ATP player Mackie McDonald joins the podcast to discuss his journey from junior tennis to the professional ranks. In his personal journey, he talks about how he started in tennis and some of the big moments along the way, including his epic match vs. Grigor Dimitrov at the Australian Open and his memorable fourth-round run at Wimbledon. Mackie ends the podcast providing recommendations to young players striving to be a great tennis player, and to coaches on how to support their players.


J: Welcome to the compete like a champion podcast. You're here at Dr. Larry Lauer mental skills specialist and coach Johnny Parkes with USTA player development. Today we've got a very special guest here in the studio. Mackie, the calves, McDonalds.

M: What's up guys? How are you?

L: A new nickname. Wow.

J: Have you seen Mackie's calves?

L: I have seen them once or twice.

J: They are absolutely huge.

M: They're not even perfect form right now, but they're still popping.

L: They're still popping? The calves. Yeah. If it's up to Brent it would be his biceps too. So we're going to be calling him biceps McDonald pretty soon.

M: Those are coming through right now.

L: Yeah, man. Come on.

M: Upper body.

J: Awesome. Well, Mackie, thanks for joining us. Really appreciate it. This can't be anything new to you. You've been doing a lot of media work this year.

M: Yeah, no, it's been a very different year with that. And I mean the My Tennis Life, uh, doing the thing up at US Open, little commentating for world team tennis so can get at it.

J: Awesome. Awesome. So Larry, we're gonna dive into asking Mackie some questions.

L: Sure. You want to start?

J: Sure. I'm gonna start. So give, give us a little overview of how you got into tennis, how, you know, how old were you when you started? Did you play other sports? When did you just decide tennis was the one?

M: Yeah, so I was pretty young. I mean, tennis kinda chose me before I chose it or my dad did. So I started when I was three years old before I could really remember much. So, uh, always had a racket in my hand from the first memory started at home, near home at the home courts. And my dad actually got me my first lessons when I was like three and a half. So with Rosie Bree who I still talk to today and basically, you know, I started playing tournaments when I was six and then just climbed up the rankings going through the 12's, 14's, 16's you know, I was like all these kids that run around here. So for me, I mean definitely not normal childhood. I didn't really play a lot of different sports. It was basically tennis before school, starting first grade from 6:30 to 8:30 AM three times a week. And then afterschool as well. And then probably middle school, I'm sorry, taking a couple classes out, doing more tennis in between school even and afterschool and then all the traveling started. So basically it's pretty much been my whole life. I left high school after my sophomore year and then I did the ITF circuit and then, yeah, I mean went to college, UCLA of course, and then turn pro after junior year.

L: Wow. So you mentioned you didn't play a lot of other sports, but did you get to play some and what sports were they?

M: Yeah, I mean, yeah, during recess. I mean, I liked playing football with the guys. I mean at recess I was playing kickball. I never played baseball or anything, didn't really play basketball. I shot around and stuff, but never on a team football or anything. Yeah. I mean it was, it was basically tennis, you know, I would play those junior like club versus club type stuff. Yeah. So that was about it.

L: So nothing too structured in the other sports. It was really tennis all along. And for you, you know, when did you really make that decision? You felt like tennis was something that you wanted to do really for the rest of your life, but certainly as a career.

M: For me, probably later. I mean, I was always just immersed with it. I mean, my dad was taking me to tournaments, I mean super young, just SoCal. They didn't even have 8 and under in NorCal. My dad actually started eight and under NorCal. He would go to enough USTA meetings and got on the board and then started it up there. So yeah, I mean I was traveling from a young age. My coach always had me play tournaments. Yeah, what was the question?

L: What was the question.. No, I just, when did, when did you feel like you made a decision that this was something you wanted to do every day.

M: Yeah, I mean in, I mean we had a lot of coaches around me starting middle school and stuff from that age. I mean I like, I love tennis. I was doing really well nationally and stuff. I wanted to play. I wanted to be a pro. I didn't know when. I was pretty pretty nervous to go pro before, before I went to school. I always enjoyed my classes and having friends and hanging out. I like being fairly normal, so I mean, yeah, I mean I went to college first and then it took me a couple of years in college. I mean it was a tough decision. I almost went pro after my sophomore year, which I think looking back, I mean it definitely would've been a mistake. I mean it was a big decision by me to stay for one more year, my junior year, which I did and I'm so happy about that one.

