As we reveal this year's edition of The 21 & Under Club, we'd like to call your attention to Team Luke Hope for Minds, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports families with children who have suffered an acquired brain injury. Headed by former Texas Tech tennis coach Tim Siegel—whose son, Luke, suffered severe head and chest trauma from a golf cart accident which resulted in an anoxic brain injury—Team Luke Hope for Minds has lost numerous fundraising opportunities throughout 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To learn more about the organization, and for information on how to donate, go to teamlukehopeforminds.org
WTA Rank: No. 124 (No. 38 in doubles)
UTR Rank: No. 86
What she's done since last summer: Took Serena Williams to third set at US Open; won Washington, D.C. and Luxembourg doubles titles with Coco Gauff
Cincinnati has greatly shaped Caty McNally. Its cuisine, culture, history—and the city’s pre-US Open tournament, which has existed for more than a century—have helped make the 18-year-old who she is.
Then there is probably the most important place in McNally’s Cincinnati: Court One and Court Ten at The Club at Harper’s Point. With ten indoor hard courts and eight outdoor clay courts, Harper’s has, for more than 40 years, been one of the premier tennis venues not just in Cincinnati, but all over the Midwest. Harper’s Point has always been the center of the teen’s tennis life.
McNally’s mother, Lynn Nabors McNally, has long coached at Harper’s Point and has a superb tennis pedigree. Inducted into the Cincinnati Tennis Hall of Fame in 2009, her mentors included such local tennis notables as John Peckscamp, John Cook and Bill Lofgren. In the 1980s, Lynn played on the same Northwestern University team as WTA pro and former USTA President Katrina Adams, and then spent several years competing at ITF and WTA events.
Lynn is the primary reason why her daughter has built a playing style that occupies a place and time all its own—scarcely seen today, evocative of yesterday, potentially dazzling for tomorrow. It’s an all-court, attacking game, based strongly on exceptional variety, be it coming to the net, incorporating serve-and-volley, mixing in the slice backhand and forcing the action from all parts of the court.
“There aren’t many women who try to pressure their opponents this way,” said McNally’s older brother John, an All-American at Ohio State University.
“You don’t play players like her that have such full games,” said Serena Williams after taking three sets to beat McNally at the US Open last year.
Williams, after a point with McNally at net during last year's US Open. (Getty Images)
The McNally household featured frequent talk of such net rushers as Martina Navratilova and Stefan Edberg. Steve Contardi, the director of tennis and operating partner at Harper’s Point since 1977, recalls how when Caty was five, she demonstrated a backhand volley with the skill of a seasoned pro. Says Contardi, “She just knew to move to the ball. That’s rare.”
Caty’s all-time favorite player is Roger Federer. While Caty admired Federer’s smoothness, Lynn made sure she knew that the Swiss genius had studied, learned and practiced every possible shot. A Lynn Nabors McNally pet phrase: “The good get better, the better get best, and the best never let it rest.”
While the baseliners come out of the box with the batteries included, Caty knows it will take longer for her to put the parts and pieces together.
“It’s very special that I’m playing a different game,” she said. “It can be difficult sometimes.”
Kathy Rinaldi, U.S. Fed Cup captain and head of women’s tennis for the USTA, visited McNally in Cincinnati when Caty was 14.
“You could see at a young age how much she enjoyed playing,” said Rinaldi. “It brought her so much joy to be on the court.”
And yet, as ambitious as McNally is, she remains grounded.
“She’s a normal kid,” said Contardi. “She’ll come back from a trip, hit for a while with the younger players and then we’ll see her playing Serena Williams on TV. Just terrific.”
The Club at Harper's Point is seen in this photo, drawn by a young McNally—"When I grow up, I want to be a tennis pro." (Lynn Nabors McNally)
As much as McNally loves Cincinnati, she of course had no idea that she would spend four straight months there this year. Though Harper’s Point was temporarily closed, McNally’s grandparents’ home had a tennis court. Over this shelter-in-place period, she and John practiced daily, often for up to two high-energy hours.
Across hills and on the track, McNally has worked extensively with her trainer of six years, Lisa Lakes. Once back in the gym, weight training entered the picture.
Work beyond the lines became even more important during the pandemic.
