'I’m grateful for the painful experiences' - AO finalist Danielle Collins targets new goals
Danielle Collins made her first Grand Slam final at the Australian Open. The American No 1 is now looking forward following her defeat to Ashleigh Barty and hoping for more success on the WTA Tour. Reem Abulleil talks to Collins and some of those who know her best to find out more about her, including what she enjoys off court, how she is viewed in the locker room, and how high she can get.
The first time Marty Schneider met Danielle Collins, she was fresh out of college and was contesting the qualifying rounds of the Connecticut Open in New Haven back in 2016.
It was a hot and humid northeast summer day and Collins was sweating profusely. At some point during the third set, Collins asked the umpire if she could head off court for a quick change of clothes but he wouldn’t allow it.
“So Danielle walked to the service line. It was her turn to serve, she took her racquet, she put it up against her knee and then she grabbed her skirt and she just wrung it out and made this puddle, which was very stark,” recalls Schneider.
"And she looked at the referee and the referee said, ‘okay, quickly just go’. And I was like, I'm from New York. I like that. I like that attitude. Like there's lots of ways of getting things done. And that was one way.”
On court, Collins is a fiercely competitive, unapologetic character who knows how to make a point. At the time, the American two-time NCAA champion fit the criteria that Schneider used as a guide to select college tennis players that needed his help in transitioning to the professional tour.
Schneider describes himself as a philanthropist who believes in education. He recognises the difficulties faced by college graduates looking to make their way in the pro ranks and works with some of them to support them financially and help create an environment where they can reach their potential.
The three criteria on which he bases his selection are “that they're serious about their sport, as far as training, sleep, fitness, all the rest”.
“That they have good character; that they have the potential to get to the top 100 so that they can be self sufficient; and that their family doesn't have the resources that the players need in order to travel and hire coaches and things like that,” he explains.
“I haven’t had a ton of people believing in me in my career. To support me every step of the way means everything to me,” said the eloquent 28-year-old.
Collins’ runner-up showing at Melbourne Park – her best result at a Grand Slam to date – saw her become American No 1 and earned her a top-10 debut in the world rankings.
It was a remarkable achievement considering how she had undergone surgery for endometriosis just eight months prior. Collins, who was also diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis a few years ago, has worked hard to get her health problems under control and she now has her sights fixed firmly on the future, and has no interest in dwelling on the past.
When asked in Dubai this week to discuss the lessons learned from her Australian Open final against Barty, Collins made it clear that chapter was already over from her perspective.
“I think moving forward, I have so many more tournaments this year and hopefully another at least 18 events; so really focusing now on those next steps and those tournaments and competing in those events,” Collins told Eurosport on the sidelines of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
“So kind of putting that (the Australian Open) in the rearview mirror and moving forward and thinking about my goals for this year and what I need to do to accomplish those.”
Danielle Collins with the runners-up trophy at the Australian Open
Image credit: Getty Images
That goal-oriented mindset is what helped Collins stay mentally strong through her health woes. She was back on court just a few weeks after her surgery in April, and by early August, she had won consecutive titles on clay in Palermo and on the hard courts of San Jose.
“I think when you deal with something like what I was dealing with, with my health challenges, I think you can either really let it bring you down or you can try to focus on your goals and trying to still accomplish those,” said the Floridian.
“And I just tried to focus on doing the best I could every day and luckily, I've been able to do a pretty decent job on court.
“I’m grateful for the painful experiences just as much as some of the more amazing experiences because I think that they're really big moments for growth, personal growth for us, as athletes and as people.”
A multifaceted risk-taker
Collins graduated from UVA with a degree in media studies and she prides herself on having numerous interested outside of tennis, which help her keep her career in perspective.
She can be daring, both on and off the court, and is willing to test her own limits in order to explore new sides of herself.
In Melbourne, she told reporters a story of joining fellow tennis player Bethanie Mattek-Sands on a rock climbing trip, even though she is scared of heights.
“I've always liked to face new challenges and look into like new hobbies and interests and activities and I'm a pretty multifaceted person,” says Collins. “So doing those types of things I feel like helps me become stronger on court and I feel like it just helps me be a better-rounded person.
“You can only play so much tennis; I feel like we play so much tennis throughout the year, the more things that you can learn to enjoy and interest away from the court. I think it helps you be better when you are on the court.”
Iga Swiatek, the 2020 Roland Garros champion, lost to Collins in the semi-finals of the Australian Open last month. The young Pole said the speed of Collins’ ball was “crazy” and is curious to see whether the American can keep up her form moving forward.
“With her game, she can play really aggressively. She's also taking a lot of risk. She's really confident, really aggressive. If she's going to keep that good attitude and good mindset, she can do anything,” said Swiatek on Monday.
