By Owais Majid
Danielle Collins is one of many successful Americans on the WTA circuit. Indeed, there were four of them left in the last sixteen of the Australian Open. However, there is nobody quite like Collins. Coming through the college system – a different route to most of the others on tour – has instilled a mentality in her that is rarely seen among her peers. In her thrilling victory over Elise Mertens in three gruelling sets, she once more demonstrated all of the qualities we have come to expect of her and more.
Collins raced to a 3-0 lead but her game then took a drastic downturn as she lost five consecutive games, and eventually the set in little under an hour. Throughout the set, she had been grabbing her back which had been appearing to cause her some pain. To further compound her discomfort, the searing heat meant conditions were extremely difficult to compete in.
At this point, Collins would have been well within her rights to call upon the trainer. Whatever the issue with her back was, it was clearly hampering her somewhat.
But this is where Danielle Collins comes into her own. She fights like only she knows how. She fought the intensity of the heat, she fought an inspired opponent on the other side of the net, she fought a niggle and she fought fatigue and she dug her heels in and continued through gritted teeth.
The second set started in a similar manner to the first as she went 3-0 up but this time Collins kept her foot on Mertens’ throat.
Her face a picture of something between anguish and distress, Collins continued to showcase her durability by holding off Mertens’ attempts at a comeback. For all I’ve seen of Collins, this performance had a steeliness beyond what even she had previously produced. The normally expressive, in-your-face attitude gave way to a more zoned, quietly menacing competitor. One winner which was particularly outstanding would have been accompanied by a shout of “Come on!!!” under normal circumstances, however on this occasion, she merely fist pumped. Maybe she was simply conserving energy in such taxing conditions, maybe she knew she was in a real fight and was concentrating so hard that she barely noticed her own brilliance, or maybe, she was simply unable to replace that tortured look, such was the ordeal she was experiencing.
Lest we forget, her opponent was also here to play. The match took another twist as serving for the set, Collins was broken back by Mertens for 5-4 as the Belgian played flawless tennis to prolong the set.
However, yet again, adversity brought out the best in the American. Rather than relenting to a rejuvenated Mertens, not to mention everything else she was dealing with, Collins played a truly magnificent return game to immediately break Mertens again and force a decider with nearly two hours already on the clock. Teeth gritted, that pained impression still etched across her sweat drenched face, she dug in and battled on.
Both women, in spite of what they had put their bodies through, continued to display tennis of the highest quality, exchanging service holds full of breathtaking winners and snarly determination.
The decisive moment came right at the end of the set, and if there was any downer to be put on the match, it would be the manner in which it ended. Serving to stay in the tournament at 4-5, Mertens went 15-40 down. As she saved the second of two match points with a clutch second serve, Collins replied in turn with brilliance of her own to set up a third match point. This time, Mertens had no such success with her second serve as she double faulted to hand Collins the victory.
As Collins eventually prevailed in nearly three hours, one got the impression that she won because of her personality as much as her tennis, from which we should nevertheless take nothing away. Mertens is almost a polar opposite to Collins in this regard. Naturally far less extroverted, not nearly as expressive and nowhere near as aggressive, Mertens seemed almost intimidated by the woman across the net who, in spite of everything, was somehow managing to produce stunning tennis. It was that aggression, that expression of emotion that saw Collins stumble over the line.
Her attitude may not be for everyone, she may not be the most popular character in the locker room, some may even consider her bordering on rude, but Danielle Collins is unapologetically herself and boy, has it worked for her thus far. Some players frustrate us because their character doesn’t do their talent justice but with Collins, her on court persona has undoubtedly enhanced her as a tennis player. Were it not for that unwavering will to compete and get the victory at any cost, she would likely not have made it to where she is now.
Having spent little over five hours on court two days prior with her combined singles and doubles court time, and another doubles match to come that same day, it will take a superhuman effort for her to come back in two days’ time and perform to a similar level, but is anyone prepared to write her off? If anything, it is under these circumstances that Danielle Collins thrives. As she comes up against an Alizé Cornet who has a newfound exuberance about her, that match promises to be a fierce contest between two women who have overcome so much to get to where they are. A thrilling victory over Halep will certainly have boosted Cornet’s confidence, but she too has had her reserves significantly depleted by the Melbourne heat. Either way, we can be sure to expect them to fight it out to within an inch of their lives.