The cult-favorite American is in the midst of her best run in Flushing Meadows, flying solo and feeling uninhibited after a strong summer.
Undaunted and uninhibited: Danielle Collins has looked unleashed in Flushing Meadows. In the midst of a career-best US Open, Collins is seven years removed from an explosive debut, one where she pushed Simona Halep to three sets as a collegiate unknown.“I wasn’t even thinking about turning pro and was in a totally different situation, life, and tennis experience,” she recalled to me before the 2021 tournament began. “Now, this is what I do for a living.”
Collins has been giving life to crowds across the globe this summer, sweeping her first two WTA titles in Palermo and San Jose, and doing it all on her own in the absence of a coaching team.
“I proud to have been able to maintain the mental focus and clarity, to be able to lock into my tactics or when I needed to make technical adjustments,” Collins said. “I’ve been able to get at it every day without needing that outside positive reinforcement to hold my hand every day. That was probably the most rewarding because when you don’t have a coach that presents a lot of different challenges, and I think I was able to work through the problem-solving on my own and learn a lot about myself and other people at the same time.”
The American ultimately compiled a 12-match winning streak that culminated in vengeance over Halep at the Omnium Banque Nationale-a full-circle victory that was proof of just how far she had come.
“Simona is one of the best players in the world and is never someone who is easy to beat, and to do it in the amount of pain I was in was a pretty solid mental performance.”
Collins had largely learned to live with pain for most of her career, quietly carrying an often-crippling case of endometriosis even through highs that included a run to the 2019 Australian Open semifinals. A surgery conducted this spring at last addressed the issue and she made an impressive return to action at Roland Garros, foreshadowing her successful summer through a tense two-setter with 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams.
“With the symptoms I was dealing with, I wasn’t able to perform consistently; there were too many weeks out of the month and months out of the year where I just wasn’t well enough to even be able to perform at even 50 percent level. Now I’m able to put myself in the best position, physically, to have good performances and do my best. Before, that wasn’t the case.”
Her fighting spirit has never been in question, and the No. 26 seed quickly became a cult favorite in part due to her bellicose celebrations.
“Some people like me, and some others might not,” she said. “I just go out and try to be myself, and I think that’s what everyone needs to do. For me, I’m someone who is very passionate. I like to show positive emotion and I hope that’s perceived for what it is.”
Next opponent Aryna Sabalenka is herself no stranger to big emotions; the two will face off in a rematch of a 2018 US Open encounter that went three sets. Fresh off a maiden major semifinal at Wimbledon, the No. 2 seed isn’t underestimating just how much damage a pain-free Collins can do.
“She’s playing well right now, moving much better than she was moving before,” Sabalenka said after her second-round win on Wednesday.
“I would say she’s a powerful player, and she can come back whenever she wants to. So, she’s a dangerous player and it’s going to be tricky to play against her, especially in the United States when everyone will support her.”
The return of the US Open crowd has been a major highlight for Collins, who is eager to forget the challenges presented by life in the COVID-19 bubbles.
“When you’re in the bubble and need to go see a chiropractor, that’s sometimes not able to happen,” said Collins, who was dismissed from World TeamTennis after making an unauthorized exit from their bubble last summer. “If you need acupuncture, tough luck; you may not be able to leave the bubble for that, either. If you need your supplements at Whole Foods, you may not be able to do that either.
“It was something I think was challenging for everyone; we all needed to adapt and push through it. Hopefully we never have to go back to it again because I don’t think it’s good for anyone’s mental health.”
Thriving in the arms of the home crowd, Collins is yet to drop a set in New York - posting solid results over former world No. 6 Carla Suárez Navarro and Slovenian youngster Kaja Juvan - and won’t stop making noise as she edges closer to a second week debut.
“New York is a bit of a melting pot, so it’s nice to get so many different types of fans. Sometimes you know you can have the crowd completely on your side, and other times it can be more neutral; either way, it keeps things really fun. People always have a good time here at the US Open; I think it’s one of the favorite Grand Slams among spectators because it’s such a fun event.
“I’ve had my own fun here when I’ve been done with the tournament in years past; I love being able to grab a hamburger and a drink to watch the matches. I love playing in front of the American fans. I’ve always had a very good support system here. I think that positive energy will hopefully help me manifest my goals and dreams.”
Unafraid of the hard work necessary to catalyze those goals, Collins finds herself on an exciting new plateau, and may yet find that no stage is too big. —tennis.com