Sunday, October 15, 2017

Federer pal McDonald wins first Challenger title

Mackenzie McDonald, right, beat a weary Bradley Klahn
6-4, 6-2 today to win the $100,000 Fairfield (Calif.) Chal-
lenger. Photo by Paul Bauman
   FAIRFIELD, Calif. — Mackenzie McDonald is too reserved and modest to mention it, but all those training sessions with Roger Federer appear to be paying off.
   McDonald, a 22-year-old product of Piedmont in the San Francisco Bay Area, defeated former Stanford star Bradley Klahn 6-4, 6-2 today to win the $100,000 Northbay Healthcare Men's Pro Championships at Solano Community College.
   McDonald earned his first Challenger singles title after coming to Fairfield 0-7 in semifinals at the level equivalent to Triple A in baseball.
   "I'm super pumped to compete here in NorCal and win," McDonald, who's now based in Los Angeles, gushed after facing Klahn, a 27-year-old resident of Poway in the San Diego area, for the first time. "I've worked really hard, and I think it's showing."
   The sessions with Federer haven't hurt, either.
   "Mackie has trained with him quite a bit," said McDonald's childhood coach, Rosie Bareis, who rushed back home from Florida this morning to attend the final. "He was in Dubai (where the Swiss star has a home) for a few weeks last December. After Roger was eliminated from the French Open, he called Mackie again and said, 'Hey, come to Zurich and train for a week, and let's get ready for Wimbledon together.' At the U.S. Open, when Mackie was in the qualies, he had a day off. Roger called him up and said, 'Let's hit balls,' and they played a couple of sets."
   Federer and McDonald have more in common than one might suspect. Federer's mother, Lynette, is South African, as is another of McDonald's longtime coaches, Wayne Ferreira, who peaked at No. 6 in the world in singles in 1995 and No. 9 in doubles in 2001. He lived in the Bay Area for many years before moving to South Carolina. McDonald still consults Ferreira, who could not be reached for comment.
   "I remember when Mackie said (to Federer), 'Hey, do you know my other coach, Wayne Ferreira?' " said Bareis, the director of tennis at the Claremont Resort & Spa in Berkeley. "Roger said, 'I ballboyed for that guy (in the Basel Open)!'
   "I think there's a connection (between Federer and McDonald). Roger likes him. He likes a lot of the juniors."
   Ferreira helped McDonald overcome a disheartening loss in the quarterfinals of last week's $100,000 Stockton (Calif.) Challenger. McDonald held two match points in a loss to 19-year-old American Michael Mmoh.
   "Wayne told him, 'How I handled it was, there's always going to be another tournament the following week,' " Bareis said. "Look what happened."
   Bareis returned from a United States Professional Tennis Association meeting in Delray Beach, Fla. She caught a 6 a.m. flight from Orlando, Fla., flew nonstop to San Francisco, landed at 8:50 a.m., freshened up at home in Tracy and continued on to Fairfield.
   "I consider Rosie family," McDonald said. "I'm very happy she was here to see me win my first (Challenger) title."
Bradley Klahn is drenched with water in a fundraising
stunt after the singles final. Mackenzie McDonald
nailed the bucket with a shot from the baseline on
his second try. Photo by Paul Bauman
   Bareis worked with McDonald from age 3 to 10 and co-coached him with Ferreira from 10 to 14. The USTA's Mat Cloer now coaches McDonald.
   "There were a lot of people in Northern California in the beginning who thought everything I was doing was wrong," Bareis said. "We were getting up Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings and hitting balls from 6 to 8 before school. He comes back in the afternoon, goes to the junior clinic, plays in the East Bay Junior League on Friday and plays tournaments on Saturday and Sunday. Burnout, whatever ...
   "I asked the people in NorCal, 'Why don't we have 8-and-under tournaments? Why does SoCal have 8-and-unders?' At that time, it was 10-and-under, no-ad, round robin, here's a participation ribbon, yay. I was like: 'He's 7 years old. He's going to have to wait how long to win his first trophy?'
   "What I feel good about is that Mackie is one of the kids that set an opportunity for the CiCi Bellises and Vivian Ovrootskys. At least we have somebody in NorCal the kids can say, If those guys from Northern California can make it, I can make it."
   Also attending today's final were McDonald's parents (Michael and Vivian) and grandparents on his father's side, and Klahn's brother, sister and girlfriend. 
   Blue skies returned over the weekend after smoke from nearby wildfires hovered over the area. Several players, their host families and co-tournament director Phil Cello evacuated early in the week, and most of Tuesday's matches were postponed until Wednesday because of "very unhealthy" air quality, according to
   Between the singles and doubles finals, the crowd observed a moment of silence in honor of the 40 people who died in the blazes, which have destroyed about 5,700 homes and businesses and caused an estimated $3 billion in damage. After the singles final, McDonald and Klahn agreed to be drenched with water in a stunt to aid the Wildfire Relief Fund. Officials posted photos on the tournament website with donation information.
