Mackenzie McDonald on Wednesday earned the biggest win of his career inside Rod Laver Arena, where he upset of 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal in the second round of the Australian Open. When the American returned inside, it hit him.
“I was in the locker room, and I was, like, ‘Hey, that’s actually really big for me’, because I haven’t beaten someone of that calibre,” McDonald said. “But honestly for me right now… I don’t feel like much has changed too much. I’m going to keep going about how I’m doing things. I think I’m working really well with my coach.
“Even there I feel like I can take some learning lessons away from that match. I’m grateful I had that opportunity to play on that court and play against him, and I feel like I can just learn from it.”
Defeating the defending champion at any tournament is big. Taking out Nadal is a career-defining moment. But McDonald is not allowing himself to over celebrate the moment. It is that same level-headedness that helped him complete his victory against the hobbled Spaniard in the first place.
“It’s never over until it’s over type thing. He didn’t even want to roll over and quit. He kept fighting until basically the end, even though he maybe didn’t have all his game,” McDonald said. “But I would say once I broke him maybe in that third set at the end there, it felt like he hadn’t really seen any chances on my serve in that set, so I think I could have gone away with it there.”
Nadal was visibly hurt at 4-3 in the second set as he sprinted wide for a forehand. But even before that moment, McDonald, currently coached by former World no. 15 Robby Ginepri, was in a good position against the top seed.
“’Im very happy with how I competed in the first couple of sets and executed the game plan,” McDonald said. “I feel like I’m working really well with my coach, Robby, and he gave me a good game plan, and I stuck to it and stuck with my guns and didn’t kind of go in any fear or anything, and I had a good belief there. So I’m happy with how I executed for sure.”
Within the past year, Nadal has lost to three of McDonald’s closest friends: Taylor Fritz (Indian Wells), Frances Tiafoe (US Open) and Tommy Paul (Paris). That helped his belief leading into the match. The first time McDonald played Nadal, at Roland Garros in 2022, he won just four games.
“I thought about Taylor taking him out, yeah, and Foe. I talked to Tommy about it too last night. That definitely gave me some more confidence,” McDonald said. “Even seeing him at United Cup with [losses to] De Minaur and Norrie also helped me a little bit. I think today I had that belief, and I showed that, and I took it to him. I didn’t fear it this time as last time at the French. I don’t think I was quite ready to do anything against him.”
McDonald’s team and friends were all supportive of him and his chances leading into the match. Tiafoe recalled a conversation he had with his countryman.
“I told Mackie, ‘Listen, you could join the three amigos: me, Fritz, and Tommy. We all got him. I don’t know if you want to join it’,” Tiafoe said. “Also, I told him, ‘You’re going to be in a position to win today. You can win today.’ Sort of seeing how he feels, I’m happy for Mackie. GOAT wins don’t come easy. Something to tell his grandkids one day, and you have to be happy for that guy.
The message from Paul had to do with game plan and general encouragement.
“Dude, you can do it,” Paul said according to McDonald. “You just have to believe it.”
After the match, McDonald spoke on the phone to his father and girlfriend. “I have to call my mom back,” he added. “I haven’t talked to her yet.
“Everyone is super proud and pumped up for me, but they’re all pretty tired now. They’re all sleeping. But I’ll talk to them all tomorrow a lot and enjoy it for the next 24 hours a bit. But, obviously, there’s another match to be played, so I have to refocus.”