McDonald’s journey from milk carton lessons to showdown with Nadal | TBEN | Tennis

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Three years ago, Mackenzie McDonald played Rafael Nadal for the first time. The Spaniard was relentless on the Roland Garros clay court, knocking out the American 6-1, 6-0, 6-3 in just one hour and 40 minutes.

“I lost that match. I said I wanted to play against him on hard court, so I think this is my chance to do that. It’s going to be fun,” said McDonald, who faced off against him in the second round of the Australian Open. Nadal will record “It’s going to be more fun than the French Open.”

McDonald’s journey to this moment began 24 years ago. At the age of three, his father, Michael, put ‘Mackie’ in lessons with legendary coach Rosie Bareis at the Harbor Bay Club in Northern California.

“I was super young, lots of hours. Those are some things people don’t really see or know about,” said McDonald, who was then so small that Bareis would have sat on a milk carton. “I was just swinging the racket and she was sitting there dropping balls.”

The American recalls the countless hours he spent in the club on Court 5 before moving to the Claremont Hotel with Bareis. From first grade, McDonald trained several mornings a week from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m

“My norm was the tennis court. My standard skipped [physical education] skip school and other classes to play tennis and take lessons. I was that tennis kid in school, so that’s your norm forever,” McDonald said. “Just glad I did well at tennis… My mom sent me this paper thingy [from when I was young] that said my hobbies and it literally said ‘I want to be a tennis pro’, all that other stuff. It’s just funny. That’s how I was raised and brought up.”

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Some juniors like to wake up early and practice a lot. McDonald was not that child.

“I would say I was pretty compelled to go. Tennis, when you’re that young, for a lot of the guys here, it picks you before you pick it. I had the skills, I had the talent and then you flourish in that, you get to work with it and you go through the whole process,” McDonald said. “I have certainly had my ins and outs with tennis, just like any other player. It’s a love-hate relationship, that’s kind of the game. You love it sometimes, you hate it sometimes, but in the end it gave me everything. All my relationships, my friends, the travelling. I will be forever grateful to the sport.”

Mackenzie McDonald in action during Monday’s four-hour battle against compatriot Brandon Nakashima.” />
McDonald in action during Monday’s four-hour battle against compatriot Nakashima. Credit: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

McDonald is also grateful to those who have helped him reach this point, from Bareis to Wayne Ferreira, who has cracked the top 10 in the world in singles and doubles. The South African, who now works with Frances Tiafoe, coached McDonald from ages 11-18 in California.

‘I love Wayne. I like to see him around. I love how well he does with Frances. I absolutely love Wayne. He’s like a different father to me,” McDonald said. “I started working with him when I was 11 and at that age you don’t even realize what’s going on. My dad had his whole master plan and he loves what I’m doing now, but I didn’t know it then and honestly a lot of things I learned from Wayne resonated so much more later on. But he has also been there every step of the way.

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One of the things Ferreira always talked about with McDonald was how mental tennis is. “It’s something you don’t realize, you have no idea when you’re a kid,” McDonald recalled. “He says it’s 80 percent mental. That is something that still resonates with me today.”

Ferreira, who called McDonald “a wonderful human being,” knew early on that the American was a clean ball striker with good attacking instincts. The former Top 10 star recalls the advice he often gave his former accuser.

“The one thing on the mental side that I tried to repeat as often as possible is that you can’t always be perfect every day and you’re going to have a lot of bad days. What makes a great tennis player is a tennis player who can win the matches on bad days,” said Ferreira. “Anyone can play well when things are going well, but when things aren’t going well, those are the days of course when you have to try to find your way or find the right way to win. We tried to spend a lot of time on him by playing hard to fight, never to give up, to hold on as long as possible and just to win on those days when he didn’t do so well.

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“He does that well. There are days when he struggles a bit with that, but I think overall Mackie is a good competitor. He fights really hard, he puts his head down a lot and even when things aren’t going well, he competes he’s exceptionally good and I like that about him.

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From Bareis to Ferreira, college tennis and much more, it was all part of Michael McDonald’s “master plan,” according to Mackie. The oral surgeon wanted his son to become a professional tennis player and his daughter to become an Olympic gymnast. Mackie’s sister, Dana, made the junior Olympic team and competed in gymnastics at UCLA. Mackie attended the same school and won NCAA singles and doubles titles during his career.

“These were things he couldn’t do and maybe his parents didn’t give him all the opportunities he could give us because he came out of nowhere and became a self-made oral surgeon because he’s a brainiac,” McDonald said. ‘He’s so smart. With that he made money and went from living in an apartment and having no money or resources, going to school on loans and everything to giving his son weekly tennis lessons and having Wayne Ferreira as a coach… The man sacrificed everything for his children. ”

That trip has positioned World No. 65 McDonald for an opportunity like the one he has in Melbourne on Wednesday. The 27-year-old needed five sets and more than four hours to beat compatriot and friend Brandon Nakashima on Monday. Now he gets his second shot at Nadal, this time away from the southpaw’s Paris domain.

“In the back of my mind I thought about it for a while against B-Nak: ‘If I beat this man, I could play Rafa.’ I saw the scores go up when he played Draper. Extra motivation,” said McDonald. “This is something I will remember. I’m going to make it unforgettable.”

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