McDonald's Long, Slow Path To Medvedev Showdown At Australian Open
Mackenzie McDonald is the lowest-ranked player remaining in the Australian Open at World No. 192. On Monday, the American will have a chance to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final. The catch? He has to play fourth seed Daniil Medvedev, who is arguably the leading favourite to lift the trophy.
“He's tricky, man. Honestly, he makes a ton of balls, he's got amazing reach. His serve is really good. Returns, exceptional,” McDonald said. “He can really do everything. It's showing with his ranking and his results.”
It won’t be McDonald’s first chance to beat Medvedev, who leads their ATP Head2Head series 2-0. The Russian lost only five games in each of those meetings, at 2019 Indian Wells and in Barcelona less than two months later.
McDonald admitted that one of the toughest challenges about playing the reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion is that he excels at making opponents beat themselves.
“That's definitely been a struggle for me in the past playing him,” Medvedev said. “He's made me feel uncomfortable. But hopefully I can take all those matches into consideration for my next one and I'll plan accordingly and hopefully I can make the best of it.”
The fourth seed was highly complimentary of McDonald during his on-court interview after battling past Filip Krajinovic in five sets in the third round.
“He’s a really tricky opponent, a great player. He takes the ball early,” Medvedev said of the American, who reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2018. “I would kind of say even playing Roger style, trying to rush the net, rush the balls, so not easy to play.”
“That's probably the best compliment I've ever gotten,” McDonald said, cracking a big smile when told about Medvedev’s comment.
The American has a lot to be happy about these days. Not that long ago, the 25-year-old went through the scariest moment of his career.
At 2019 Roland Garros, former World No. 57 McDonald tore his right proximal hamstring tendon during a doubles match. Eight days later, he had surgery.
“Four hours before, at like 2 a.m., we were still deciding if we were going to cut me open or not and the surgeon decided to at six-something a.m.,” McDonald said. “Thankfully we did because it started growing somewhere else, and it was hanging by a string. It was just tough to know because there was so much fluid and other stuff going on in there and you want to get that surgery done ASAP.”
The former UCLA Bruin, who won the 2016 NCAA singles and doubles titles, did not leave his apartment for nearly three weeks, and did not walk on his right foot for six to eight weeks.
“Then it was like you can go 10 per cent on the right leg with crutches. Then it was 20 per cent, then it was 30 per cent then 50, 80 and then walking without crutches and it was one pound weight, two pounds weight, three pounds weight and that's each week,” McDonald said. “It was really slow. But then it started progressing faster.”
Later in 2019, McDonald tried other roles at tennis events, including commentary. He also took multiple UCLA classes and watched “a lot of tennis”. McDonald had plenty of doubt regarding his future.
“It means a lot [that I got my level back] because it was a really tough time and I don't think many people really know [what it is like]. Or at least for me, you don't really think about that until it happens to you,” McDonald said. “That was a major injury, a major surgery, and it was honestly really scary because [I did] not walk for as long as I did and everything that I went through was a big wake-up. So I'm really happy to be back here.”
McDonald's FedEx ATP Ranking is still on the mend. But when he steps on the court against Medvedev, the 25-year-old will have a chance to show that he is better than ever.