Collins cut from a different cloth
Collins cut from a different cloth
Just because you have not heard of someone does not mean they are not any good.
We are so used to hearing the same familiar names at the major tournaments around the world – Serena and Venus; Petra and Simona; Maria and Caroline – that when a new face appears we tend to overlook them. A newbie? Must be on a bit of a lucky run… But Danielle Collins is a newbie with a difference.
True, she had never won a match at a Grand Slam until she got to Melbourne (she is now in the semifinals) but that was more due to misfortune rather than lack of talent. After losing in qualifying at last year’s Open, she went on to draw Caroline Wozniacki in the first round of the French Open, Elise Mertens in the first round of Wimbledon and Aryna Sabalenka in the first round of the US Open. It was a baptism of fire for Collins as she played her first full season on the WTA Tour.
But that has only helped her here this year.
“I think I've gained more experience in the last year, which is great,” she said. “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.”
The fact that she was making her full debut on the main tour at the age of 24 was nothing to do with her game but, rather, her brain. She is a smart woman and, while other talents of her age were plying their trade on the lower rungs of the professional ladder, trying desperately to get nearer to the top, Collins was hard at work at the University of Virginia to get her degree in media studies and masters in business studies.
She played college tennis while she studied – and was the top ranked female player – but the plan had not always been to be a professional. As a kid, she was sporty but she was not picked out for greatness from an early age and only when she had graduated in 2016 did she turn pro.
“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,” she said. “I think I was talented and athletic, but maybe not to the level that other players were at, like, 14, 15, 16.
“It made me kind of have to, in some ways… I don't want to say work harder, but I was kind of like playing from behind because I wasn't a child prodigy, I went a different route. 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 or whatever.”
She may not have thought she was particularly good but she has always been fiercely competitive. Not for her the rabbit-in-headlights look when she faces the biggest names in the business; for her the attitude is ‘bring it on’. She flattened Angie Kerber in the fourth round, a one-sided dismantling of the former champion’s reputation. The crowd was stunned. Collins just took it as another day at work.
“I'm my own person,” she said. “I'm feisty. I love making it kind of a war. If somebody wants to get in my face on my unforced errors, I have no problem getting right back at them and making it a feisty match.
“I love that, embrace it. I love when things get competitive. Stijn will tell you in the practices I'm always talking crap. Just kind of pulling people's legs. Hey, I'm beating up on you today in practice. Better step your game up. So, just part of the deal with me.”
Stijn, in case you were wondering, is Collins’s new coach: Stijn de Gier. The head coach of the team is Mat Cloer but he will not travel with her through the whole season. That role falls to Stijn, who also doubles as her road manager, helpmate and general factotum. History does not record whether he also does the laundry.
Originally from the Netherlands, Stijn went to visit a Dutch friend of his who worked as a coach for the USTA. There they were in December 2018, tootling about in the car to see the sights of California when the phone rang. Did Stijn’s pal know of anyone who would be free to work with Danielle? Err, yes. He’s currently in the passenger seat. I’ll hand you over. One Skype call later, the tickets to Australia were booked, they met in person for the first time here and here they are in the semi-finals of the Australian Open.
Now Petra Kvitova stands in her path to the final. Kvitova’s comeback story – and her tears on court on Tuesday night – has touched everybody so, in the absence of an Australian to cheer, she may well be the crowd favourite. But that does not bother our Danielle.
“I just love competition,” she said. “Whether people are for me or against me, I'm not really fazed by it. I love it. Either way. I kind of like it more when people cheer against me sometimes because I'm like, Yeah, I want to get them back, prove them wrong.
“Sometimes when people are all for me, it's nice to have the support, but sometimes I'm like, I hope somebody says something negative so I can prove them wrong.”
So now we know Danielle Collins. She was always very, very good – it is just that now the whole world has had a chance to see it.