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Linger longer: Collins pauses to soak up 'special' time

  • Ravi Ubha

Given the hurried nature of professional tennis, players who achieve success often have little time to celebrate.

One tournament follows another around the globe as the chase for ranking points and prize money can be never-ending. 

MORE: AO 2022 women's singles draw

But Danielle Collins vowed to linger in Melbourne and soak up what she had just accomplished at Australian Open 2022, despite falling short at the last hurdle. 

"It's a great moment for me regardless of the outcome today, and I knew that before going into the match," Collins said after a 6-3 7-6(2) defeat to the world No.1 and home favourite, Ash Barty. 

"So, gonna take some time to celebrate a little bit and enjoy some time here in Melbourne and do some of the things that we wanted to do but were busy with the tournament."

Or as she put it, "bubbling" – staying focused. 

Collins' appearance in a maiden Grand Slam final came after there were many doubters in her career. 

Moving inside the top 10 next week will now give the American the chance to expand her limited entourage and perhaps provide a bigger window into the 28-year-old's personality rather than focusing simply on those regular chants of "come on!" that she has become so famous for.

Collins certainly wasn't a prized junior, after growing up playing on public courts in Florida. She swapped academies for university, first the University of Florida, then Virginia. Even becoming an NCAA singles champion didn't stop the naysayers. 

She at times had doubts herself, though, as she suggested in her long, thoughtful press conference that followed a gracious runner-up speech at Rod Laver Arena. 

The stadium was understandably, overwhelmingly in favour of Barty, with Collins' boyfriend Joe Vollen and mentor Marty Schneider among the few backing the thumping baseliner. 

At the major where she made a step in 2019, Collins was even better three years on

"We were joking about some tournaments that he had attended with me, a 25K in Orlando where I did not have the best performance, and thinking about the way that I'm playing now versus then, it seems like a lifetime ago, but it really wasn't that long ago," Collins said, recounting a conversation with Schneider earlier in the week. 

"Just other situations that I was in playing, kind of, some of those smaller tournaments and facing challenges and bumps in the road and how I used to go about things and think about things, how clueless I was sometimes and how much I have learned and grown from those moments.

"Now we can kind of look back and laugh, but during those moments we had some tough conversations. 

"Marty was always on call for all of those. I think we've shared some incredible memories over the years, but especially this week to see all of those baby steps come together now and being on the biggest stage in the world, it's just been so special."

And a stage where Collins continued to share her story about her health issues. She underwent emergency surgery for endometriosis last year, which then resulted an abdominal injury once returning to the circuit. 

Even before then, she revealed a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, the same condition that impacted Australian Open 2018 champion Caroline Wozniacki. 

"I think one of the things that has meant the most to me is women's health, especially going through the journey that I have with my endometriosis and my rheumatoid arthritis, and continuing to share my story and be a friend for people out there struggling, that's going to be at the top of the list," said Collins. 

"Helping the youngsters as much as possible, especially the kids where I was in their situation and wanting to do this and continuing to mentor a lot of the kids, I think that's going to be really important for me."

Collins, in a rarity for a Grand Slam finalist, lacks a full-time coach. Pocketing $1.58 million gives her options in that respect, and Collins mentioned the possibility of adding a coach, hitting partner and physio to her team. 

Collins endured physical issues during her life-changing stay in Melbourne. A lower back issue aggravated by playing both singles and doubles, and going farther than ever before at a major, proved troublesome. And that was the reason why she didn't sit down at changeovers. 

"It was actually recommended at one point by one of the physical therapists, just to keep my back from spasming," said Collins, the third straight US women's finalist in Melbourne after Sofia Kenin and Jen Brady. 

"The biggest issue has just been muscle spasms in the low back, which has been challenging.

"So today was not my best physically, if I'm being completely honest, but there were other times in the tournaments that I wasn't at my best physically.

"So there's a lot of room for improvement with some of the things going on."

Still, Collins came the closest to taking a set off Barty at AO 22, holding a 5-1 lead in the second before her Ipswich-born opponent stormed back, to the crowd's delight. 

"It's not easy going out and playing someone pretty much on their home court, on home soil, in the finals of a major, but this is what we live for in sports, right?" Collins said. 

"These are incredible moments that you don't get to experience very often.

"It was a real honour to be out there. I tried to embrace every moment, I tried to get the crowd fired up. I tried to get myself into it, did everything I could.

"Even though the crowd was clearly for Ash, I felt like I had a lot of really great support there, which was great for me, being in that situation. 

"It was a fun battle."

To cap her fun, fruitful Australian Open.