J: So talk about that because obviously your journey took you to the UCLA Bruins. How was your experience on the college thing?

M: Unbelievable. Honestly, like I look back in my career like best times, I mean stepping foot on campus for the first time with all, all my best buds. I mean, my class had five guys and we all knew each other since we were like eight years old. So I mean it was party on and off the court. Um, yeah, so we had, we had a great time. I mean I was really focused on going pro too. I mean that was always in the back of my mind. So I was doing everything I could outside of, you know, the team matches and, and hanging out with the guys in school to, to play pro. Yeah. Just playing all those matches were something I really just cherish.

L: Yeah. I'd like to ask about that. Cause you, you just said alluded to doing everything you could while you were in school to still prepare to be a pro and you've made that jump since you left school. You know that players need to make, right, to get to the top of the game, you were able to make that push up into the top 100 and what was the highest that you got to?

M: 57.

L: 57 yeah. So what were you doing when you were at UCLA to help you keep that professional career sort of at the forefront as a tennis player? Were there extra things that you were doing that helped?

M: Yeah, for sure. Yeah. I mean for me like, I mean it was a big decision to choose UCLA. I mean they really gave me all the tools to, and let me be who I am just to go pro. So I mean freshman year we had a strong team that the practices were good enough. I mean I was, I was working hard earning my spot on the team. I played three that year behind Marcos and Clay who finished one and two in the country. But uh, sophomore year, you know, I was the number one player and I finished two in the country. Junior year I was pretty much one and I finished out winning it. So my sophomore year after freshman year I played all the whole summer pro tournament's, futures, couple of challengers, had some good results. And then sophomore year played a couple of futures during the year during the school year in the fall and junior year played a ton of pro tournaments in my fall. I missed like, I think I was traveling outside of the state 7 out of 10 or 11 weeks at the quarter, of that first fall quarter. And beyond that, I mean choosing UCLA was massive cause Carson's right there, USTA. So I was going there with, you know, the volunteer at the time, Rick Estabelias, who's the assistant, he would take me to Carson and we practiced there. I mean Sam Querrey would come to UCLA and hit, Steve Johnson would come to hit. Milos, I hit with him? Djokovic would be there too at times during Indian Wells. So I mean I wasn't hurting for the pro stuff that I wanted to get and get that experience. And then Billy was unbelievable, Grant, unbelievable and just gave me whatever I needed.

J: How did you feel that old T'd you up for the professional life and then what were, what did you feel were the biggest maybe reasons or things that you attributed to making the jump from collegiate into the top 100?

M: I think I just always try to immerse myself with pro things. So it was the people, I mean the, the level, I mean picking people's brains about it. So, I mean, even my sophomore year actually Marty Fish kind of took me under his wing. That's when he was coming back. He lives five minutes from UCLA. I forgot about that. So he would even take me to Carson and I'd practice with him a bunch. So, I mean, hanging out with him was massive for me. I mean, I looked up to the guy and the guy was super, super nice and, and, and helping me and, and I would just ask him a million questions about pro and what it took and everything. And the experiences I was getting over the summers was massive too. And then pulling all those tournaments like my junior year and also winning, I mean winning's a big thing. You can't just play. I mean, so I was doing well and gaining confidence and then by the time I left, you know, I already had a lot of experience that wasn't just college, which was good. And I had pro pro experience that helped me kinda, you know, work my way through the challengers. I said I didn't want to leave school unless I was going to be playing challenger level. I didn't want to leave and play futures if I left and played futures, I didn't think I was going to be good enough yet to go pro. Might as well finish out school. But I left being ranked around 300 ish, maybe a little, maybe like 380 actually some in the three hundreds and that was good enough to play. Challenger's got a couple of wild cards too from USTA. And then I mean I took off. I mean I've actually had pretty much a steady climb since I left school until I got hurt just now, earlier in June. I mean, I've literally climbed, I've never really dropped more than 10 spots

J: And on the court with your game, what do you feel are the biggest differences between the level you are at you're at now versus maybe what you played in college?

