Collins continues dream run
at Australian Open
Ashley Marshall | January 22, 2019
What a difference a year makes.
This time 12 months ago, Danielle Collins was playing a first-round match at a lesser-known Challenger-level event in California. She had made the 14-hour flight from Melbourne to the U.S. West Coast after winning just one game in the final round of Australian Open qualifying.
Fast forward one year, and Collins, who had never won a main-draw match at a major when she arrived at Melbourne Park a little more than a week ago, is now in the semifinals of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career.
The American rallied to beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 2-6, 7-5, 6-1, on Tuesday to put her two wins away from lifting the Australian Open trophy. Collins’ quarterfinal win on Day 8 Down Under also earns her at least $656,000 – she had earned around $998,000 in her entire professional career before this week – and nets her enough ranking points to catapult to a new career high, currently projected to be No.
23 in the world.
“This has all been a really incredible experience,” Collins, currently ranked No. 35, said. “Obviously it's my first time playing main draw here in Australia, so I think that's a little bit new to me. This time last year, I was playing a Challenger in Newport Beach. But, yeah, I think I'm really embracing it.
“I think I've gained more experience in the last year, which is great. I don't think much has really changed. I think I'm just getting a little bit different outcome. That's based off of the hard work that's been put in in the past, just having faith in what I'm doing.”
Collins, a supremely confident, feisty right-hander who has built her game around a tireless work ethic and a lethal two-handed backhand, will now face No. 8 seed and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova for a place in Saturday’s final.
Ranked No. 44 in the world, Pavlyuchenkova broke Collins in her first three service games in racing out to a 5-1 lead and eventually capturing a 50-minute opening set.
“Honestly, I lost that set pretty quickly,” Collins said. “But what was going through my mind was that I think I had at least two break points that I didn't convert. Even though the set was 6-2, it took an hour. I felt like it was very close, regardless of the score. I told myself, ‘Hey, if I can just give a little bit more, 10 percent or 15 percent, I have an opportunity.’ Yeah, I stayed positive through that and kind of weathered the storm.”
Collins earned her first break at 2-1 in the second set before capitalizing on her third set point to force a decider.
Riding the momentum, Collins (pictured above) quickly streaked out to a 5-0 lead in set No. 3. The Russian saved a match point in holding to make it 5-1, but Collins, who had 13 winners to just one unforced error in the 33-minute third set, seized her third opportunity to seal a memorable victory.
It’s a remarkable journey for the former University of Virginia standout, who once declined a $35,000 prize-money check for playing in the 2014 US Open so that she could maintain her NCAA eligibility and tennis scholarship.
But for those who have followed Collins closely the past few years, maybe a breakout run at a major shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise.
She climbed from No. 299 in the world at the end of 2016 to No. 167 at the end of 2017. She finished the 2018 season as the 36th-best player, and she barely missed out on a Top-32 seed at Melbourne Park.
The 25-year-old from St. Petersburg, Fla., defeated Venus Williams and Coco Vandeweghe in reaching the Miami semifinals last March, and she toppled Victoria Azarenka in making the final four of the US Open Series event in San Jose in August.
The fact that Collins was 0-5 in first-round matches at majors dating back to 2014 has already become a thing of the past.
“When I lost at the French Open, I played [No. 2 seed Caroline] Wozniacki,” Collins said of her 2018 season. “When I lost at Wimbledon, I played [No. 15 seed Elise] Mertens. When I lost at the US Open, I played [No. 26 seed Aryna] Sabalenka. I lost to some really good players. I did everything I could those days.”
It’s been a gradual climb for Collins, who won two NCAA singles titles with the Cavaliers before turning pro, but she has always maintained the belief that the best is still yet to come.
“I think not being a child prodigy, not being a superstar at a young age, certainly humbled me, made me in a way work harder for things,” said Collins. “I think I was talented and athletic but maybe not to the level that other players were at, like, 14, 15, 16. I wasn't really sure if I could make it playing professional tennis when I was that age. Going to college was really crucial for me and my development.
“I think it's kind of made me hungrier in some ways, like not having that, ‘Oh, I've always been really amazing at tennis.’ It wasn't always like that. I wasn't always great or good.”
It’s safe to say that Collins this week has already proved to the world that she’s good. Now, she’s just four sets of inspired tennis away from proving to herself that she’s on the right path to becoming great.
Elsewhere on Day 8, Frances Tiafoe's dream run came to an end at the hands of world No. 2 Rafael Nadal, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. Jennifer Brady and Alison Riske advanced to the semifinals of the women's doubles with a 6-3, 7-6 win over the seventh-seeded Chan sisters of Taiwan. In the mixed doubles competition, Nicole Melichar and Brazilian partner Bruno Soares reached the third round with a 6-3, 6-2 triumph over the Hungarian pairing of Timea Babos and Marton Fucsovics, and Rajeev Ram and Czech partner Barbora Krejcikova defeated Polish wild cards Iga Swiatek and Lukas Kubot, 6-4, 4-6, [10-5].
Tuesday's action is headlined by Serena Williams, who continues her bid for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam women's singles title with a quarterfinal match against No. 7 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic.