UCLA’s McDonald, 23, reaches Wimbledon’s 4th round in debut
LONDON (AP) — Mackenzie McDonald earned post-match kudos from John McEnroe and something else pretty significant Friday: a spot in Wimbledon’s round of 16 in his tournament debut.
The 103rd-ranked American, a college star at UCLA not that long ago, played in a Grand Slam tournament’s third round for the first time and won, beating Guido Pella of Argentina 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (6).
“I’m in disbelief, to be honest. Just pretty crazy,” said McDonald, who grew up in California, and now is based at the U.S. Tennis Association’s main training facility in Florida. “I mean, if you told me I’d be in the second week of Wimbledon before the tournament, I wouldn’t believe you.”
He said this in a bit of a monotone, with both hands stuffed into the pockets of his black shorts.
“Once I get home and kind of just think about everything and stuff,” said McDonald, who collected NCAA singles and doubles titles in 2016, “I’ll put a little more emotion in my words.”
The last man to get this far in his initial appearance at Wimbledon was Nick Kyrgios in 2014.
It’s been quite a week for the 23-year-old McDonald, who is 5-foot-10 and says he’s “learned to love” some of the tour’s less-tall players such as Belgium’s David Goffin and Japan’s Kei Nishikori.
McDonald needed a total of nine sets — including three tiebreakers and a fifth set that finished 11-9 — to get through the first two rounds, before having an easier time of things against the 82nd-ranked Pella. McDonald, who hit 11 aces, won all 16 of his service games and had more than twice as many groundstroke winners as Pella, 15-6.
It was Pella who stunned No. 3 seed Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion and last year’s Wimbledon runner-up, in a second-round match that began Wednesday, was suspended because of rain, then concluded Thursday.
“I was pretty nervous this morning, waking up,” McDonald said. “And even last night, just thinking about the opportunity after Cilic went down. I thought I had a good chance.”
McDonald’s jitters were calmed by a conversation he had with Wayne Ferreira, a former pro who reached the top 10 in the rankings in the 1990s and coached McDonald in the juniors.
“He told me just to enjoy it and told me I have nothing to lose and brought me back down,” McDonald said.
Another conversation he enjoyed was the one at Court 18 right after he beat Pella — with McEnroe, who won three titles at Wimbledon and four at the U.S. Open.
“To see him after that match is pretty cool. That meant a lot, that he was watching,” McDonald said. “He just said: ‘Great job. Congrats. Second week.’”
On Monday, McDonald will face either 2016 Wimbledon runner-up Milos Raonic or 171st-ranked qualifier Dennis Novak, whose match was suspended because of fading light Friday night.
They’re in the same quarter of the draw as No. 9 seed John Isner, another American.
“I practiced with him last week, prior to the tournament, and I told my coach that if he got in a good spot of the draw, meaning if he didn’t play Roger (Federer) first round or Rafa (Nadal) or one of these guys, because he’s unseeded, that I would not be surprised at all if he did some damage,” Isner said about McDonald. “And he’s doing that right now, because he was hitting the ball very well. I think grass is a surface that suits his game especially well. So I’m not surprised that he’s in the round of 16 right now.”
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