Danielle Collins would be forgiven if she’s feeling pressure entering the Australian Open, where she reached the semifinals last year on her tournament main draw debut.
But instead, the American world No.27 is brimming with confidence following two impressive weeks in Brisbane and Adelaide, where she made the quarters and semis respectively. And more importantly, she’s feeling healthy following months of uncertainty that came with a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis.
“I think my game is at a really high level right now. I’ve been putting in a lot of hard work and it’s clearly paying off,” Collins told reporters this week in Adelaide, where she lost a narrow three-setter to Ash Barty in the last four.
“The biggest thing is I’m healthy this year, I was not healthy last year. Having that diagnosis is not something any athlete wants to deal with. Luckily I’ve been able to come out on the other side of it and I’ve been feeling really well and I’m actually feeling like a normal person again and that’s the biggest thing, it’s just feeling more consistent and not dealing with the pain.”
Collins, 26, revealed the news about her autoimmune disorder last October, and explains how it took time to figure out the best way to deal with it.
“It was very taxing mentally because I didn’t really know what was going on for a while, especially during the diagnosis process. They do so much blood work and then they have to measure things at different times, so it’s not like you just find out what you have. It’s like a month-long, more than that process,” she said.
“They have to see is this medication going to work? Is this going to work? It’s a lot of trial-and-error. I think during that process it was hard for me to comprehend because it just felt like it was impossible not to feel crappy. But luckily we were able to finally figure it out. I’m relieved.
“I think the medication I’ve been put on has been really helping and that’s the biggest thing so the disease doesn’t progress and it prevents the flare ups from happening. Adjusting my diet a little bit and during the time of the diagnosis being able to figure out what my triggers were, it took a little bit of time to figure that out and now I know that there are certain things that I can avoid and certain things that I can do to make myself feel better.”
Collins says the medication she is on has been “life-changing” and she now feels “in control” of the disease.
“I think when you’re dealing with that type of pain on a consistent basis and just feeling lousy all the time, you almost become used to it and honestly your body in some ways, you almost forget what it feels like to not be in that pain,” she added.
“So it’s just been amazing that I’ve actually been feeling like a normal person the last couple of months and just on a consistent pattern of not dealing with flare ups as much, and when I do, they’re much more manageable. It’s just been really refreshing for me.”
Collins’ revelations have come less than a year after former world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki announced she had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Wozniacki will be retiring from tennis after this month’s Australian Open – a tournament she won in 2018.
Collins has spoken to Wozniacki about their diagnoses.
“She’s a really great person and I’m really grateful for the conversation that we had. It’s not an easy thing to deal with. I don’t know many people that have rheumatoid arthritis, so it was kind of interesting that we both ended up having the same disease. It was good to talk to her about that,” said the Floridian.
Collins has been in fierce form so far this season, during which she has already posted three top-15 victories in two weeks. She dropped just three games en route to the quarterfinals in Brisbane before falling to Madison Keys, and lost serve just once on her way to the semis in Adelaide before losing in the final-set tiebreak to Barty on Friday.
Armed with a new team that consists of her coach Jay Gooding, her fitness trainer and boyfriend Tom Couch and her physio Evie Maguire, Collins feels she has everything she needs heading into the opening Grand Slam of the season at Melbourne Park.
“It’s been awesome having a full team and I’m really thankful that I’m able to do it and being able to get all of the assistance that I need this year because last year was honestly a complete disaster, with the coaching situations, the constant changing, and just not getting what I needed,” said Collins.
“I think I have a pretty positive outlook on my career. I’m relatively new to the tour, so there’s been a lot of figuring out what works and scheduling and getting used to the travel. I think I have a positive outlook on my career and I feel very grateful to be able to play professional tennis for a living, getting to do what I love consistently and perform, I’m very grateful.”
Collins has landed in the same quarter of the Australian Open draw as Simona Halep and Belinda Bencic. She begins her campaign in Melbourne against Russian Vitalia Diatchenko.