M: Yeah, good question. So I mean in college, I mean we played teams, you get so many free points just cause it's UCLA or I mean, I mean the moment, I mean guys would miss balls, you get a couple of free points a game. So immediately when I played pro, you're not getting free points, you know, the double faults, the shank forehands 20 feet wide. I mean, so I mean all those free points just don't exist. I mean in the pros people just tighten the screws a lot more in those moments. And then, I mean, the serves and what, what stood out to me more was, or too was how you need to look at tennis mathematically, which is something that, I mean, I like math, but I started really diving more into statistics with it. So I was learning from my coach Brad Stein at the time. And then from Matt Cloer as well. I mean how you know first serve percentages or all those little things that you really need to pay attention to. Those are, those are keys that'll make you get better.

L: Mackie, what are you thinking or are the most valuable statistics that you might look at to help you either understand how you're doing or how your opponent is doing?

M: First serve percentage. I think return, second serve winner percentage, I always value that one cause I'm always pretty good in that, in that category. I mean I kinda look, I mean now, I mean the statistics are getting more just way more in depth. So I mean I'm, when I'm looking at my opponent stats, I'm kind of looking more where they're serving. I mean that's something really small that you need access to. But I mean, yeah, little things like that I guess.

L: Yeah, that's great. I mean I, go ahead Johnny, I'll jump in later.

J: I was going to say you, you also, you know, I like I'm in the gym early in the morning. You often come in very early and get your day started. You're somebody to me that is very committed to their off court work as well. The work they put in the gym or out there, you're pretty pretty relentless actually with how hard you work at that.

M: Yeah, that's a good point because that's probably one of the biggest things that's changed since college as well. The physicality. I didn't say that earlier. You know, besides the free points and stuff. I mean physicality is a massive part that's, that's changed. So when I left college, I went into college about 141, left college about 150 and now I'm like 162-163 so.

J: Is that all in the calves?

M: Part calves, part biceps, but no, the level of physicality now is just insane. I mean you're seeing it at this highest level everyone's in the gym a ton. So I mean, I'm happy that after my first year, like that first year that I was on on the tour, I really just want to play as many tournaments as possible just to climb my ranking. I was hitting career highs every week because I haven't been playing pro. So after I did that for a year, hit an off season, got to start working with Brent Salazar and Matt Cloer. So we were full time. I mean you saw me during the off seasons and he, he pushed, pushed me on levels I've never reached before and that's really, really helped me. I mean I can feel it on, on the court and yeah, I mean that's a big difference.

J: Do you feel that that gives you a confidence when you're stepping on the court?

M: Yeah, for sure. I mean, yeah, 100% uh, confidence. I mean, you gotta be confident in your body. When I was first starting out, I just remember like those third sets, I would, my level would drop a lot just cause I didn't have the physicality. And I remember after that tough off-season going out in Australia, which is where I qualified for the first time, won my first round in a grand slam. I mean I was, I knew I could last. And that was something that in the [inaudible] match, which was last round qualis, I remember just being super physical and not cause I, cause I knew I could, I knew I could last.

L: That's gotta be a great feeling on the court, right to have that belief that you can go deep and be in there and you ended up playing pretty epic match against Dimitrov right. How do you, how do you reflect back on that match and how has that sort of impacted the work that you continue to do?

M: Yeah, I mean obviously unbelievable moment. I mean I was ecstatic after winning my first round main draw. I mean seeing the schedule where I'm playing a night match, 7:00 PM on, on that stadium, Rod Laver was pretty crazy. So obviously really close match. I mean maybe lacked a little at the end with experience or just, I mean I was right there. It would've been pretty cool to pull that out. But that's tennis, it comes down to a couple of points. But I mean, since then I think it's given me a little glimpse of what I was capable of, how hard I've been working and what I can get and achieve. And I mean, you want to get back to those moments. I mean, that was, that was such a cool time. So that's, that's why I work hard.

