Life at a Grand Slam: What You Don’t See on TV at the U.S. Open

When Mackenzie McDonald dueled Félix Auger-Aliassime for 3 and a half hours within the opening spherical of the U.S. Open, followers had been solely seeing a glimpse of the time McDonald put in towards his shock win on Monday.

For each gamers, and a whole bunch of others on the sprawling event, a match day extends properly past a warm-up and the competition itself. The preparation, in fact, takes weeks and months, with the grueling males’s and ladies’s skilled tennis excursions pushing gamers to hunt increased rankings to achieve a extra favorable path on the Grand Slam tournaments.

And as soon as they arrive in Queens, a brand new sequence of obstacles emerges as gamers adapt to the texture of the courts, the atmosphere of New York and the calls for of one of many world’s largest sporting occasions.

For McDonald, the 28-year-old American who broke into the highest 50 of the singles rankings in 2022 and upset Rafael Nadal within the second spherical of this 12 months’s Australian Open, the preparation for the U.S. Open started on Aug. 22 when he arrived in New York. McDonald, who’s scheduled to play Borna Gojo of Croatia within the second spherical on Wednesday, stated he skilled laborious for his first few days, then tapered a bit to recuperate earlier than his four-set duel in opposition to Auger-Aliassime.

These practices, together with the journey, can change into repetitive. Jessica Pegula, the American ranked third in girls’s singles, final week in contrast the routine on tour to “Groundhog Day,” the 1993 movie by which a person relives in the future repeatedly. McDonald echoed that sentiment.

“Things can get monotonous week after week, locker room after locker room, hotel after hotel,” McDonald stated. “It’s good to have those small goals or little things that drive you that make you believe that you can get better.”

Two days earlier than his opening match, McDonald couldn’t focus solely on his play. Earlier than training on Saturday, he needed to cease by a fan occasion placed on by Wilson, his racket sponsor.

His day started at about 8:45 a.m. as he made his approach all the way down to the foyer of his resort in Manhattan’s Murray Hill neighborhood. A driver and S.U.V. had been already ready for him, his girlfriend and his coach as they walked out of the resort.

On a standard day, the drive from the east aspect of Manhattan to Billie Jean King Nationwide Tennis Heart in Flushing Meadows Corona Park can take as much as an hour in heavy visitors.

“It’s never easy,” McDonald stated of the commute to Queens. “Day after day, it definitely adds up.”

However on a Saturday morning, with little visitors and an assertive driver acquainted with shortcuts, the journey was a brisk 21 minutes 16 seconds.

The short journey afforded McDonald some further time to drop off his luggage earlier than heading to the Wilson occasion, the place he spent about half an hour volleying with youngsters, then posed for footage and movies.

With that dedication crammed, McDonald may give attention to extra intense tennis for the remainder of his day, beginning by working with a physiotherapist and discovering time to eat, and following that with two hours of observe.

McDonald’s first hour of observe was scheduled at midday in opposition to Marcos Giron, one other American participant, on Court docket 4 close to Arthur Ashe Stadium. As McDonald and Giron hit backwards and forwards and performed out factors, dozens of followers stopped by to look at them. As their observe drew to a detailed, a number of of these followers started to collect courtside in hopes of an autograph or an image. However McDonald had no time.

After shaking palms with Giron and his coach, McDonald shortly grabbed his luggage, and scurried off for his subsequent observe on a courtroom on the alternative finish of the tennis heart, almost half a mile away.

To keep away from having gamers stroll that distance by a sea of followers, the U.S. Open has vans that shuttle them and their trainers out to the farthest observe courts. McDonald and his coach hopped in a van, however the driver wished to remain a couple of extra minutes to see if every other gamers would come.

Already not on time, McDonald politely requested the driving force if they might go away with out ready. Within the early rounds of the event, when a whole bunch of gamers have to observe, courtroom time is treasured.

“They definitely show the glamour of the sport on TV,” McDonald stated. “It is all the behind the scenes, it is the day to day and the around-the-year tournaments that we play that really get us to these moments.”

By the point McDonald arrived to his subsequent observe courtroom, it was simply after 2 p.m., and the solar was beaming down with temperatures within the 80s. He skilled for one more hour earlier than lastly cooling down and heading again to his resort to relaxation.

On Sunday, McDonald wished to reduce his workload to solely an hour of tennis, so he might be brisker for his match the subsequent day. He nonetheless didn’t know his precise taking part in time, however as a result of it might possible be within the afternoon, McDonald stated he hoped to have a day courtroom slot on Sunday.

He was scheduled for 4 p.m. in opposition to Lloyd Harris of South Africa on Court docket 5, the place McDonald was scheduled to play the subsequent day.

“Way more of a chiller day for me,” McDonald stated, including that the remainder of his Sunday could be spent resting, hydrating and taking “my mind off of tennis for a bit.”

However even when he’s not coaching, McDonald stated there’s different preparation that goes into taking part in a match, together with making a sport plan and looking out over analytics.

“The mental preparation for my match on Monday started once that draw came out,” he stated.

Earlier than McDonald’s match on Monday, there have been three others scheduled on Court docket 5, beginning at 11 a.m. Being scheduled later within the day typically leaves gamers attempting to determine how lengthy every of these matches will final to allow them to plan a perfect time to depart their resort.

However attempting to make these predictions generally is a gamble when rain or a prolonged five-set males’s match can delay one other match’s begin time. At majors, McDonald stated that he likes to reach 4 hours earlier than a match to be handled by a physiotherapist, hit with a accomplice for half an hour, have lunch after which put together his sports activities drinks and rackets.

“There’s definitely a lot of little nuances that go in part of each day that you’re really submerged in,” he stated. “Everything’s invested toward what’s going to prepare me best to play this match today.”

McDonald and Auger-Aliassime lastly took Court docket 5 round 5:45 p.m., and after a fast warm-up, it was 5:51 p.m. when the umpire, Jaume Campistol, stated: “Ready? Play.”

From the start, it regarded just like the match was going to be a protracted duel. It took an hour and 9 minutes for McDonald to win the primary set on a tiebreaker.

Auger-Aliassime took the second set, however after that McDonald settled in. As McDonald and Auger-Aliassime performed on, cheers from Arthur Ashe Stadium overflowed out of the venue, and so they might be heard on Court docket 5. At one level within the fourth set, Auger-Aliassime appeared to complain to the chair umpire in regards to the noise coming from Ashe.

Ultimately, after greater than three hours on the courtroom, McDonald prevailed, successful the final 5 factors of the fourth set to win, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, and advance to the second spherical.

Earlier than his win, McDonald stated that every incremental victory is what motivates him on tour. The drive to advance, he stated, pushes him by lengthy practices, commutes and intensive journey.

“I want to win a title so bad,” stated McDonald, who has made one singles last in his profession, shedding to Jannik Sinner of Italy on the 2021 Citi Open in Washington, D.C. “I always find that each week, your opportunity each week, can be that week that can shift things, and I think that dream is what we’re all chasing.”

And after he beat Auger-Aliassime, the routine of psychological and bodily preparation started once more for Spherical 2.

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