American Mackenzie McDonald, who underwent right hamstring surgery in June 2019, has been named the Comeback Player of the Year in the 2021 ATP Awards following a season in which he climbed to new heights.
Despite the physical toll of recovering from his hamstring injury, McDonald ascended to a career-high No. 54 in the FedEx ATP Rankings in 2021.
“It’s extremely rewarding. For me it’s a massive accomplishment, honestly. At the end of the year I was hoping I was going to be nominated, I got that and then actually winning it is really cool for me,” McDonald said. “It was a really big comeback and I feel like I put in all the hard work. When I was going through the rehab process I did everything I possibly could to get myself back.
“Doing [the] extra [work] and playing good tennis this year paid off. It is very rewarding for me.”
— ATP Tour (@atptour) December 14, 2021
Following his surgery, rehab was a slow process. Last year, McDonald fell as low as World No. 272.
“I came back and had maybe two months of playing last year until right before Indian Wells. I really didn’t find my groove at all during that time and that was a little disheartening,” McDonald said. “Over the course of the COVID-19 [pandemic suspension of the Tour], it gave me a chance to keep practising, playing and working on my body and my game. I felt like I was slowly getting it back once the Tour started [last August].
“With COVID there were a lot of challenges for me with the comeback, because climbing the rankings was so difficult. I was in such a weird position not having points from 2019, so honestly it was a big uphill battle to really break in and even get to the Top 100.”
The American began 2021 at World No. 194, but he showed good form early on when he advanced to the fourth round at the Australian Open for the first time. McDonald won an ATP Challenger Tour title in Nur-Sultan and qualified for Roland Garros and Wimbledon, but he had still not returned to the Top 100.
“I was sitting at No. 120 for months… it was a really difficult time,” McDonald said. “What it took this year was a lot more, I feel, than normal, which makes me even prouder that I was able to fight through all that adversity as well.”
McDonald’s biggest result came at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., where he advanced to his maiden ATP Tour final. The Californian battled through tough opponents — including Nick Kyrgios, Ilya Ivashka and Kei Nishikori — to make the championship match, where he pushed Jannik Sinner for nearly three hours before falling in three sets.
“I feel like it was a great end of 2021 for me, having that be my start for 2022. Now I feel like I’m back,” McDonald, who reached World No. 54 in November, said. “I really feel like I’ve come back, so now I can do some damage this next year. That’s what I want to do, capitalise even more. I want to accomplish a lot for next year as well.”
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/Citi Open
The 26-year-old is aiming to become a seed at the majors, win ATP Tour titles, and make various improvements in his game that he is working on with his team. For now, as McDonald continues preparing for next season, he is happy to celebrate being recognised as Comeback Player of the Year.
“There were some difficult times with it and obviously I had to go through that with my team,” McDonald said. “But having this now as a reward is pretty cool.”