McDonald, Couacaud Halt Three-Year Title Droughts
American, Frenchman return to ATP Challenger Tour winners' circle
Forte Challenger 100 (Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan): Two years ago, Mackenzie McDonald was sitting at home, unable to walk. The American had suffered a devastating injury just days prior, when he tore his right proximal hamstring tendon at Roland Garros.
It has been a long road back for the former World No. 57, who needed surgery to repair the tendon and remove fluid from his leg. On Sunday, McDonald took a huge step the right direction, lifting the trophy at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Nur-Sultan. As he continues his quest to return to the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings, the California native streaked to the title in dominant fashion. It was his third Challenger crown and first since 2018.
Having fallen out of the Top 250 following his injury, which left him unable to walk for months, McDonald is projected to rise to No. 118 on Monday. He turned in a ruthless weekend effort, which saw him drop a combined six games in the semis and final. It was punctuated by a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Jurij Rodionov on Sunday.
"It was a pretty easy win for me," said McDonald. "I felt like he didn't play his best match and I served really well. I was attacking and didn't give him many chances to get into it. It's nice to finish strong like that. I know that all the hard work I'm putting in is showing. I'm going to keep going and try to get more of these."
McDonald has taken great strides towards rediscovering his top form in recent months. In September, he battled Rafael Nadal in the second round at Roland Garros and followed that with a quarter-final appearance at the ATP 250 event in Nur-Sultan. Also held at the Kazakhstan National Tennis Center, it is the same venue as this week's Challenger event. And earlier this month, McDonald would earn his biggest win since 2019, stunning World No. 25 Borna Coric en route to the Australian Open fourth round.
The American contingent is off to a fast start in 2021, with players from the United States boasting a 4-0 record in Challenger finals. McDonald joins #NextGenATP stars Sebastian Korda, Brandon Nakashima and Jenson Brooksby in the winners' circle.
McDonald will next appear at the second of back-to-back Challengers in Nur-Sultan. He opens against Canada's Brayden Schnur, with top seed Soonwoo Kwon also in his quarter of the draw. Emil Ruusuvuori, seeded second, is also competing at the Challenger 125 event.
Enzo Couacaud celebrates the title in Gran Canaria. Photo: MEF Tennis Events/Marta Magni Images
Gran Canaria Challenger 1 (Las Palmas, Spain): Another player ended a three-year title drought on Sunday, as Enzo Couacaud triumphed on the clay of Gran Canaria. The Frenchman battled past Canada's Steven Diez 7-5(5), 7-6(3) in two hours and 32 minutes to lift his second Challenger trophy.
Couacaud, who was born on the island of Mauritius and plays under the French flag, was made to work for the title. After needing three sets to defeat second seed Carlos Taberner in his opening match, he was forced to fight off two match points in Friday's quarter-finals. And on Sunday, he would fight through his longest match of the tournament, avenging a 2020 Roland Garros qualifying defeat to Diez.
"I could have lost in the first round, I was close to losing in the quarters, but I ended up winning the tournament," said Couacaud. "Every match is a battle. This week, it was mine. The last time I won a title, I got injured right after, so I couldn't enjoy it. I will take it day-by-day and see what happens, but this one gives me a lot of confidence for sure."
Couacaud, who previously claimed his maiden ATP Challenger Tour title in Cassis, France, in 2018, is projected to return to the Top 200 of the FedEx ATP Rankings on Monday. The 25-year-old is four years removed from elbow surgery, when doctors told him he'd never play competitive tennis again. Now, he is a Challenger champion once again.
Led by former doubles No. 5 and 2013 Nitto ATP Finals champion David Marrero, Challenger tennis returned to the Canary Islands for the first time since 2009. El Cortijo Club de Campo is hosting back-to-back Challenger tournaments, with Spanish teen Carlos Alcaraz headling next week's event.