© Nordic Naturals Challenger

Mackenzie McDonald is making the most of his rookie year on the ATP Challenger Tour.

NCAA Champ McDonald Graduates To Pros

The UCLA star adapts to life on the ATP Challenger Tour

After establishing himself as the best college player in the U.S., Mackenzie McDonald is now turning his attention to the pros.

The 21-year-old from California decided to forgo his senior year at UCLA and turned pro this June. His announcement came less than three weeks after becoming the first player in 15 years to win the NCAA men’s singles and doubles championships.

On Wednesday, he carried that winning trend to the ATP Challenger Tour event in Aptos, California. In a battle of rising Americans, McDonald recorded a first-round win over fourth seed and #NextGen star Stefan Kozlov, 6-1, 6-4.

“It’s been a grind,” said McDonald of his first two months as a pro. “When I was in college, I was busy with school and friends, but now I can just focus solely on tennis. I’m learning more than I ever have now, which is the biggest thing.”

Having finished his junior year with a 22-1 singles record and his NCAA career with an 84-15 record over the past three years, it’s safe to say that McDonald is riding a confidence high. But despite having already recorded several wins over players inside the Top 100 of the Emirates ATP Rankings, he knows that reproducing his Novak Djokovic-like college dominance in the pros will be a tall order.

“The pros are professional and they do everything right, from warm-ups to recovery. They go hard on each point and in college, I could get away with playing a loose point here and there,” said McDonald. “It’s been a bit of a learning curve, but it also helped that I already had a lot of experience playing with the pros.”

McDonald found time to play pro tournaments during his summers off from college and also competed in several ATP Challenger Tour events last fall, reaching the semi-finals at the $100,000 event in Tiburon, California, and the $50,000 event in Champaign, Illinois. With his pro results improving with each passing year at UCLA, he’s confident that his three years on campus have prepared him for a long ATP World Tour career.

“I played a lot of matches and had a lot of wins, which builds confidence,” he said. “It was a good stepping stone of playing at a level that’s higher than the juniors, but that also allowed me to get ready for the pros.”

More stories like this in: