McDonald looking to build on career-best season
Coming off a career-best year that saw him climb to No. 76 in the world, Mackenzie McDonald has his sights set on another big rise up the rankings in 2019.
USTA.com spoke with the UCLA product about his goals for the new season, his new love for competing on grass, his motivation to succeed and much more.
USTA.com: How’s your offseason been?
Mackenzie McDonald: Offseason was good. I trained really hard. I was out at [the USTA National Campus in] Lake Nona for a couple weeks training with Mat Cloer and Brent Salazar for my strength and conditioning. Overall, we were just tweaking a couple things with the serve and a big emphasis on fitness. I definitely felt strong coming out of the offseason.
I’m enjoying living in Lake Nona, which is very new for me being from California, but I’m getting used to it. I actually got to do one week out in California, so it was nice to be back in LA. I got to stay near UCLA, so I was able to go out and have some fun dinners and see some of the guys I don’t get to see often.
USTA.com: What specifics are you working on with your serve?
Mackenzie McDonald: Working on a couple technical things, but basically trying to make those stats better. Obviously, I’m not the biggest guy, so just serving at the most efficient I can.
USTA.com: And the work you’re doing in the weight room, have you started to see those efforts paying off yet?
Mackenzie McDonald: For sure. I’ve noticed the difference since I started working with Brent. A lot of it is more weightlifting than I was used to before, but some of it is necessary for competing now in tennis. I’m definitely noticing the differences when I’m on court, late in matches. I’m just trusting my legs and that helps mentally, too.
USTA.com: Are you spending more time on the upper body or lower body in the weight room?
Mackenzie McDonald: Definitely lower body, a big emphasis there. There is some upper body but not much. The biggest part is the strength, the speed and the endurance of the lower body.
USTA.com: You had a couple nice wins in Auckland qualies and then the big first-round win over Andrey Rublev at the Australian Open. How would you evaluate the first month of the season?
Mackenzie McDonald: Pretty solid. Getting back into the groove of things, but I competed well. I was happy I got a couple wins that week before the Australian Open. Then I went to the Aussie with plenty of days to prepare before, and I thought I played two really good matches there. I’m happy with how I competed and played.
USTA.com: Now that you’ve had time to reflect on a career-best year last season, what would you put that success down to?
Mackenzie McDonald: Just hard work, in general. But also a team that I have trusted and worked really well with. Working toward one goal, that is one of the biggest things. Now I have smart scheduling, smart training, smart traveling, and my team has been a massive, massive part of my success.
USTA.com: And what is that one goal?
Mackenzie McDonald: Just to keep improving and to play the best tennis I can and see where that takes me.
USTA.com: This time last year you played an incredible five-set match against Grigor Dimitrov at the Australian Open. Does that still feel like yesterday, or does it feel so long ago since you’ve improved so much since then?
Mackenzie McDonald: Honestly, it feels like longer. I’ve noticed so many improvements since then and how I’ve built off that and used it as motivation to keep pushing and getting to the top.
USTA.com: Going from that tournament to your big run at Wimbledon, what do you remember most about that, and what were the biggest things you took from that success?
Mackenzie McDonald: Putting a couple matches back-to-back stood out to me. I was impressed with how I was able to do that. It was the most grass-court tennis I had ever played, so I’m learning how much I really like grass. I can see how that could be a good season for me and a good season to look forward to for years to come. I think I pushed a top guy like Milos [Raonic in the fourth round] in that match on grass, so for me, when I’m stepping out on the court with any of these guys, I think I can be pretty dangerous.
USTA.com: When you’re able to grind out those wins against Top-100 guys like Nicolas Jarry and Ricardas Berankis at the Grand Slam level, how much confidence does that give you?
Mackenzie McDonald: It’s massive. I think one thing I’m learning, too, is that I like the big stage, the big moments. I like showing myself in those big tournaments, which is a really good thing. I think that will help me keep pushing and going further because I free up in those moments.
USTA.com: Would you say that confidence carried over into the hard-court season, especially when you have wins like the one against Raonic in Shanghai?
Mackenzie McDonald: Yeah, the year just keeps going and going, and especially toward the end of the year, you just have to keep pushing. That was obviously my biggest win to date. I thought I played a clean match and served well and was playing aggressive. I’ve seen a correlation with how I’m playing in my best matches and being aggressive like I did there and at Wimbledon.
USTA.com: Looking back to when you first started playing when you were 3 or 4 years old, how would you best describe your tennis journey so far?
Mackenzie McDonald: I definitely wouldn’t say it’s been easy. I’ve put in a lot of hours, made a lot of sacrifices. Even in college, I thought I was doing all the right things to know I was going to go pro one day and really go after it once I did go pro. I feel like I’ve done everything I can to be the best I can at this moment.
USTA.com: There’s a pretty big spotlight on college tennis right now coming out of the Australian Open because of the success of another NCAA champion, Danielle Collins, making a run to the semifinals. Can you speak to how big college was for you in your development, both for your tennis and personally?
Mackenzie McDonald: For me, college tennis was extremely good. At the time when I was turning 18, I didn’t think I was ready to go pro right off the bat, even mentally, so I decided to go to college. UCLA gave me a lot of really good resources in becoming a pro. Living in LA, there are plenty of pros to hit with. Billy [Martin, UCLA's head coach] was very helpful getting me to play pro tournaments, starting in my sophomore year. And being at a top college like UCLA, the facilities and the athletic training room and everything we had access to was really important in my development.
USTA.com: What are your earliest tennis memories?
Mackenzie McDonald: Practicing with my first tennis coach, Rosie Bareis, at the Harbor Bay Club and hitting with my dad at the park courts. I’ve been playing tournaments since I was super young, too. I remember some of my first matches at SoCal playing boys’ 8s when I was 6.
USTA.com: What motivates you to succeed?
Mackenzie McDonald: I think for me, I’m super competitive. I love tennis, and it’s always been such a massive part of my life and everything I’ve worked for. For me, not to put everything I can into my tennis and get the most out of it, I don’t think I’d be doing my part.
I just want to keep getting better and improving and enjoying the journey. I would say my dad is really passionate—he has a lot of heart in what he does. He’s pushed me with my tennis and put a lot of effort into me, giving me a lot of opportunities. From my coach Rosie to everyone along my journey, I’ve been pretty lucky. She worked with me a lot until I was 11 or 12 and then a good amount from 14 to college. I talk to her almost every week still. She’s still a big part.
USTA.com: What do you need to do to take that step to take your game to the next level?
Mackenzie McDonald: I want to get stronger and keep pushing there. I’m going to keep working on my serve so I can hit my spots better and show better stats there. And a lot of it is mental—on the court, just knowing how I want to control the point, control the court.
USTA.com: How does your schedule look going forward the next few months?
Mackenzie McDonald: I’ve got the Challenger coming up in Dallas, then the New York Open, Delray, possibly Acapulco, Indian Wells, Miami and then the clay season.