2023 Billie Jean King Cup Finals: Danielle Collins, a future U.S. captain?
Might we see Danielle Collins as U.S. Billie Jean King Cup captain in the future? Thanks to the influence that outgoing captain Kathy Rinaldi has had on her over the years, that answer is yes.
“I think one of my passions outside of obviously competing and doing this as a career professionally is helping a lot of the juniors and younger players and trying to be a role model for them on and off the court,” Collins reflected Thursday after opening the U.S. team week at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in Seville, Spain with a win.
“I have tried to make myself available for any of the up-and-coming girls, especially the American girls, to be able to be someone that they can go to and ask for advice, ask for help, to practice with.
“It would be an honor one day to be able to be in the position that Kathy is in. But we'll see. I'm sure I'm not the only one that would like to do that, but Kathy's definitely inspired me to probably at some point later on more consistently work with juniors and try to help them in their development.”
Collins kicked off Rinaldi’s final days in the big chair—she’ll cede the captaincy to former Grand Slam champion Lindsay Davenport next year—by beating Switzerland’s Celine Naef 7-6(4), 6-1 to put the U.S. team up 1-0 in their Group A round-robin tie against the 2022 champions.
Despite more than 130 places between Collins’ career-high ranking, No. 7, and 18-year-old Naef, the world No. 139 making her Billie Jean King Cup debut this week, the result was in doubt, at least over the first hour-plus. Collins, now ranked No. 55 after having not played in more than a month, was pushed hard by the precocious teen—a former junior world No. 4 who scored a win over Venus Williams this summer. Collins trailed both 15-40 at 4-4, as well as 4-1 in the ensuing tiebreak.
But once the 2022 Australian Open finalist got going, she never looked back. Over 1 hour and 42 minutes, Collins hammered 25 winners to improve her singles record in the event to 6-1.
Collins, a former star at the University of Virginia, has often risen to the occasion in team events—she started her U.S. career on a five-match winning streak—and part of that, she says, has been due to her close relationship with Rinaldi. Collins has known Rinaldi since her days as a junior player—an experience the entirety of her final team shares—and counts her as “one of [her] biggest role models, on and off the court.”
“What really stands out to me the most, honestly, is the way she treats all of us and how she's been true friends to all of us,” she said. “Whether it's been through big wins, really tough losses, personal challenges, she has been there for all of us. I could go into so many different stories of how she's always been the first person to pick up the phone if you're ever in a pinch or need something or just need someone to talk to.
“I think all of us can speak to that and have had the same experience with Kathy. I know in any tough situation, I can look over at Kathy and there is this calming presence about her.”
It's an X-factor that Collins hopes takes the U.S. all the way to a record-extending 19th Billie Jean King Cup crown.
“When you have a close relationship with your coaches … and even those around you, you feel more motivation to really get the win. You feel that support behind you all the way,” Collins continued.
“Coming out today, I had a couple of weeks off, coming back from a little bit of an injury. I would have liked to have taken control of the match a little bit earlier. It did go through my head that this is Kathy's last match, and I want to do my best not just for my teammates, but for Kathy in particular, because it is her last match.
“I really just hope that all of us can make this week as memorable as possible for her. I know a lot of us have known Kathy since we were juniors, and so it really is surreal kind of having this all come to fruition, with our games and where we are at with our careers and how now we are playing in the biggest stage of the world.
“I know we're already having some great memories on court, but hopefully we can go all the way and make her proud.”