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

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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 lot of others on the sprawling event, a match day extends effectively past a warm-up and the competition itself. The preparation, after all, takes weeks and months, with the grueling males’s and ladies’s skilled tennis excursions pushing gamers to hunt greater rankings to achieve a extra favorable path on the Grand Slam tournaments.

And as soon as they arrive in Queens, a brand new collection 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 yr’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, mentioned he skilled onerous for his first few days, then tapered a bit to get well earlier than his four-set duel in opposition to Auger-Aliassime.

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

“Issues can get monotonous week after week, locker room after locker room, lodge after lodge,” McDonald mentioned. “It’s good to have these small targets or little issues that drive you that make you imagine that you may get higher.”

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 means all the way down to the foyer of his lodge 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 lodge.

On a traditional 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 by no means straightforward,” McDonald mentioned of the commute to Queens. “Day after day, it undoubtedly provides 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 additional time to drop off his baggage earlier than heading to the Wilson occasion, the place he spent about half an hour volleying with youngsters, then posed for photos and movies.

With that dedication stuffed, McDonald might concentrate on 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 follow.

McDonald’s first hour of follow 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 forwards and backwards and performed out factors, dozens of followers stopped by to observe them. As their follow 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 arms with Giron and his coach, McDonald rapidly grabbed his baggage, and scurried off for his subsequent follow on a court docket 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 follow courts. McDonald and his coach hopped in a van, however the driver needed to remain a couple of extra minutes to see if every other gamers would come.

Already not on time, McDonald politely requested the motive force if they might go away with out ready. Within the early rounds of the event, when a whole lot of gamers have to follow, court docket time is valuable.

“They undoubtedly present the glamour of the game on TV,” McDonald mentioned. “It’s all the behind the scenes, it’s the day after day and the around-the-year tournaments that we play that basically get us to those moments.”

By the point McDonald arrived to his subsequent follow court docket, it was simply after 2 p.m., and the solar was beaming down with temperatures within the 80s. He skilled for an additional hour earlier than lastly cooling down and heading again to his lodge to relaxation.

On Sunday, McDonald needed to reduce his workload to solely an hour of tennis, so he may very well be more energizing for his match the following day. He nonetheless didn’t know his precise taking part in time, however as a result of it might probably be within the afternoon, McDonald mentioned he hoped to have a day court docket 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 following day.

“Far more of a chiller day for me,” McDonald mentioned, including that the remainder of his Sunday can be spent resting, hydrating and taking “my thoughts off of tennis for a bit.”

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

“The psychological preparation for my match on Monday began as soon as that draw got here out,” he mentioned.

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 making an attempt to determine how lengthy every of these matches will final to allow them to plan a really perfect time to depart their lodge.

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

“There’s undoubtedly lots of little nuances that go in a part of every day that you just’re actually submerged in,” he mentioned. “All the things’s invested towards what’s going to arrange me finest to play this match in the present day.”

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, mentioned: “Prepared? Play.”

From the start, it seemed just like the match was going to be an extended 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, they usually may very well be heard on Court docket 5. At one level within the fourth set, Auger-Aliassime appeared to complain to the chair umpire concerning the noise coming from Ashe.

Ultimately, after greater than three hours on the court docket, 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 mentioned that every incremental victory is what motivates him on tour. The drive to advance, he mentioned, pushes him by lengthy practices, commutes and in depth journey.

“I need to win a title so unhealthy,” mentioned McDonald, who has made one singles ultimate in his profession, dropping to Jannik Sinner of Italy on the 2021 Citi Open in Washington, D.C. “I at all times discover that every week, your alternative every week, might be that week that may shift issues, and I feel 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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