L: And that really helped us set up this climb that you had in, in playing ATPs for quite a bit of time until you got injured every week, right? Or not every week, but a consistent ATP schedule. What was it like for a young pro coming out there and playing against some of these established veterans? You know, what was that experience like for you? You know, going out there and playing against the guys you were watching on TV and now what was that even like, you know, going in there as a young guy for the first time and you're, you see these almost these legends, you know, that you're going up against.

M: Honestly, super difficult. I mean, every single level on the tour. I mean, since I've left school has been extremely difficult. There's no way, there's no easy way around it. You know, I started having some good results. I really thought for a little bit like things were going to get easier. But I mean my team kind of, you know, told me like it's only going to get tougher from here and it really did. And when I started playing on the ATP tour full time, it was kind of like the us open series last year after my Wimbledon run and I had lost a ton of matches in a row and it was, it was, we got back back here in Lake Nona. We kept working hard and then I finally, you know, started getting a couple more wins, a couple more wins and at this point I was playing only top hundred players. So and then off-season hit, I mean I was getting a glimpse. I worked super hard in the off season and I mean this year has been been a blast. I've had a ton of top hundred wins. I feel like I've, I've more established myself in the top hundred. Kind of sucks I got hurt obviously, but I'm so happyI like got to a level where, I mean I was cruising, you know, I mean I was only going up too, so I was really confident in my game and myself. So yeah, I'm happy I can hold onto that and keep working hard progress right now.

L: So you talked about how every level is difficult and the challenge gets greater. You know, I don't know that our listeners may not have a clear idea of some of those things. So what are the greatest challenges you would face as a professional tennis player? I mean obviously there's just playing against more physical people who hit the ball in almost every single time, but what does maybe some of the challenges that we're not aware of that, that actually have a big effect on whether or not you're going to be successful?

M: Yeah, there's a ton. I mean I see you Larry. Um, no there's a ton. When I first started out, honestly leaving a team, actually that was one big reason why I didn't leave out to my sophomore year too. I was a little bit scared of kind of being away from all my friends cause I knew once I was gonna commit to playing pro, I was gonna go all in and, and that's how I am with it now. Cause I was ready. But yeah, at the time, after my sophomore year, I wasn't ready. So I mean the challenges at first was being on your own, on tour and going week to week and losing every week. And honestly, you know, taking care of yourself. I mean when it comes to laundry or I mean traveling hotels, you know, a lot of stuff. I mean you're, you're a business now. You're, you're trying to make it, um, it's not, you're playing for college, you're playing for other people, you're doing it all for yourself and it's all on you in a way. So, and that was a big challenge, I mean climbing from the challengers to the ATP and other big challenge, the ranking, defending points. I got to say the traveling is just something that's crazy. I mean our seasons are 11 months long. I mean you can always be playing and then you got to try to find the right time for training, relaxing. It's, it's not easy to all balance. So there's learning curves with that too. And I mean for me, I've just tried to find every way, every way to minimize all those, those challenges in a way. I've been blessed with a good team, so I think we've done an unbelievable job up until now.

J: No, awesome and you mentioned that you're a little hurt in the minute, you're on your road bat a road back to recovery. When did you sort of estimate being able to, to get back on court and start training again? Is there a timeline?

M: Yeah, so the hamstring injury suffered at the French, uh, first round and yeah, I mean it's, it's, it's a tough injury. I got surgery June 6th. I've been doing everything I can every single day. It's going to be time to look back and focus on a lot of other things too. But right now I'm just doing everything I can. It's progressing well, the hamstring's feeling good, it's healing properly. It's just going to take some time, but we're doing everything we can here.

J: Awesome. So let's, let's lighten this up. What, we're going to ask a couple questions here.

L: Be careful here, Mackie, be careful.

J: Apart from the ones we've asked today, what's the worst question you've ever been asked in an interview?

M: The worst question I've been asked?

L: Yeah. Besides the ones JP is asking.

M: God, dude, I have no idea.

L: You like being on the spot, remember. So throwing you on the spot.

M: Worst question. Can't tell you, I'm blanking.

L: Okay, we can come back to that.

J: What is the funniest moment that has happened to you on a tennis court?

