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The Tennis Conversation: With the big picture in mind, Caty McNally sees disappointments as growth opportunities
In her backyard this week, the Cincinnati, Ohio native launches her Western & Southern Open singles bid Tuesday against Dayana Yastremska.
Published Aug 17, 2021
MATCH POINT: McNally and Gauff make winning start at Western & Southern Open
Doubles has proven to be a strong outlet for Caty McNally in her teenage years. The Cincinnati, Ohio native won the 2018 Roland Garros junior title with Iga Swiatek, then teamed with Coco Gauff to clinch the US Open. At the WTA level, McNally is 4-0 in doubles finals and has twice advanced to the Australian Open quarterfinals alongside Gauff.
The 19-year-old's singles abilities shouldn't be overlooked, either. After taking a set off Serena Williams in the second round of the 2019 US Open, McNally advanced one round further a year later at Flushing Meadows to post her best major singles showing thus far.
In this edition of The TENNIS Conversation, discover how McNally is learning in the pros through disappointments, her knack for being a quick study and thoughts on Swiatek's successes.
This year has been your first chance to experience a full season on tour. How do you approach that while still dealing with the pandemic?
MCNALLY: I don't think my mindset has shifted since I turned pro and started playing more tournaments. This year, I'm super excited to just be able to play more events, experience new things, put myself out there. The more I do that, the more I'm going to grow, and the more I'll be comfortable in these situations. That's something I'm really looking forward to, because I think you can only grow from experience.
It's only been three years since you were in the midst of a great junior run. Where would you say your game has evolved the most from then to now?
MCNALLY: My mom, who coached me when I was younger, always thought it was really important to have an all-court game. I enjoy serving and volleying, hitting and coming in. Three years ago, I would do those things, but now I've learned to pick and choose the right shot with more experience. I grew from failing: I would mishit, I would lose tight matches. But from those experiences, I developed, and now I'm just trying to play my game each and every match.
How much do you relish having a style of play that is unique to most of your peers—and perhaps being able to show that a classic approach can win again, alongside the likes of, say, Ashleigh Barty?
MCNALLY: I think Ash has a great game. I look up to her with how she mixes her slice, her all-court game and the way she carries herself on the court. Whether she's winning or losing, she's very professional. I'm really grateful that my mom taught me all the shots: how to slice, how to drop shot, how to hit and come in, because it pays off against a lot of players. I think they're only used to seeing everyone hit the ball hard and flat. When I'm able to mix in a slice or come forward, it makes them really uncomfortable and takes time away. And I think whoever takes most time away in today's game is probably going to end up on top. It’s the big picture for me. It might not come right away, but I know that if I stay at it, I'll eventually keep getting great wins.
By now, the tennis world knows you and Coco Gauff are great friends, but I’m going to ask about someone else that you played with in 2018, Iga Swiatek. How has your connection grown, and what do you respect most about Iga?
MCNALLY: It’s actually a pretty funny story. I didn't have a partner going into the French Open that year for doubles. And I went up to Iga and she didn't have anyone, so we're like, "Yeah, let's play." I didn't know her very well, but I knew that she was a great player, and I thought our games would mesh well together. Not only is she a great player, but she's one of the sweetest girls out on tour, and I think just being around her has helped our friendship. At tournaments, we always say 'Hi' to her team, and even [this year] in Miami, I was playing virtual golf in a hotel with her coaches. I'm super happy for her, proud of everything she's accomplished. She deserves it. She works really hard and she's very humble about it. I like that a lot about her.
You and Iga can both connect on valuing education as well. Does it actually feel like more than a year has passed since you graduated from high school?
MCNALLY: My mom and I made a deal when I turned pro, that she would help me out on a tour financially for the first four to six years if I would go to school (McNally is currently enrolled online at the University of Cincinnati). Having an education is something that’s not only important to her, but to everyone in our family. It's important to have something to fall back on, and to be able to do something when tennis is over. I don't want to just be sitting around; I want use my education in whatever way possible.
Finally, give us the scoop on the family dog, Stella, and what she means to you.
MCNALLY: Hopefully Stella can start traveling [on tour] with me. I think she'd be someone that would help me mentally. We never had a dog growing up, so she’s the best thing that's ever happened to us. And it's just nice to have a dog that is always happy to see you on both the good and bad days.