“My mom kept reminding us that the goal should be to get in the best shape you can be,” said McNally. “I’ve done the most running I’ve done in my life.
“It definitely has shown me a whole other side of the world” added McNally about the pandemic. “To go on a lockdown, and be in your house, is not always easy. It’s shown me that you have to keep a positive mindset.”
In conversation, McNally is low-key, thoughtful but mild-mannered and reserved. But turn on the clock, start counting and competing, and her intensity level rises significantly. Once upon a time, the entire McNally family—Caty, Lynn, brother John and father John—would play rather spirited doubles matches every Sunday night at Harper’s.
“Caty’s feisty,” said her brother. “She won’t ever back down.”
How competitive is McNally? Those who know her share tales of her competitive zeal, be it in early childhood in kickball, dodgeball and four-square. Asked what she would be if not for tennis, McNally sees herself as a basketball player, a game she concedes she often tried to “take over” as a child. Further testimony to McNally’s love for sports came this spring, when in less than two days she devoured the show All-American, which focuses on a high-school football player. When not playing tennis on tour, McNally loves competing in all sorts of games, just about always for small bets, with her traveling coach, Kevin O’Neill.
O’Neill, a longstanding coach who lettered at both Clemson and Pepperdine, fits in nicely with Team McNally. He and Lynn have known one another for years, back to the days when each worked with another promising all-court player, Alexa Glatch.
“He sees the game very much like I do,” said Lynn.
McNally, all grown up, at the 2020 Australian Open. (Getty Images)
One major premise of McNally’s style is that it’s simply more enjoyable than hunkering down at the baseline.
“The game comes from the imagination of the player, so you let it come out of you,” said O’Neill. “Lynn understands that and they are taking a long-term view of everything. There are no good wins and no bad losses. You take the confidence from your game. It’s the fun of playing that matters.”
Said Rinaldi, “She was very creative at a young age.”
With pro tennis inching its way back, McNally is excited about returning to the US Open.
“It was a great couple of weeks,” she says of her 2019 experience in New York. It began with an opening round singles win over crafty veteran Timea Bacsinszky. Next came an unforgettable moment, a primetime match inside Arthur Ashe Stadium versus Serena. Showing the full range of all-court tactics, McNally took the first set, 7-5. Though she lost the next two, 6-3, 6-1, she’d revealed the possibility of future greatness.
“I was definitely nervous,” says McNally. “But I think I handled myself well. That’s huge if you can go out there versus a big opponent. Hopefully, I can build off that experience.”
In addition to her singles efforts, McNally’s doubles partnership with Coco Gauff has impressed the world, including engaging runs at the last two Slams as “Team McCoco.”
“We get along so well,” says McNally. We complement each other. We’re planning on playing every single event together.”
O’Neill likes that thought, saying “Doubles is great—more chances to play, to compete, to practice.”
While Court One and Court Ten are McNally’s main practice courts at Harper’s Point, perhaps the most significant spot of all was on Court Six. This was the location of a backboard, where Caty, then all of three years old, would hit for 20 minutes to an hour at a time. John loved that spot too. In honor of all the work the two put in on that backboard, it was recently dubbed, “The McNally Rally Wall.”
One suspects this is but one spot where Caty McNally will leave her name.
The Class of 2020 is now on TENNIS.com and Baseline.
Monday, July 27: Sofia Kenin | Monday, July 27: Elena Rybakina | Monday, July 27: Alex de Minaur, Dayana Yastremska, Casper Ruud | Tuesday, July 28: Stefanos Tsitsipas | Tuesday, July 28: Thiago Seyboth Wild | Wednesday, July 29: Amanda Anisimova | Wednesday, July 29: Brandon Nakashima | Thursday, July 30: Coco Gauff | Thursday, July 30: Caty McNally | Thursday, July 30: Jannik Sinner, Iga Swiatek | Friday, July 31: Felix Auger-Aliassime | Friday, July 31: Carlos Alcaraz | Saturday, August 1: Denis Shapovalov | Saturday, August 1: J.J. Wolf | Sunday, August 2: Bianca Andreescu | Sunday, August 2: Leylah Fernandez | Sunday, August 2: Marketa Vondrousova, Miomir Kecmanovic