June 22, 2024

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Life at the Grand Slam: What you don’t see on TV at the US Open

Life at the Grand Slam: What you don’t see on TV at the US Open

When Mackenzie McDonald battled Felix Auger-Aliassime for three-and-a-half hours in the opening round of the US Open, fans only saw a glimpse of the time McDonald put in for his upset victory on Monday.

For both players, and hundreds of others in the sprawling tournament, match day extends beyond just the warm-up and the competition itself. Preparation, of course, takes weeks and months, as the grueling men’s and women’s professional tennis tours push players to seek higher rankings for a more favorable path to the Grand Slam tournaments.

Once they arrive in Queens, a new series of obstacles arise as the players adapt to the stadium atmosphere, the atmosphere of New York, and the demands of one of the largest sporting events in the world.

For McDonald, the 28-year-old American who broke into the top 50 in the singles rankings in 2022 and knocked out Rafael Nadal in the second round of this year’s Australian Open, preparation for the US Open began on August 22 when he arrived. in New York. McDonald, who is set to face Borna Jogo of Croatia in the second round on Wednesday, said he trained hard in his first few days and then pulled back to recover ahead of a four-set duel against Auger-Aliassime.

These practices, coupled with travel, can become repetitive. Jessica Pegula, the American who finished third in the women’s singles, last week compared the tour routine to “Groundhog Day,” the 1993 film in which a man relives a day over and over again. MacDonald echoed this sentiment.

“It can get monotonous week after week, locker room after locker room, hotel after hotel,” McDonald said. “It’s good to have those little goals or little things that push you and make you believe you can improve.”

Two days before his opening match, McDonald couldn’t focus solely on his game. Before he trained on Saturday, he had to stop by to attend a fan event organized by Wilson, his racquet sponsor.

On a typical day, the drive from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park can take up to an hour in heavy traffic.

“It’s not easy at all,” McDonald said of the trip to Queens. “Day by day, it’s definitely increasing.”

But on a Saturday morning, with little traffic and a resolute driver who knows the shortcuts, the trip was a brisk 21 minutes 16 seconds.

The quick trip allowed MacDonald some extra time to drop off his bags before heading to the Wilson event, which he spent there Half an hour of playing with the childrenThen photos and videos were taken.

With that commitment fulfilled, McDonald can focus on intense tennis for the rest of his day, starting with working with his physiotherapist and finding time to eat, and then with a couple of hours of practice.

The first hour of practice for McDonald’s was set at noon against Marcus Gerron, another American, on Court 4 near Arthur Ashe Stadium. As McDonald and Geron traded points and exchanged points, dozens of fans stopped by to watch. As their training drew to a close, many of these fans began to congregate at the stadium in hopes of getting an autograph or photo. But MacDonald didn’t have time.

After shaking hands with Jerron and his coach, MacDonald quickly grabbed his bags and raced off to his next practice on a court across from the tennis center, about a half-mile away.

To avoid players having to walk that distance through a sea of ​​fans, the US Open uses vans that ferry them and their coaches to the most remote training grounds. McDonald and his coach jumped in the truck, but the driver wanted to stay a few more minutes to see if any other players would come.

Being already late for the scheduled time, MacDonald politely asked the driver if he could leave without waiting. In the early rounds of a tournament, when hundreds of players need to practice, court time is precious.

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“They definitely bring the glamor of sports to TV,” MacDonald said. “It’s everything that happens behind the scenes, the day-to-day events and the tournaments we play throughout the year that really bring us to these moments.”

By the time McDonald reached his next training ground, it was just past 2pm, and the sun was shining with temperatures in the 80s. He trained for another hour before finally calming down and heading back to his hotel to rest.

On Sunday, MacDonald wanted to reduce his workload to just an hour of tennis, so he could be more active for his match the next day. He still doesn’t know his exact playing time, but because it will likely be in the afternoon, McDonald said he hopes he will have a spot on the field on Sunday afternoon.

He was scheduled to play at 4 pm against Lloyd Harris of South Africa at Court 5, where McDonald was due to play the next day.

“It was a cooler day for me,” MacDonald said, adding that the rest of Sunday would be spent resting, hydrating and taking my mind off tennis for a bit.

But even when he’s not training, McDonald said there are other preparations that go into playing the game, including drawing up a game plan and looking at analytics.

He said: “The mental preparation for the two matches on Monday began as soon as the draw was made.

Prior to the McDonald’s game on Monday, there were three more games scheduled at Court 5, starting at 11 a.m. Scheduling for later in the day often leaves players trying to figure out how long each of those matches will last so they can plan the perfect time to leave their home. the hotel.

But trying to make these predictions can be a gamble when it’s raining or a long five-set men’s match that can delay the start time of another match. In the major leagues, McDonald said he likes to arrive four hours before a game to be treated by a physiotherapist, play with a partner for half an hour, have lunch and then prepare his sports drinks and racquets.

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“There’s definitely a lot of nuance that goes into the part of each day that you really immerse yourself in,” he said. “Everything has been invested in preparing me better to play this match today.”

Finally, McDonald and Auger-Aliassime took Court 5 around 5:45 p.m., and after a quick warm-up, it was 5:51 p.m. when referee Jaume Camptoll said, “Are you ready? Are you ready?” He plays.”

From the beginning, it looked like the match was going to be a long duel. MacDonald took an hour and nine minutes to win the first set in a tiebreak.

Auger-Aliassime took the second set, but then MacDonald settled. As MacDonald and Auger-Aliassime played, cheers flooded from Arthur Ashe off the court, and could be heard on court number 5. At one point in the fourth set, Auger-Aliassime appeared to complain to the chair umpire about the noise from Ashe.

Ultimately, after more than three hours on court, McDonald prevailed, winning the last five final game points of the fourth set to win 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-1, 6-4. Advance to the second round.

Prior to his victory, MacDonald said that each incremental victory is what motivates him on the Tour. He said the drive to progress pushes him to long practices, commutes and extensive travel.

“I want to win a title so badly,” said McDonald, who has reached only one singles final in his career, losing to Italy’s Yannick Sinner at the 2021 Citi Open in Washington, D.C. “I always find that every week, your chance every week, that could be the week you can To turn things around, and I think that dream is what we’re all striving for.

After his victory over Auger-Aliassime, the mental and physical preparation routine began again for the second round.