Collins builds on
success in breakthrough season
Ashley Marshall | April 4, 2018
Breakout American star Danielle Collins says success breeds success. If momentum and confidence are the biggest commodities in tennis, there’s every chance that Collins is setting the stage for big things in 2018.
The two-time NCAA Division I singles champion is off to the strongest start of her young career. She picked up her first trophy on the WTA Tour in January, and she sent waves around the international tennis world with a surprise run to the semifinals of the Miami Open last week; a run that included impressive wins over fellow Americans CoCo Vandeweghe and Venus Williams.
The 24-year-old Florida native is hesitant to say her Miami run was a turning point in her professional journey. Instead, she prefers to think of it as the culmination of years of hard work, fine-tuned by competing against the best players in the world on a weekly basis.
By consistently securing wins against players ranked above her, Collins has gained valuable experience, knowledge and confidence. ADVERTISEMENT That has led to bigger wins in bigger tournaments, and Collins isn’t ready to stop now.
“I’ve made a lot of improvements within my game to allow me to go further in tournaments and get more experience under my belt,” Collins said. “I look at my career like a puzzle, and I’m starting to put all of those pieces together. I think it’s only upward from here.”
Collins has had an outstanding start to 2018. She won the 125K Oracle Challenger tournament in Newport Beach, Calif., where, as a wild card, she rallied to beat Russian qualifier Sofya Zhuk, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, in the final.
The following month, Collins defeated top seed and world No. 56 Magda Linette of Poland to reach the quarterfinals of another Challenger-level tournament in Indian Wells, Calif. Combined with her other results in the Oracle Challenger Series over the winter, Collins earned her a wild card into the BNP Paribas Open, also in Indian Wells.
The University of Virginia graduate grasped the opportunity with both hands, toppling world No. 14 Madison Keys in the second round en route to the Round of 16, where she eventually fell to No. 27 seed Carla Suarez Navarro.
Her performance at the event earned her almost $90,000 and, more importantly, 120 valuable ranking points that allowed her to climb into the Top 100 for the first time in her career.
“The biggest thing is experience,” Collins said. “In the past, I was playing smaller tournaments – 25Ks, 60Ks, 80Ks – and now getting my foot in the door to these bigger events and playing bigger opponents, it’s allowing me to make more of a name for myself.
“You don’t get a lot of recognition when you’re first starting and playing smaller tournaments. But when you do finally get some good wins, it ends up seeming like you’re doing better than you did in the past, when really you’re just playing bigger names.”
With a newfound confidence, Collins kept the momentum rolling at the Miami Open in her home state of Florida. The 24-year-old needed to win a pair of qualifying matches to book her spot in the tournament’s main draw, but once she was in the 128-player field, she showed more of the talent that helped her punch her ticket there.
She dropped just two games in defeating Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu in the first round, and she outlasted fellow American and No. 16 seed Vandeweghe in the second. Collins rallied from a set down to take out Croatian Donna Vekic in the third round and was forced to stage another comeback to take out 2016 Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig in the Round of 16. She then earned her first Top-10 win with a victory over eighth-seeded Venus Williams, 6-2, 6-3, in the quarterfinals, before falling to world No. 6 Jelena Ostapenko in straight sets in the semifinals.
“It’s obviously a great feeling when you get a win over a Top-20, a Top-15 player and people like Venus Williams,” said Collins, who won NCAA singles titles with the Cavaliers in her sophomore and senior years. “It gives me so much confidence knowing I can hang in every point and play so competitively throughout the match. Even when I lost to Ostapenko, I had a chance to win that first set – every point of that match was competitive.
“A lot of it is experience. I think that’s why you see so many of the players who are at the top right now have been at the top a long time. You have to really put yourself into a situation where you get into the big tournaments where you’re playing against the bigger opponents and you’re seeing that level every single day. I think that once you’re able to consistently play in the big [WTA Tour tournaments], you put yourself in a good position to be at the top. I’m looking forward to see what the future holds for me.”
At No. 53 in the world, Collins now has her sights set on the next big goal: cracking the Top 50. Once she achieves that, she’ll be on the verge of being seeded at Grand Slam events, which offers its own protection in the form of not facing another seeded player until at least the third round. It’s another example of success fostering success.
The climb up the rankings has suddenly come quickly for Collins, who was ranked No. 950 in the world just three years ago and No. 167 at the start of the season. The American attributes the success to ending 2017 on a high note – she won nine of her last 11 matches – and making the most of her preseason. She also said it has been important to approach each match with the same competiveness and motivation, whether she was facing someone ranked outside the Top 300 or a Grand Slam champion inside the Top 10.
“You have to go out with the same mindset against every single opponent, and I think that’s the key to being consistent and trying to sustain this high level for a long time,” said Collins. “I really like to focus on the things that I can control, and I try to be a very in-the-moment person.”
Collins expects to start the European clay-court swing in Madrid in the first week of May. She’ll play in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome and the Internationaux de Strasbourg in France to round out the month, before traveling to Paris for Roland Garros.
Her season won’t be defined by success on the red clay, but she hopes to use the tournaments to further improve her game and work toward new goals, which seem to be constantly updated as success raises the bar higher.
“I try not to think too much about the future or the past. I have specific goals that I’m working on within my game, and when those goals are met, I know I’ll have great success,” said Collins. “I think the next big thing for me is to stay inside the Top 50 and work my way inside the Top 40. The biggest thing is taking little steps and not thinking too much about the end result. Take the little steps and be proud of those moments.”