M: Oh dude, when I hit myself in the face once with the racket, after I beat Del Potro. Remember when I threw my racket down.

L: That's a good one.

M: That was a good moment though. That was a good time. But, dude, that thing hit me pretty good.

L: Did you get any blood out of that?

M: No blood just right in the middle, smack in the forehead. I mean I was too pumped to even care though. It was awesome.

L: He had to go into concussion protocol later, but he got the win.

J: Yeah, that was pretty funny. I kept thinking what a muppet.

M: That's awesome.

L: That muppet just beat Del Potro.

J: That muppet just beat Del Potro.

L: Well, no, I think that, you know, Mackie as we look ahead, you know, and certainly you'll be back at some point, then as you look to what's coming up, you know, what are some, some of the things that you hope to do, some of the things you hope to achieve as you look forward and into the rest of your career? Hopefully a very long and high level career.

M: Yeah, I want to have a long career. That's definitely one thing on my lis.t I want to play as long as I can. I just love competing. So I'm gonna cherish it. When I, once I get back, and I know I will, but I mean, result wise, I want to win titles. I wanna win ATP titles. I want to go deep, second week in grand slams as many as I can. Really would like to get top 10 for sure. Top 20 somewhere in that range. I mean think once you get to that level, when you start winning titles that the sky is the limit because if you can rack one up or two, put a couple more together in a year, you can really climb up the rankings. I don't want to have regrets with it too. I mean I feel like, I feel like so far don't have any and I keep working hard so I'm just going to do everything I can to be as good as I can as well. So that's all I can ask for.

L: Yeah, that's, that's awesome. And the Wimbledon run. Right? How much fun was that? Right?

M: That was the best.

L: That was the best, right? I mean, would you say maybe the best week, tennis wise, of your life and what do you, what do you remember about that that you do try to hold on to in terms of, you know, the way you were playing or how you were thinking or whatever. Like what, what did that week teach you, you know, and how was that week?

M: Crazy. I mean, I've had a lot of good weeks. I mean, looking back, I mean NCAA is one of them. Cincinnati, Australia, that first time, but, but Wimbledon was cool because I've always wanted to play there. I mean, it's historical, it's classic. It's the Mecca of tennis.

J: Of course it is. The green green grass of home.

L: Of course it is, says our English President.

M: Yeah. And you know, I'd never really played a full time or full grass court schedule and like I fell in love with it. I mean, I think it's my best serface to be honest. So I mean I really, I was bummed I was missing it this year, but I'll have many more of it. But yeah, I mean I play well on that stuff, so I mean it makes even better. Hitting flat, hitting through the court, coming in, using my speed. So yeah, winning those matches was so cool. Winning 10-8 in the fifth was unbelievable. That second round, fourth round. Second week. Yeah. I mean, really good memories.

L: That was against Jerry, right?

M: Yeah, the 10-8. Yeah.

L: Now little known fact. It's really not that important.

M: You were there?

L: I was, that was my first time at Wimbledon, my first match, I get to see Mackie play and he goes in this epic match with Jerry was so much fun. I remember standing there and I'm standing behind Wayne Ferreira. I just happened to be right there, who's a friend of yours and, but what an exciting, you know, match and I like to think that I had some role in that, you know, just my presence. Right. I don't think he knew I was there, but.

J: Did you get lairy, Larry? Did you get lairy?

L: What does that even mean?

J: Rowdy? Sorry, am I speaking too British again?

L: You're just getting to British.

M: The muppet.

L: The muppet. But yeah, no, that, that was a cool experience and definitely getting to see you achieve that. Let you know, maybe transitioning things here, Mackie, from your experiences as a junior and being in college and now being a pro, what's advice you might give to a young player who's aspiring to do some of the great things that you've done?

M: I would say, I mean, you gotta love tennis. You know, if it's something you love, then keep keep at it. But I mean, working hard, being persistent are two massive things and just doing your best each day. I mean, it's a long journey so you gotta, you gotta enjoy it, love it, love the grind, love the ups and downs and then mainly kind of just focusing on, on your end goal. So if it's, you know, being the best college player you can be or being the best pro player you can be is kind of just owning that and doing everything you can to do that.

