Mackenzie McDonald, who beat Nadal, eyes more in Australia

2023 Australian Open - Day 3
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MELBOURNE, Australia – It was a long road back to elite-level tennis for Mackenzie McDonald, and his victory over defending champion Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open showed just how much things have changed for the 27-year-old Californian who was a college star at UCLA.

To understand McDonald’s journey, go back to the 2019 French Open, where he tore a hamstring tendon three games into a first-round doubles match. Surgery for that made him unable to walk for several weeks and left McDonald with what he describes as “a massive scar.” The whole episode also served as “a big wakeup,” he says.

Returning to Roland Garros in 2020, his ranking down to 236th, McDonald got his first opportunity to face Nadal. McDonald spoke ahead of that one about having fun – then went out and lost 6-1, 6-0, 6-3.

Fast-forward to this week at Melbourne Park, where McDonald viewed his rematch against 22-time Grand Slam champion Nadal on Wednesday in a far different light than that initial meeting less than 2 1/2 years ago in Paris.

“Before, I wasn’t really up to beating a guy like that – or even believing I could,” McDonald said in an interview with The Associated Press after completing the 6-4, 6-4, 7-5 win in the second round against Nadal, who already was way behind on the scoreboard by the time he sought medical treatment late in the second set for what turned out to be an injured left hip flexor.

“I believed it more – and showed that,” said McDonald, who won NCAA titles in singles and doubles in 2016. “I was on a mission more than on a vacation.”

He twice has been to the fourth round at major tournaments, at Wimbledon in 2018 and the Australian Open in 2021.

Now ranked 65th, McDonald will try to make it at least that far yet again when he takes on No. 31 seed Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan in the third round on Court 3 in the afternoon Friday in Melbourne (sometime after 10:30 p.m. EST on Thursday).

McDonald is part of a group of U.S. men who reached the third round, many via unexpected wins, including Jenson Brooksby – who beat No. 2 seed Casper Ruud on Thursday – Tommy Paul, Ben Shelton, J.J. Wolf and Michael Mmoh.

McDonald, who is coached by 2005 U.S. Open semifinalist Robby Ginepri, used his flat groundstrokes to great effect on the slower hard court of Rod Laver Arena. The top-seeded Nadal praised the American for “playing at a great level.”

McDonald was the latest U.S. man to pick up a recent victory over Nadal, following Taylor Fritz at Indian Wells, Frances Tiafoe at the U.S. Open and Paul at the Paris Masters.

McDonald said Tiafoe told him, “Get after it!” ahead of Wednesday’s match, while Paul offered “quite a bit” of advice during a FaceTime chat the night before.

After completing a victory he considers “at the top” of his list of tennis accomplishments, McDonald spoke to folks back home.

“Everyone is super proud and pumped up for me … but obviously, there’s another match to be played,” McDonald said, “so I have to refocus.”

Jabeur bounces back at French Open, Ruud and Andreeva advance

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PARIS — Ons Jabeur got a do-over on Court Philippe Chatrier at the French Open and won this time.

A year after her first-round exit, the No. 7 seed Jabeur beat Lucia Bronzetti 6-4, 6-1 to help erase some bad memories and answer questions about a recent calf injury.

The Tunisian, a crowd favorite in Paris, smiled and expressed relief in not repeating last year’s mistake, when she lost to Magda Linette of Poland.

“I’m very happy to win my first match on Philippe Chatrier – because I’ve never won here,” Jabeur said on court about the clay-court tournament’s main stadium.

Now she can focus on trying to win her first major. She was runner-up at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open last year.

The 28-year-old Jabeur has also battled injuries this season. She had knee surgery after the Australian Open, and was then sidelined with a calf injury. She had stopped playing against top-ranked Iga Swiatek at the clay-court tournament in Stuttgart, Germany, in late April and then pulled out of the Madrid Open.

“It was a very difficult period for me after Stuttgart,” said Jabeur, adding that she’s beginning to find her rhythm.

Jabeur struck 27 winner’s to Bronzetti’s seven, though with 24 unforced errors she’ll have room to improve.

Mirra Andreeva had a memorable Grand Slam debut by dominating Alison Riske-Amritraj 6-2, 6-1. Andreeva’s older sister – 18-year-old Erika – was facing Emma Navarro later in the day.

Later, Swiatek gets her French Open title defense started against Cristina Bucsa, who is ranked 70th.

On the men’s side, No. 4 seed Casper Ruud beat qualifier Elias Ymer 6-4, 6-3, 6-2, to remind the higher-profile tournament favorites that he was runner-up to Rafael Nadal last year at Roland Garros.

New mom Elina Svitolina beats seeded player at French Open in 1st Slam match in 16 months

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PARIS — So much has changed for Elina Svitolina, who played – and won – her first Grand Slam match in nearly 1 1/2 years at the French Open, eliminating 2022 semifinalist Martina Trevisan 6-2, 6-2.

For one thing, she’s now a mother: Svitolina and her husband, French tennis player Gael Monfils, welcomed their daughter, Skaï, in October. For another, Svitolina is now ranked 192nd, nowhere near the career high of No. 3 she first reached in 2017, back in the days when she was regularly reaching the second weeks of major tournaments – including a pair of semifinal runs. Away from the courts, her home country of Ukraine was invaded by Russia last year, and the war continues.

“Everything,” she said, “is kind of old and new for me right now.”

In sum, Svitolina is juggling a lot nowadays.

She hadn’t played at a Slam since a third-round exit at the Australian Open in January 2022. She hadn’t played a match anywhere since March 2022, when she was still ranked 20th.

“It was always in my head … to come back, but I didn’t put any pressure on myself, because obviously with the war going on, with the pregnancy, you never know how complicated it will go,” the 28-year-old Svitolina said.

The work to return to the tour after giving birth began this January; her initial WTA match came at Charleston, South Carolina, in April. She won her first title since returning to action, at a smaller event on red clay in Strasbourg, France.

At Roland Garros, she used her big forehand to compile a 20-12 edge in winners and never faced a single break point against Trevisan, who was seeded 26th.

Trevisan cried as she spoke after the match about a problem with her right foot that made it difficult to even walk and prompted her to stop playing during her quarterfinal last week at the Morocco Open, where she was the defending champion.

Still, she gave Svitolina credit.

“Even though she’s just coming back from having a daughter, she’s a champion,” Trevisan said. “And she’s coming off a title, so she’s confident.”

Svitolina talked about feeling “awful when you’re pregnant, especially the last months,” but getting into a position now where she thinks she’s stronger than before – in more ways than one.

“I feel that I can handle the work that I do off the court and, match by match, I’m getting better. Also mentally, because mental (state) can influence your physicality, as well,” she said. “I tried to find the balance, and I feel like I’m seeing (things) a little bit again differently as well after the break. Everything is getting there. The puzzles are getting slowly into place.”