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Tennis

Despite falling short in Australia, Collins focused on what’s next in her journey

Danielle Collins came into this year’s Australian Open without a coach or a clothing sponsor. But she embraced the journey and put on the best tournament of her life.

Doubting Danielle Collins hasn’t worked well for anyone. After advancing to her first major final at the Australian Open, the 28-year-old Floridian will make her Top 10 debut Monday and leave as the highest-ranked American on either the WTA or ATP tours.

“I think it hasn’t really fully set in yet, because for a while I’ve wanted to be a Top 10 player, it was a goal of mine last year, I fell a little bit short,” Collins said. “To reach it this early on in the season has meant the world to me.

“I think that I just have to keep going day by day and just working towards my goals. There’s other things that I’m going to want to achieve moving forward.

“I’ve gotten so much support from other players especially, which has been so nice and it’s something that I love so much about our sport is the camaraderie a lot of us share in the locker room and the friendships. I really think that for an individual sport and being as competitive as we all are, it’s amazing some of the friendships that we share.”

On Saturday night, Collins pushed World No.1 Ashleigh Barty harder than anyone managed to in Melbourne before losing 6-3, 7-6(2) in the final. Collins was the only player to break Barty’s serve more than once over the fortnight. She led 5-1 in the second set before Barty mounted a comeback to cap off her fortnight in which she did not lose a set.

“I was pushed to the max, and I gave myself a chance there in the end,” Collins said after the match. “Unfortunately it didn’t go my way, but I did everything I could, and that’s all you can do at the end of the day.

“So it was a great event for me. Accomplished some new things. Learned a lot of new things. Certainly have some areas to improve, which is a good thing. Played against a great competitor tonight and it was a fun battle.”

No one seems to relish the battle as much as Collins. With a self-taught game honed on the public courts of St. Petersburg, Florida, Collins has had to work and earn every success in her career. She battled through the college ranks to become a two-time NCAA champion.

With wildcards not coming her way, she ground it out on the ITF Tour to work her ranking up to compete on the WTA Tour. She has done so with her trademark competitive fire, one that kicked in immediately after being heckled early in the second set of the final. She responded by firing back with her vocal cords and racquet strings, racing to a 5-1 lead.

“I mean, that kind of stuff only helps me,” Collins said, smiling. “I think those who’ve watched me over the last couple of years have kind of seen that and learned that. I love nothing more than someone doing something like that because I love competing and trying to make it fun. That’s kind of what it was.”

After battling rheumatoid arthritis and then surgery for endometriosis last spring, she arrived in Melbourne without a coach, without a clothing sponsor and without a shoe sponsor. Her support team in Melbourne included longtime mentor Marty Schneider and boyfriend Joe Vollen, whom she tearfully paid tribute to in a moving on-court speech.

“We were joking about some tournaments that [Marty] had attended with me, 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.

“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.

“I can certainly walk away proud without having a coach and kind of doing it on my own. So many of the top players have a full entourage or posse and support team doing their homework for them. That’s not the way it’s been for me really ever in my career. I haven’t worked consistently with a coach for longer than a few months.

“So I’ve had to do a lot on my own and a lot of homework, a lot of scouting, a lot of technical work. It hasn’t been easy. It’s been very challenging and mentally taxing at times.

“But I’m just trying to stick with the process and do the best that I can. I’m learning a lot of things along the way. Ash certainly taught me a lot of things today on court.”

Collins hopes to begin building out her team. She struggled to manage back spasms in Melbourne but hopes to be able to bring a physio with her on the road. Hiring a regular coach and hitting partner are also on the agenda.

But as she faces the prospect of being a Top 10 player on a bigger platform, Collins wants to use her new stature to bring light to the causes that matter to her, such as women’s health and youth mentoring.

“I think there’s so much more, so many different sides [to me],” Collins said. “I’m a pretty dynamic person.

“I feel like earlier on in my career people didn’t really know a lot about me, aside from me just going to college, and I feel like this week has just been an incredible opportunity with all of the media here,” Collins said. “I think you guys have done a really great job kind of covering my journey and my story, and it really means a lot to me. I want people to get to know me better and feel as if they do know me.”

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