Hurrying into the media centre, a mere ten minutes after a heart-breaking 3 hour and 14 minute loss to world number 1, Iga Swiatek, American, Danielle Collins dropped a hint when asked if a loss like this would stay with her….
“At this point, you know, I'm kind of at the end of my career and they don't sting quite as much, to be honest. I feel like I have kind of gotten to the point where obviously they matter and, you know, my career means a lot to me, but the end of the day, you know, you either win or you lose, and that's all there is to it.”
When questioned further about her ‘end of career’ comment, 30-year-old Danielle confirmed the bombshell that no-one saw coming…
“Yeah, this is going to be my last season, actually, competing. I don't really know exactly when, but this will be my last season and I'm really looking forward to that….I feel like I've had a pretty good career.
There has certainly been ups and downs to it, and I think the travel and some of the things away from the court with scheduling and all of that, this is a really tough sport. I have other things that I'd kind of like to accomplish in my life outside of tennis, and would like to be able to kind of, you know, be able to have the time to be able to do that. Obviously having kids is a big priority for me, so...”
In some ways, it felt like an emotional over-reaction to a loss which, make no mistake, will sting for a while. At 4-1, and serving for 5-1 in the third and deciding set, Collins was in the kind of form that saw her reach the final of the Australian Open in 2022, where she defeated Swiatek in the semi-final, before going down to Australia’s Ash Barty.
Looking back to that 2022 run, when she was the 27th seed, there were parallels within the 3 hour match played out on Rod Laver Arena yesterday. Two years ago, Swiatek said of Collins’ power hitting:
"I was prepared for her playing an aggressive game, but I think that was the fastest ball I have ever played against in a match. For sure in practices I have hit maybe the same speed, but in matches it's different because players they don't want to, you know, take that much risk. But it seemed for her that it wasn't even risky because she was playing it with control. So I am impressed and huge respect to her because she's playing a great game."
At 4-1 in the third yesterday, you could’ve cut and pasted that quote for Iga’s press conference, as Collins was entering a zone that very players will ever get in to, and even fewer can match. Power hitting, precision placement, confidence, and composure. On the other side of the net, Swiatek looked rattled, confused, and a little lost.
But as we’ve seen from Collins before, that zone can disappear as fast is it appears. Against Ash Barty in 2022, Danielle was 5-1 up in the second set, and looking unstoppable, only to drop the next 4 games, and ultimately lose the tie-break (and the match) 7-2.
Yesterday, it was Iga who hung around long enough for Collins level to drop out of that ridiculously high level. Of that, she said later on,
“I didn't feel like I had control over this match. I wanted to fight till the end. I knew that….it's hard for anybody to keep that level that Danielle showed in the second set and at the beginning of the third. I just wanted to be ready whenever I had a chance to come back and, yeah, just play a little bit more because there weren't many rallies. She was really aggressive. I wanted to do the same. In second set for sure she showed better quality.”
Collins has now played her last match in Australia. Although it feels like she has been coming here forever, this is only her 6thyear in the main draw. In fact, across her career, she has only played in 25 Grand Slam main draws – just one more than the 24 Novak Djokovic has won!
Her professional career didn’t begin until 2016, after graduating college with a media studies, and business degree.
Looking at her record across those 25 events, the Australian Open has clearly been her favourite. She even mentioned as much before the 2023 event…
“Every year I come here, I'm always really comfortable…I think the climate here is really similar to Florida where I grew up, so I'm really used to kind of playing in the hot conditions,” Collins said. “I feel like I have the most fun here out of all the slams.”
Her results here backed up her comments.
Last year, she was stopped in the third round, against a rampaging Elena Rybakina in three sets. As mentioned, the final in 2022 was a highlight. But Collins also made a semi-final in 2019, when, as an unseeded player, who had never won a grand slam match, she stormed through the field, including a stunning 6-0 6-2 win, over the then second seed, Angelique Kerber.
So perhaps it was somewhat ironic that her first-round victory this year, was over none other than Angelique, coming back from an extended break after having a child.
Following that 2019 event, Collins confidence had clearly risen a notch or two…
"I may not have won a Grand Slam match before this tournament, but I gotta tell you I think it’s going to keep on happening. I hope to have many more of these."
However, things would become a lot more complicated for the American, with the diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis later in the year. She spoke at the time:
“I have not been feeling all that great for quite some time, but it has been somewhat of a relief and completely validating to understand the cause behind my pain.
As I have started treatment, I am looking forward to embracing this next challenge in life. Without a doubt, every healthy day is a gift and I am one hundred percent committed to keeping strong and continuing to battle on and off the tennis court.
It's a huge relief to get a diagnosis because as an athlete, everything is physical for me and now I can plan to attack this disease with a strategic management plan.”
Whether this disease had any impact on her decision to call time on her career now, will probably only be known at a later date, but there’s no doubt her career must’ve been impacted at certain stages.
Reflecting on her years at the Australian Open, Collins’ win record in Melbourne stands at 75%. The French Open is her next best, at just 57%, followed by the US Open, and Wimbledon, both below 50%.
And so the story of Danielle Collins in Australia was summed up quite nicely within one set of tennis yesterday. At her top level, it’s not a stretch to say she was unstoppable. But her base level just wasn’t quite good enough to reach the ultimate highs. Australia was lucky to see the best of Danielle Collins, and perhaps the thoughts of the tennis world were summed up with the final comment to her from the press gallery…
‘The sport is going to miss you’.