Major moment: McDonald takes 3rd-ranked Dimitrov to 5 sets

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Mackenzie McDonald knew he was ready to turn pro after his junior year at UCLA. He had just won the NCAA singles and doubles titles and believed he was ready to take the next step.

After his surprise showing at this year’s Australian Open, he certainly made the right decision.

The 22-year-old McDonald emerged from qualifying to give a scare to No. 3-ranked Grigor Dimitrov in the second round of the Australian Open on Wednesday night, taking the Bulgarian to the distance at Rod Laver Arena before eventually falling 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 0-6, 8-6 in nearly 3+ hours.

“I was soaking it all in,” McDonald said. “It was a long match and I enjoyed every single moment of it.”

McDonald, who entered the tournament ranked No. 186, failed to get through qualifying at the majors three times last year, but his luck changed at this year’s Australian Open where he defeated French journeyman Stephane Robert in three sets in the last qualifying round to claim a spot in the main draw.

McDonald then beat fellow qualifier Elias Ymer of Sweden in the first round – his first win anywhere at the elite tour level. It was the boost he needed after struggling on the lower-tier pro circuits following his decision to leave college in 2016.

“Especially when you’re starting out, you have doubts,” he said after his first-round match. “You feel like some times are really rough, especially like when you lose early at a Future or Challenger (tournament). . You just have to stay really level-headed with this sport.”

Going into the second-round match against Dimitrov, McDonald was the heavy underdog. The highest-ranked opponent he had ever faced was No. 69 Rajeev Ram in Newport in 2016.

But instead of being overawed by the situation, McDonald broke ATP Finals champion Dimitrov’s serve to capture the first set and then hung in when the more experienced Bulgarian stormed back to claim the next two.

McDonald appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself as he took the fourth set 6-0 and extended the match deep into the fifth, pumping his fists after winners and repeatedly waving his arms over his head to rally the crowd to his side.

“I know how close I was to winning,” McDonald said afterward. “But he’s a good player. He’s been out here a while. I’d overall say there’s so many more positives than negatives.”

Fellow American Sam Querrey knows McDonald well, having spent time with him in California, and he’s not surprised by his rapid improvement in the last couple years.

“Even when he was in college, he was a freshman, a couple times I’d give him a ride home after practice and he’d ask me questions the entire car ride home, like, `What do you do on your forehand here?,’ `What’s the travel like?”‘ Querrey said. “He was just like always super inquisitive, so I’m glad to see it’s paying off.”

McDonald has also practiced with Dimitrov, and spent time hitting with Roger Federer. His success also shows there’s a path for tennis players who decide to go to university instead of turning pro in their teenage years.

“I went to college and I didn’t really have as many opportunities to play as many ATPs as some of these other guys,” he said. “Once you go (pro), you have to give it your all. That’s what I feel I’ve been doing since I stepped foot out of UCLA.”

Tennis star Kyrgios to fight charge on mental health grounds

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CANBERRA, Australia – Wimbledon runner-up Nick Kyrgios will apply to have an assault charge dismissed on mental health grounds, his lawyer told an Australian court on Tuesday.

Lawyer Michael Kukulies-Smith appeared on behalf of Kyrgios in a court in the tennis star’s hometown of Canberra and asked for an adjournment so forensic mental health reports could be prepared.

Magistrate Glenn Theakston adjourned the case until Feb. 3, when Kyrgios’ lawyers are expected to apply to have the charge dismissed under a section of the local crimes law.

The 27-year-old Australian tennis star will appear in court in person on that date for the first time since he was charged by police by summons in July.

The law gives magistrates the power to dismiss a charge if they are satisfied an accused person is mentally impaired, and dealing with an allegation in that way would benefit the community and the defendant.

The common assault charge, which has a potential maximum sentence of two years in prison, relates to an incident in January 2021 that was reported to local police last December.

The charge reportedly relates to an incident involving his former girlfriend.

Kukulies-Smith told the court his client’s mental health history since 2015 made the application appropriate, citing a number of public statements made by Kyrgios.

In February, Kyrgios opened up about his performance at the 2019 Australian Open, saying what appeared to be a positive time in his life had been “one of my darkest periods.”

“I was lonely, depressed, negative, abusing alcohol, drugs, pushed away family and friends,” he wrote on Instagram. “I felt as if I couldn’t talk or trust anyone. This was a result of not opening up and refusing to lean on my loved ones and simply just push myself little by little to be positive.”

Kyrgios made further references to his mental health struggles during his runs to the final at Wimbledon and the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open.

After ending Daniil Medvedev’s U.S. Open title defense last month to reach the quarterfinals, Kyrgios expressed pride at lifting himself out of “some really tough situations, mentally” and “some really scary places” off the court.

Theakston questioned whether Kyrgios would need to appear in court for the February hearing, but Kukulies-Smith said his client wanted to attend.

Kyrgios was scheduled to play at the Japan Open later Tuesday against Tseng Chun-hsin of Taiwan.

Speaking in Tokyo before his matter returned to court, Kyrgios said it was “not difficult at all” to focus on tennis despite the pending charge.

“There’s only so much I can control and I’m taking all the steps and dealing with that off the court,” he told reporters. “I can only do what I can and I’m here in Tokyo and just trying to play some good tennis, continue that momentum and just try to do my job.”

Wimbledon champ Rybakova beats Keys in Ostrava opener

Agel Open Ostrava - Day One
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OSTRAVA, Czech Republic – Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakova came from a set down to defeat Madison Keys 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round of the Agel Open on Monday.

Rybakova had lost to Keys this year at the French Open and Cincinnati.

In other first-round matches in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava, Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia defeated Zhang Shuai of China 6-3, 6-3, and local hope Petra Kvitova overcame American Bernanda Pera 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

Fresh from her second title of the year in Seoul last month, Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia knocked out former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.