18-year-old Mackenzie McDonald Makes an Impression at Cincinnati Masters

Mackenzie McDonald (By Christopher Levy for Tennis Grandstand)

Mackenzie McDonald (By Christopher Levy for Tennis Grandstand)

MASON, Ohio – American teenager Mackenzie McDonald has made history this week by being the youngest unranked teen to qualify for a Masters event. But he may not be here to stay for long.

Eighteen-year-old McDonald has played just six official ITF or ATP tennis matches in his life. He lost to Alex Kuznetzov in the first round of a futures tournament when he was 14. He won one qualifying match at the Sacramento Challenger last year but failed to qualify for the main draw. And, before this past weekend, he had never earned an ATP ranking point in his life.

He wanted to play the Kalamazoo junior tournament last week because the winner gets a wild card into the US Open, but he lost in the first round. However, he was granted an opportunity by way of a qualifying wild card for Cincinnati. He took full advantage of it and won two straight matches, coming back from a set down in each.

McDonald will now debut in the top 800 next week. He does not plan on taking his chance and playing professional tennis full time. He wants to go to UCLA and play tennis there. From what I saw when I watched him today, he needs the time. College tennis is a great place to build skills and gain experience so that players can compete when they graduate. More important for McDonald, though, it will give him a chance to grow into his skills.

McDonald really impressed me in his match today, even if the final scoreline was very one-sided. He was not overawed by the occasion, even though the 500+ fans in Grandstand Stadium were probably the biggest crowd he has ever played in front of. His groundstrokes were solid off both wings and his movement was impeccable, which allowed him to stay with Goffin in a lot of rallies.

McDonald’s problem is that he just does not have enough power. He had no way to finish points against Goffin. Many of his first erves were under 100 mph and far too many couldn’t even reach 90. He did a great job of moving Goffin around the court and hitting towards the corners; he just couldn’t hit the ball hard enough to end the points. He realized this and started utilizing the serve-and-volley in the second set, with a decent amount of success. He gave up a little towards the end, but his ability to compete and adapt was more than impressive, especially for someone with his very limited experience.

McDonald realized this and, when asked what he needs to do to be able to compete with players like Goffin, he said, “I think a lot of it has to do with physical. I think I can get a lot stronger; I can gain a lot more weight.” McDonald is very right and it is a good portent for his future that he knows what he needs to do to get better.

Since McDonald needs to retain his amateur status because he wants to play college tennis, NCAA rules prohibit him from taking his prize money at this tournament. However, because he is not actually in college yet, McDonald can keep up to $10,000 in prize money annually. A first-round loss in Cincinnati is worth $10,830

McDonald said he has been given a Wild Card into the US Open qualifiers and that he will play there. It’s another great chance for him to gain experience and some points. But, unless he wants to forego playing at UCLA, he cannot collect any more prize money. College tennis is exactly what a player like Mackenzie McDonald needs. He has all the tools; he just needs a few years to sharpen them and to grow into a stronger tennis player. He shouldn’t try jumping too high too soon. If he takes his time, develops his strength, and works on his game even more, he can be very dangerous on tour in a few years’ time.