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Collins' coach Harrison talks breakthrough run

Ashley Marshall | January 25, 2019

Danielle Collins reached her first Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open in Melbourne this week, eventually falling to two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.

Her breakout run caught the attention of tennis fans across the world, as people gravitated to her strong personality and fierce competitive nature. The 25-year-old is projected to climb to a career-high No. 23 in the rankings on Monday and will now likely be seeded at other majors later this year, starting with the French Open in May. spoke with Collins’ full-time coach Pat Harrison from IMG Academy, where Collins has trained for the past 10 years. How long has Danielle been a part of IMG Academy?

Pat Harrison: She has trained with us at IMG since she was 15 or 16, so she has been with us for almost 10 years now, save for the few years she went to college, but she was still with us on the holidays and summers. So she has been with us for a long time. I started doing a lot more stuff personally with her in the past 12 to 16 months, just helping her every day, running practices and doing the head coaching role, so to speak. Can you speak to how she’s grown as a player and as a person over the past decade?

Pat Harrison: She’s always been driven, always been competitive, always worked hard. She’s always been a great athlete. Every intangible you need for Top-10-in-the-world type success, contending to win Grand Slams, has been there. When you’re in the right environment, it creates success.  

As a younger player, she laughed and made comments about being bratty. I never looked at it as bratty, but that’s just her way of saying some self-deprecating things about herself. She’s always been confident. But channeling that confidence as she has gotten older has allowed her to keep the confidence but also be very professional. Looking at what she was able to achieve in Melbourne, what pleased you the most with her performance?

Pat Harrison: She had this type of success last year at Indian Wells and Key Biscayne, when she beat Venus [Williams], beat Coco [Vandeweghe], beat [Irina Camelia] Begu, beat Monica Puig and beat Madison Keys within a four-week period, so you know the ability is there.

She went into Wimbledon, where she’s not very comfortable on grass, and didn’t get a lot of matches in and had a tough match, lost 2 and 2 to [Kiki] Bertens. Gets up an early break at the French Open, draws Wozniacki first round and loses a tough first set, 7-6. Then she plays a girl that’s 12 or 13 in the world first round of the US Open, [Aryna] Sabalenka. She gets up 2-0 in the third.

She got that kind of draw here, quite frankly. Same situation, but she was able to work through this first-round match and get on a roll. It would have happened at the US Open had she held onto that 2-0 in the third lead against Sabalenka or got through the first set against Wozniacki. She was getting opportunities to win against other Top-15 players even in the other majors. Bertens was the only one she wasn’t really in the match, in a position to win.

Those are all first-round losses, so it looks like a big deal, but it’s really not. She kept that perspective. She knew she could beat them. Obviously, the higher-level players you play on a regular basis, you don’t win as often, but when you do, it sets you up for a nice run, like it did in Australia. Let’s face it. She was two points away from losing first round in Australia, and Julia Goerges served for the match against her at 6-5, 30-0, and she finds a way out of it. Next thing, she’s in the semis. You didn’t travel with Danielle to Melbourne. How often were you in touch with her, and who else from IMG was with her team?

Pat Harrison: [IMG Head of Tennis Physical Conditioning] Yukata Nakamura was there for fitness, and [IMG Director of Tennis] Rohan Goetzke, the head director of IMG, was there through the quarterfinals. Danielle was FaceTiming me and calling me for each opponent. We discussed it, and I sent her game plans in texts of what needed to be done.

We go with that for each opponent. I’ve seen so many of the players, so you know their games, you know what they do. You just give them little reminders. I gave her little tidbits of serve patterns and what people do based on who she’s playing. What was the game plan for the match against Angelique Kerber? A lot of people said that’s the best they’ve seen anybody play her.

Pat Harrison: I think with Kerber, she’s a great counter-puncher. She’s not going to blow you away with pace. She likes to use the angels in the front part of the court. Danielle has enough power where she was striking quick and not allowing her to even use the angles. [Kerber is] a lefty that likes the slider balls, so step up and take it early, and when the shot is open, don’t hesitate. Just go after it and hit it. She never allowed her to find a rhythm and dictate and use the off-speed stuff and her angles and counterpunch on her. She just kept her off balance enough so she wasn’t able to get into a feel of the match. What did you focus on during the offseason to get her to this point?

Pat Harrison: Not a lot of major changes. Talked about court positioning and did a little bit of forehand work so she’s more comfortable on both wings. Maintaining good court positioning and good body control, not getting caught jumping at balls when you’re stretched wide.

Good body control leads to better shot control. She has an all-court game; she doesn’t have any real weaknesses. But you can’t put a price on the value of experience. The more matches she gets in, the better she’s going to be. From a technical element, what were you working on?

Pat Harrison: Get the forehand out in front, not stopping early, and catching it out to the right where you’re pulling up on it. Just getting behind the ball a little bit better where it’s out in front of you. Then you can release the racquet head with your wrist as you come through and get the ball up and down, instead of having it sail on you. Danielle has always said that she was never a childhood prodigy. Do you think her self-confidence helped her overcome early struggles because she always knew if she worked hard she had the ability to succeed?

Pat Harrison: You can’t put a price on experience. I think the biggest thing was with the way she was brought up. I think I gel well with her because she probably grew up the same way I did. As a kid growing up at public parks, I kind of relate to her. So I understand.

She plays with a little bit of a chip on her shoulder, and I coach with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder. She’s constantly trying to prove herself because of her background. When you’re coaching the best players in the world but you only played at a Futures or Challenger level, like I did, it’s kind of similar. You’re constantly trying to prove yourself as a player, as a coach. There’s a similar passion and energy there.  

She does a great job of channeling things. I understand that personality. She’s got a female version of my son Ryan’s [ATP star Ryan Harrison] personality. I understand that intensity and that drive because my sons are like that. You just have to get them to channel it properly without trying to extinguish the fire, and she has done a good job of finding that balance. From everything you’ve seen, what does Danielle need to do to be able to maintain this level?

Pat Harrison: There’s always a transition. In Australia, Danielle made that transition of no longer sneaking up on people. The expectations are there now, so the next transition will be dealing with expectations now that she’ll be seeded at Grand Slams and the bigger events. She does a good job of going out and playing tennis every day, and I don’t think that’s going to be a problem for her at all. The tennis world saw her passion in Melbourne. But how would you describe her personality off the court?

Pat Harrison: Off the court, she is very fun-loving. She jokes around a lot. She likes the dry humor, but she’s real funny when you get to know her. She’s very personable, very good with kids, very open with people. She’s got kind of a guy’s personality, where she’s very blunt and she expects people to be the same with her. I think any professional athlete is competitive in everything they do. I don’t think there’s one that isn’t. That’s just part of being successful at a professional level.  Big picture, how good can she be?

Pat Harrison: I think last year, when she made that run in Miami, I told people there that I felt she was good enough to win Grand Slams, and she obviously proved that right nine or 10 months later. You recognize the talent, and you try to get them to understand they’re that good and make them believe it. What’s your message going to be to her going forward?

Pat Harrison: My message won’t change. It’s work hard. The ranking doesn’t matter. You go through the same process, you prepare the same, you trust what you do, and you compete hard every time you play. Just take care of your business. The tennis ball doesn’t care what your ranking is. How does her upcoming schedule look?

Pat Harrison: She’s going to Doha and Dubai, then she’ll come home for two or three training weeks before Indian Wells and Miami.



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