By Craig Ellenport
While COVID-19 forced the cancellation of much of the 2020 US Open Series, the show will go on in New York this summer. Both the US Open and the Western & Southern Open are set to be played in a controlled environment at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, marking the much-anticipated return to top-level tennis. As the countdown continues, USOpenSeries.com caught up with 18-year-old American Caty McNally, who last week received a wild card into the Western & Southern Open.
The 2020 Western & Southern Open will begin on Aug. 20, while the 2020 US Open is set to start on Aug. 31.
Caty McNally, who lives just outside Cincinnati, will be making her second appearance at the Western & Southern Open. Last summer, McNally reached the semifinals at the WTA event in Washington, D.C., before pushing Serena Williams to three sets during the US Open second round. In January, McNally was two-for-two in qualifying attempts, joining the field at the WTA event in Auckland and at the Australian Open, where she defeated Australian and former US Open champion Sam Stosur in the first round. McNally owns two professional titles on the ITF Circuit.
McNally also made some noise in women’s doubles last year teaming up with 16-year-old Coco Gauff. In 2019, “Team McCoco” won a pair of WTA titles—in Washington, D.C., and Luxembourg—and reached the US Open Round of 16.
Q: How have these last few months been for you during the pandemic?
Caty McNally: In the beginning, it was pretty difficult. We’re really fortunate that my grandparents, who only live five minutes away, have a house with an outdoor tennis court. So me, my brother and my mom, when everything was really bad, we were able to go there and practice when the weather was good enough. The gyms were closed, which was difficult. I was just doing more workouts outside, doing things on my own. I was just trying to stay positive and try to stay fit and active as much as possible.
Q: You got your first WTA main-draw victory at the Citi Open last summer and then made it to the semifinals there. What was that like for you?
CM: Obviously, it was a great week for me. Going into D.C., I didn’t have a WTA main-draw win, so getting that main-draw win for me was huge. I think maybe it was in the back of my head a little bit, so it was nice to get it out of my mind. I just played some really good tennis that week.
Q: You’ll be playing at the Western & Southern, which usually takes place in your backyard in Cincinnati. How weird will it be to be in New York instead?
CM: Yeah, it’s definitely sad that I can’t play in front of my family and friends, but I’m just glad that I’ll have an opportunity to go out there and compete. Who knows? Maybe not playing at home can possibly help me a little just because sometimes when you’re playing at home some people face pressure. I definitely put that on myself a little, unfortunately, but I’m just happy to be able to go back out there. I’m happy that the tournament is going to happen and I get the chance to go out there and hopefully play some good tennis. I have nothing to lose.
Q: You played your first match in Arthur Ashe Stadium last year and took a set from Serena Williams at the 2019 US Open. What was that like?
CM: It was obviously a great experience for me playing in Arthur Ashe. I’ve never played on a court that big before in front of that many people, and obviously that was the biggest opponent I’ve ever played against. So taking the first set, I was very pumped. I think I had the crowd into it. I think I went out there and just made the most of the experience. Some people will go out and play against their idols and maybe not perform well because they put too much pressure on themselves, but I think I allowed myself to kind of just relax and play my game as much as possible. Looking back, it’s just been only positives from that match. Obviously, I wish I could have won it, but… It was just a great experience.
Q: If you get back into Arthur Ashe this year, of course, it will be with no fans in the stadium. What will that be like?
CM: It would definitely be different. Last year, I practiced a couple of times before my night match in an empty stadium, so I kind of have a little bit of a feeling. But that’s just the way the world is right now, and unfortunately I can’t control that. I’ll just try to go out there, no matter what court I’m on, and do my best, play my game to the best of my ability.
Q: You and Coco Gauff became a very popular doubles team last summer. Will “Team McCoco” be back again this year?
CM: Yes, we are planning on playing all the tournaments together. … Yeah, I probably didn’t expect that much hype from it, and everyone wanting to watch us and follow us. We’ve been having such a good time, and the fans really enjoy watching us play. I think we bring great energy to the court and a lot of fun, and obviously we’re both so young, so the fans like that. We haven’t played together for a while, so I don’t want to put too much pressure on ourselves to win. I just want to go out there and get back to playing and hopefully have a good time with Coco and play some good tennis.
Q: How do you feel about the protocols being put in place to conduct these tournaments during the pandemic?
CM: It’s definitely going to be difficult. It’s going to be new for every single player, but every single player is in the same boat, and everyone has to deal with it the same way. Every player’s going to be treated the same way. Hopefully I can just focus on my tennis during these times and not about everything else. It’s definitely going to be different, being in a bubble and not being able to go out like everyone usually does during the US Open. For me, that was something I could do to get my mind off of tennis. So during this experience, I’ll just have to figure out other things that can get my mind off of competing in the evenings and stuff. For me, it’s important to not focus on tennis 24/7. It’ll kind of wear me out mentally.
Q: What are your goals for the rest of the year?
CM: I think for me, talking with my coaches and my family … these tournaments, this is such a good opportunity. Me and my brother had a conversation. He said, “You should just go all out,” and I totally agree with that. Hopefully I can do some great work this week, and hopefully it’ll carry over into Lexington. Just play fearless these next couple of months in these tournaments and do my best. That’s pretty much my plan.
Q: Any guilty pleasures for you during the pandemic?
CM: Making TikToks. I didn’t think I was gonna get addicted to the app, but unfortunately that happened, and I’m still addicted. I was making a lot of TikTok dances with my friends, with my brother, my family. And also just the amount of Netflix I’ve watched during quarantine is sometimes not very healthy. I finished two seasons of a show in like a day-and-a-half. But I still made sure I got all my tennis in, so it was well-deserved rest.