   Both players started the match slowly, losing serve in each of the first three games and five of the first seven. The difference was McDonald quickly recovered while Klahn struggled throughout the match.
   McDonald admitted he was nervous early in the match.
   "Yeah, for sure," he said. "I mean, first (Challenger) final. I felt there was a bit on the line for me, but I'm very happy with how I composed myself this week. I fee like that's always a challenge in pro tennis. I feel like I'm getting the hang of how to calm my nerves, just play tennis and focus on the important things."
   Once McDonald settled down, he pounded his serves and groundstrokes, returned well and put away volleys. For someone who's only 5-foot-10 (1.78 meters) and 145 pounds (66 kilograms), he has surprising power. McDonald had four aces and four double faults, and won 26 of 33 points (79 percent) on his first serve.
   "Mackie has always been an all-court player," said Bareis, noting that McDonald swept the NCAA singles and doubles titles as a UCLA junior last year before turning pro. "He knows how to move forward and take time away."
   McDonald tried to stay away from Klahn's punishing forehand, on which he takes a big windup.
   "I wanted to pick on his backhand," said McDonald, who won last year's doubles title in Fairfield with Brian Baker of Nashville, Tenn. "I haven't seen Brad play that much lately, but I know his backhand is a little weaker. I thought he was going to try to get it high to my backhand, which I think he was, but my down-the-line backhand was working well, so I could get out of that position."
   Klahn, the 2010 NCAA singles champion, looked nothing like the player who ousted top-seeded Ernesto Escobedo in a scintillating second-round match. The 6-foot (1.83-meter) Klahn put in only 55 percent of his first serves, had one ace and four double faults, won only 8 of 21 points (38 percent) on his second serve, and committed numerous errors.
   Klahn, who underwent his second operation for a herniated disc in his back in February 2015 and ended a 21-month layoff last November, was playing in his second final in two weeks. He lost to Maximilian Marterer of Germany 7-6 (3), 7-6 (6) in a $100,000 hard-court tournament in Monterrey, Mexico, last Sunday.
   "I think the best way to describe it is 10 matches in two weeks caught up to me," Klahn, who was seeking his sixth Challenger singles title but first since 2014, said of his disappointing performance today. "Mackie did play well, and I know he was confident up here in these conditions. I couldn't quite get my nose in front, and I struggled with my serve. I was kind of fighting an uphill battle today."
   McDonald, who earned $14,400, will jump from No. 218 to a career-high No. 164 in Monday's updated rankings. Klahn, who collected $8,480, will improve from No. 313 to No. 240. He reached a career-high No. 63 in 2014.
   McDonald and Klahn are scheduled to play in next week's $50,000 Las Vegas Tennis Open, so they will go from the site of one recent tragedy to another.
(Left to right) Second-seeded David O'Hare and Luke Bambridge defeated
wild cards Bernardo Oliveira and Akram El Sallaly from the University of
the Pacific in Stockton 6-4, 6-2 for the doubles title. Photo by Paul Bauman
   In the doubles final, second-seeded Luke Bambridge of Great Britain and David O'Hare of Ireland outclassed wild cards Akram El Sallaly of Egypt and Bernardo Oliveira of Brazil 6-4, 6-2, the same score as in the singles final. El Sallaly and Oliveira are teammates at the University of the Pacific in Stockton.
   Bambridge and O'Hare, who split $6,200, almost skipped Fairfield.
   "I was due to fly back home," said O'Hare, 27. "I was trying to stick to four weeks on the road and a couple weeks at home to train. We had good success. We made the final in Columbus (after losing in the quarterfinals in Cary, N.C.) and the semifinals in Tiburon, then lost first round in Stockton.
   "It would have been easy to throw in the towel, but with the (Fairfield) tournament so close (to Stockton), I figured I'd cancel my flight, and come down here and play. You don't want to end on a bad note, and here we are today on Sunday lifting the trophy. Sometimes it works that way, and obviously I'm all too delighted that it has."
   Bambridge, meanwhile, was prepared to play doubles in a $25,000 Futures tournament in Houston this week.
   "When Dave said he was going to stay, I said, 'OK, I'll pull out of the Futures,' " said Bambridge, 22. "We had a really tough first-round (matchup against Klahn and Jackson Withrow of College Station, Texas). Some would say we were extremely unfortunate. Once we came through that, we never looked back.
   "It would have been easy to lose that match and say, Ah, tough draw, but we came through it. From then on, we didn't play our best tennis, but mentally, we were really, really good. We had three match tiebreakers and won them all. We started to jell really well together."
   Here are the complete Fairfield singles and doubles draws.

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