The turning point
Schneider, who Collins refers to as a mentor and a friend, has travelled to a few tournaments with her these past few months, keeping her company while she searches for a full-time coach and a team to join her on tour.
He says the period post-Wimbledon last year as a real turning point for her.
“I couldn't travel with her to the three clay tournaments after Wimbledon and that was the first time she was feeling a little healthier and she went by herself. And that was when things changed. Because she had to completely rely on herself for everything,” he says.
Collins played three WTA 250 events back-to-back and did progressively better at each one, making the quarters in Hamburg, the semis in Budapest, before lifting the title in Palermo.
“That was where I saw her start to own her life, her game, her tennis experience in a way that she hadn't for a few years,” Schneider continued.
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“Basically she started doing three things on court and in preparation and this is what I think is completely different with her now.
“Everyone has planning. Plan A is, I've looked at the tape, I’ve played this play before, I see what they've been doing, I know what I'm doing well, this is what's going to happen. You get on the court though, and this is the Mike Tyson line: ‘Everyone has a plan A until they get punched in the face’. And then what happens?”
Schneider says Collins’ ability to problem-solve on court and come up with plans B or C, while executing them well on a consistent basis is why she’s managed to elevate her game to where she is right now.
From a health perspective, being able to travel on tour without having to abide by tight restrictions in bio-bubbles has allowed Collins to get the treatments she needs to keep her RA at bay; be it a visit to an infrared sauna or an ice bath or any post-match ritual that could aid her in avoiding flare-ups.
Mastering the business side of tennis
Schneider assures Collins is in a place in her career where she is “driving the ship” and that he is merely a “sounding board” who can serve as an extra pair of eyes when reviewing a contract or matters of that nature.
Since her deal with New Balance expired, Collins has been competing without an apparel sponsor and with no agent. She also struggled to find a full-time coach that was available to travel with her during the pandemic. That is all about to change according to Collins and Schneider.
“I don't want to let the cat out of the bag completely but I am going to be working with an agent moving forward,” said Collins. “So we'll probably announce that sometime next week. Hopefully once everything is finalised and I think that there's going to be some really incredible opportunities for me in terms of sponsorship and business relationships moving forward.
Highlights: Barty claims historic Australian Open title with win over Collins in final
“I've always had a very business mind when it comes to my tennis and what I do and especially coming from humble beginnings, I think it makes what we do even more special and the resources that we're able to have and so I take good care of my finances and I work with a financial advisor who has helped me tremendously and to ensure that I have a future after tennis and that that money is safe.
“So that's something that I've really enjoyed learning about is financial investing and how to be better and so I hope that that's something that I can also talk more about the future and help people with financial literacy.”
A ‘refreshing’ presence on tour
Collins’ on-court combative persona makes her stand out on tour. Her fist pumps and ‘come ons’ are fun and theatrical, and she has developed a cult following online because of them.
It’s one of the things her fellow American player Jessica Pegula loves the most about her.
“On the court she’s so fiercely competitive and does not care what anyone thinks and I think that’s so refreshing to see in women’s tennis,” world No 14 Pegula told Eurosport.
“And I think for females too, how we’re always supposed to be very composed and nice and not – I don’t know what the right term is but like ‘bitchy’ kind of, but I love that she doesn’t care. She goes out there and she’s super competitive and fierce and doesn’t apologise for it, and I think it’s awesome.”
She remembers how Collins turned many heads when she graduated from college and Pegula knew she was going to do well on tour because she had such a big game.
Pegula gave an anecdote that, to her, summarised Collins’ on-court appeal in a nutshell.
In World Team Tennis we played together and we were practising a lot and she kind of ran for a ball and went for an extra little, ‘aaahhh’ to get it and she looked at me and she’s like, ‘you know sometimes you’ve got to throw a little drama in there’. And I was like dying laughing, I was like, ‘that is Danielle to a tee’. It was so funny, I love that.
Many players on tour share Pegula’s fondness of Collins’ flair for the dramatic. While some might think that her confrontational nature on court could rub her peers the wrong way, Collins says that is far from being the case.
“I think that across the board we have pretty mature people in the locker room. I think that most of the women on tour are very good people and are very encouraging and uplifting of each other and I haven't experienced that type of drama in my career,” explains Collins.
"It's kind of the complete opposite actually. I've experienced a lot of really great friendships and friendships that are going to last a lifetime. So that's what I focus on.
“I think there's a tendency sometimes with media and in history to kind of put women against each other, more so than what we see on the men’s side. I think that that's kind of been something that we've seen not just in tennis, but across the board is that kind of stuff. But you know, I don't really engage in this.”
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