Sophomore Mackenzie McDonald said he was not disappointed in himself.
His coach was.
“It wasn’t anything about him playing badly; he just lost concentration,” said coach Billy Martin after McDonald, the No. 7 singles player in the nation, was pushed to the brink in the first set against Pepperdine’s unranked Guilherme Hadlich Jan. 23. “He’s as fast as any guy I’ve had on my teams, and he was struggling to get to balls.”
Martin said his star player would have to elevate the mental side of his game as he faced better competition.
“I know he’s a competitor – he wants to be a great pro, and a great pro cannot do that,” Martin said. “If you’re watching the Australian Open, you don’t see one player losing his concentration and dropping his level like that. So that’s why he’s here in college, trying to play top college tennis so he can control his mind.”
McDonald quickly improved, controlling his mind and his matches as he faced three top-40 singles players in nine days.
After he and freshman partner Martin Redlicki continued their early season struggles as UCLA’s No. 1 doubles team with a loss against Texas Tech the next day, McDonald finally started playing like the No. 7 singles player in the country.
He dominated Texas Tech’s Felipe Soares, No. 28 in the nation, in a 6-0, 6-3 victory , prompting Martin to call him the “shining star” of the day.
Martin would use the “shining star” label again a week later, as McDonald put on an admirable display at the SEC/Pac-12 Showdown, despite two losses for his team.
He and Redlicki justified their No. 11 doubles ranking by racking up impressive victories over the No. 16 doubles team from Georgia and the No. 32 doubles team from Florida. McDonald showcased his singles ability as well, dispatching No. 15 Nathan Pasha of Georgia and No. 34 Maxx Lipman of Florida in two sets each.
“I think the indoor courts suit me pretty good,” McDonald said. “(Indoor courts) are a little faster, so I think that helps me, I play fast through the court.”
McDonald also said he was happy with his serve this past weekend.
“That always helps me compete because I feel like I return (serves) pretty well,” McDonald said. “So with my serve doing well, I feel like I can be pretty dominant.”
Dominant he was. In an event that included two other top-20 singles players, Martin said McDonald looked as good as anyone there.
“He really had a phenomenal weekend,” Martin said.