By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
When it was over, after a grueling three sets spread over two hours and 46 minutes, a physically drained Mackenzie McDonald turned to his box, pumped his fist and let out the type of roar reserved for special moments.
“Honestly, I still can't believe it was over,” McDonald said of his 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 semifinal triumph over Kei Nishikori. “I just let it all out. I slapped those forehands and, yeah, just let it all out and screamed loud.”
Forgive McDonald for the raw emotion. On Saturday night, in front a capacity crowd in Rock Creek Park, the 26-year-old American advanced to his first career ATP Final. He did it by holding off Nishikori, the 2015 Citi Open champ, who McDonald has long admired. He did it more than two years after a debilitating hamstring injury put nights like this in serious doubt.
“It was a really painful time, really super tough,” said McDonald, who underwent surgery in May 2019 and couldn’t walk for weeks.
“It was really rough. I had no idea what to expect… I couldn't walk or drive myself or do anything. I had an apartment on the third floor and no elevator. It was pretty [bad]. So, yeah, I didn't know where I was going to be two years later.”
Once ranked as high as No.57 in the world, McDonald was down to 194th at the start of 2021. But the California native and UCLA alum reached the fourth round of the Australian Open in January and later qualified for both the French Open and Wimbledon.
Still, a deep run at an ATP event remained elusive.
“My biggest goal, results-wise, I wrote down, was to win an ATP title.”
With five wins in as many days in Rock Creek Park, that goal is finally within reach. On Sunday, McDonald will face the fifth-seeded Italian, Jannik Sinner, for the championship.
“I feel like it’s come together this week,” said McDonald, whose path to the final also included wins over Nick Kyrgios, Benoit Paire, Ilya Ivashka and Denis Kudla.
“I feel like I put it all together a little bit this week. You never know when it's going to click, and for me it's this week so far.
“It means a lot. I'm trying to downplay, or I guess downplay a little bit, try to keep my cool.”
McDonald looked the part in his semifinal win over Nishikori, outlasting the former world No.4 in a back-and-forth slugfest that featured terrific groundstroke play.
“It was a pretty tough match,” McDonald conceded. “I feel like physically it was tough. I mean, the time on the match kind of says it, for sure. Physically, especially in the third -- I could tell both of us were digging deep in there.”
McDonald, will have to dig deep once more Sunday against the 19-year-old Sinner, who has yet to drop a set this week. A win would move McDonald back inside the ATP Tour’s Top-60. He could also become the first American male to win the Washington title since Andy Roddick in 2007.