L: It's interesting you mentioned that because some people might find that in conflict. You mentioned doing, I'm paraphrasing, but doing your best every day, right? To get better and pushing yourself and yet keeping in mind your end goal, right? But those things have to work in concert, right? Like you need, you need both when you're, you're trying to strive for, for something great?

M: I mean, I've always set goals. I think that's something that's important and that's part of it. But yeah, I mean everything that I did today, you know, was, it's helping me to be better for tomorrow and then coming back to the sport and then for my future. So yeah.

L: In that, I think sometimes people are on either side of this like, yeah, don't worry about it. I'll come at all. You should have no outcome goals. I don't want to have any outcome goals, which I think is unrealistic at the same time it's all about winning for some other people. And I think what I'm gathering from you, is it something in the middle where you, that passion that that love of the game you talk about, there are some real dreams that you have, right? Of, of winning ATPs of being top 10 and, and doing these amazing things. And yet when you say the majority of your focus every day is just on how you go about things, the process, that little details of the work that you put in.

M: Yeah. I mean, like I said, like I like, I like setting goals, you know, I feel like maybe it does have that pressure and stuff, but that's kinda something that I dunno, pushed me to work, keep, keep working hard and something like look forward to, or you know, I set short term, medium term, long term.

J: You've always seem like you've had a healthy perspective towards the development process of getting better. But having those goals in mind is what driving you. I think what we often talk about is we set goals that are very high, but then we don't have an understanding of what it, what we need to do to really strive to get there. Right. But it really seems like you have a healthy outlook on that.

M: Yeah, no, for sure. Yeah. No, it's the small things too.

J: Awesome.

L: So what advice then Mackie would you give to coaches? Because coaches sometimes think that they did everything right or they're doing everything right, but I think the players sometimes have a different opinion. Right. And I'm saying that a little bit in jest, but what, what are some things that coaches maybe could do better maybe throughout this developmental journey that you go through for young players?

M: Tough question. I haven't really coached too much, but if I had to pinpoint it, I mean, cause every player is different. So I mean I'd say the number one thing is listening to the player too. I mean you definitely have to listen and learn how they are because you can't coach every player the same way. And you know, I mean for me like knowing myself, I do need a little bit of love on the court. So I mean I do, I do need some pick me ups some times and you know, I don't need someone that's just always bashing me or like really tough on me even though Brent is. But I love that too.

L: But with love, he does it.

M: With love.

L: It's our strength and conditioning coach. But Director of Performance by the way.

M: Yeah, yeah. No, he's great. But yeah, I mean I think that's something that has clicked for me and Matt. I mean, the guy listens to me so well, you know, he, he really, he really thinks about what I'm saying and then coaches me in a calm way, which is kinda how we like to go about things. I mean, I'm pretty lucky that we clicked so well with that. But yeah, for coaches, I mean listening to the players is, is something cause you'll learn if they love the sport or not or what they actually need or want out of it.

L: Oh, that's a, that's an amazing answer. And you know, when you think about it when you're young, it's very hard to maybe say these things to an adult or to a coach that you look up to and maybe it can be a little intimidating, right?

M: Yeah. I mean they got to ask questions. Coaches got to ask questions and, and see how their brain's ticking. You know, what's going on in their that, what are they thinking about? Where are the pressures coming from? What are goals, what makes them better? I mean, is it, you know, more movement or mathematical or you know what they like, you gotta make it fun. So

L: Fun? What a novel concept.

J: Fun. It's not allowed, Mackie, what are you doing? But no, listen, listen we're running short on time here and Mick's gotta get his kids off to baseball. But no, but Mackie really appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to come here. We know you're working hard to come back and we can't wait to see you back in action. If you want to follow Mackie and his calves, you can go to his Instagram at Mackie Mackster and then also, as he mentioned, he has his My Tennis Life documentary going on too. But Larry, it's been been great. Been real.

L: Yeah. Thank you, Mackie for coming in, man.

M: Thank you guys. That was awesome. Awesome. Awesome. So as always, if you'd like more resources, want to go back, listen to further podcasts, you can go on our website until next week. Checking out.