I haven't played for a bit. But for me, I want to hopefully steal some wins since a lot of the top guys aren’t playing, and have a good tournament and get far. Really, I’m just ready to get out there and compete. I am just trying to put less pressure on myself and enjoy it all since it will be a treat to play some tennis finally.
Q: Do you have any personal goals you want to work toward at the US Open?
A: For the Open, I just want to compete, play good matches, and show that I have been putting in a lot of effort and that's going to pay off. I want to win some rounds and get as far as I can. Obviously, staying healthy is a top priority - both in terms of sickness and physical tennis. That’s all I can ask for.
Q: Are there any particular players you are looking forward to playing or seeing at the US Open?
A: I am looking forward to seeing a lot of my friends like Riley, Taylor, Tommy, and Francis. Most of the American guys. Hopefully, we will make it fun staying in the same bubble and hotel. We won't be going out to dinner, but we will all be hanging out together and that will be refreshing. Playing-wise, I am hoping for a good draw where I can get some good wins against whoever I end up playing.
Q: Do you have a favorite memory from playing at past US Opens?
A: I have had some tough US Opens and my record has not been the best. But, I always love going to the US Open. I still remember the first time I played. I was 14 or 15 and the youngest person to compete in the juniors and qualified that year. I have been going back almost every year since then, so it’s always fun playing the home slam. Even when I was hurt last year, I went to do some media and stay involved. It’s a great tournament, and I am really grateful we have a home slam. I am just really happy they are putting it on and involving Cincinnati with it, so hopefully everything goes smoothly.
Q: Apart from training, how have you been keeping busy during the quarantine?
A: I have been living in Orlando for a while, but I recently moved to a different place in the city, and making my house a home was the first part of quarantine for me. Besides that, my girlfriend has been here with me and we have been able to spend a lot of time together, which is really nice since we don’t always get that since I turned pro and she plays too. We have taken a couple of trips within Florida. We went to Miami, where my girlfriend is from. We were being safe there but still able to have a good time. Other than that, I have mainly been playing tennis. There have been some boring days, especially this last month that feels like it has been dragging on, but there is light at the end of the tunnel here with tennis coming up.
Q: And finally, if you could sum up 2020 so far in one sentence or phrase, what would it be?
A: 2020 - It has been a rough start, and I almost want to forget about it in a way. In one sense it has been tough to just stay positive, but we will get through it. Hopefully things will turn around.
Tennis Update: After our interview with Mackie, he competed in the 2020 Western & Southern Open (Cincinnati Open). Ready to put all of his hard work to practice, Mackie had a great start to his return winning his qualifying rounds and making it to the first round of the main draw, facing his former UCLA teammate and doubles partner Marcus Giron. Mackie then went on to play in the US Open, but utlimately lost a competitive five-set match against Casper Rudd in the first round. He is also competing in the men's doubles. He and his partner Christopher Eubanks won in the second round on Wednesday, September 2 and are advancing to the round of 16 on Friday, September 4. Let's go Mackie and Christopher!