By Erwin Ong
CINCINNATI – American Junior tennis player Mackenzie McDonald earned a spot into the main draw of the 2013 Western & Southern Open today after beating compatriot Steve Johnson 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.
McDonald, 18, entered the qualifying tournament after receiving a last-minute wildcard while in Kalamazoo, Mich. McDonald had just a tough 3-setter against future Bruin teammate Gage Brymer at the USTA Boys’ National Tennis Championships and planned to follow up by playing a college tournament in Indiana. McDonald was not aware that the Western & Southern Open qualifying event would be happening concurrently. He was offered the wildcard on the spot and accepted.
And now McDonald, in disbelief, is in the main draw of an ATP Masters 1000-level event after his wins over Frenchman Nicolas Mahut and Johnson. "I didn’t expect to win two rounds and qualify for this event," he shared after the match.
While he may sound surprised, the the Piedmont, Calif., native is without a plan. McDonald has chatted with fellow American tennis players at the event and has taken notes on what professional athletes are doing with everything from fitness, to training, to match preparation – tips that he can apply to his own regimen as he enters into college-level play.
McDonald, coached by former ATP Pro Wayne Ferreira, made a tough decision last year to attend college instead of going pro. He was receiving different opinions from different camps but ultimately opted for college. McDonald signed with UCLA.
"I can gain a lot from college," he explained. "Utilize the fitness [resources], all the pros" to build out his wiry 142-pound frame. (UCLA is a regular hitting stop for players like Pete Sampras, Tommy Haas, and Serena Williams.) "I can get bigger, I can get stronger, I can learn a lot. I am still 18."
McDonald’s Bruin connection – and the school’s rivalry with Steve Johnson’s alma mater, USC – was not lost on the teen during today’s match. "I made sure I wore my UCLA hat out to the court," MacDonald said. He even called his future UCLA coaches to get some tips on playing Johnson.
So far, McDonald, who hails from Piedmont, Calif., is not looking ahead in the main draw at Cincinnati, choosing to "see what happens" and give it his best. And his experience in Cincinnati has not deterred plans to honor his commitment with UCLA. "I am trying to gain as much confidence from this event," he says, setting aside any talk about reversing his college plans.