By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, January 29, 2022
Sitting was not an option for Danielle Collins staring down tennis tempest on Rod Laver Arena.
Facing Aussie Ashleigh Barty in front of the Melbourne faithful eager on seeing the world No. 1 end the nation’s 44-year AO singles title drought, battling back pain and the pressure of her maiden major final, Collins took on all comers — and very nearly took an entertaining Australian Open final into a third set.
Wimbledon winner Barty elevated through five consecutive games conquering Collins 6-3, 7-6 (2) in the Australian Open final becoming the first Aussie AO singles champion since Chris O’Neil in 1978.
Standing on changeovers throughout the tournament in an effor to prevent back spasms, Collins delivered a lesson in perseverance.
“[Ash is] playing incredible tennis. You know, she pushed me to the max, and I did everything I could and fell a little bit short there, but I gave myself a chance, “Collins said.” You know, physically it was not my best day unfortunately, and that was something that I was dealing with in the whole tournament, so I look forward to playing her when I feel 100%. “
Six months after Collins claimed her first WTA title on the red clay of Palermo, she made a riveting maiden major final run in Melbourne.
Playing without a coach, without an apparel or shoe sponsor, Collins cracked her two-handed backhand on the rise and brought plenty of fire and desire in a run that vaults her to a career-high ranking of No. 10 and new American No. 1.
Challenges have posed considerable pain and fueled Collins throughout her career. Collins has battled rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that can create painful swelling in the joints. Last April, Collins endured emergency surgery to treat endometriosis. Through it all, Collins continued to chase the dream and returned to the public park courts in December with her boyfriend Joe to train for this magical Melbourne run.
All this from the two-time NCAA champion who learned to play tennis on the public park courts of St. Petersburg with her father, Walter Collins, teaching her and a cement wall and her dad’s buddies providing early competition.
Many of the most distinguished champions in American history — Don Budge, Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzalez, Tony Trabert, Maureen Connolly, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, Venus Williams, and Serena Williams — grew up playing in public parks.
Collins takes pride in her public park roots and brings the same feistiness to the major stage as she did playing on courts wrapped by chain-link fences. At one point tonight, Collins barked right at a fan who yelled out before she struck a serve.
“Even when I’m here and playing in these stadiums, I hink back to all the special moments that I have had there,” Collins said. “It’s really like a zen moment for me sometimes to think about playing in the park.”
–and AO men’s finalist Daniil Medvedev–may have the smallest entourages of tennis, but both draw delight crashing the major party.
In a courageous performance, Collins reminds us that in tennis and in life there’s a nobility in effort and fighting through the worst moments with the best possible intention.
“I’ve for a while believed that I’d be able to make deep runs, especially after winning my first two tournaments last year,” Collins said. “But I think the thing that I’ve been most impressed with is the way I’ve been able to adjust when I’m not playing my best and when I’m not feeling 100% physically, being able to make adjustments to get myself to be comfortable and to put myself in a position to win sets and matches. So I think that’s probably what I’ve been most proud of in this tournament. “
Photo credit: Getty