April 14, 2024

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Danielle Collins wins the Miami Open – her way

Danielle Collins wins the Miami Open – her way

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The moment Danielle Collins let Elena Rybakina and the 14,000 fans at Hard Rock Arena and everyone else in tennis know what happened Saturday happened when she was one point away from taking the first set and facing perhaps the game's most dangerous serve.

Rybakina did what she usually does, using a catapult with her right arm to launch one of her missiles into the middle of the court. That's when Collins, one of the great talents in tennis, stepped back and ripped a swing that lifted her feet off the ground, launching a ball that wouldn't return and take a lead that would continue on her way. To the victory that may be the culmination of her tennis life.

About an hour later, she was standing on stage holding the large glass trophy for winning one of the sport's major titles in a tournament she had watched as a child growing up on the other side of Florida. Collins won 7-5 6-4 over the Wimbledon champion who is one of the most feared players in the sport. And I made it in the nick of time, because this is perhaps the most bizarre detail about this magical fortnight a few hours' drive from the public playing fields where it started – and at the end of the season, it will exit.

Collins, 30, just eight years into her professional career and playing the best tennis of her life, swears she will stop playing no matter what happens for the rest of the year.

Never mind that the 2022 Australian Open finalist, two-time NCAA champion, and a player with a reputation in the locker room as one of the most dangerous players in the game, may have gotten into her groove. Thanks for the memories, this one and whatever else happens over the next seven months.

I'm sick, exhausted, and tired of trying to compete at the highest level while treating endometriosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and the chronic pain both conditions can cause. In addition to the loneliness of the road and the game itself. She wants to start a family, which doctors have told her would be a good idea to continue sooner rather than later, given her medical history.

Few would object to any of this. If nothing else, Collins is telling the truth, like few others in the sport. He always has.

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However, her plans have stunned many people working in the sport. And as she proved on Saturday and over the past two weeks, when she's healthy and stable, she's absolutely better than most women. They know it, and so does she.

Plus, there's a quality Collins brings to the tennis court: fire, energy and the ability to take thousands of people packed onto a court anywhere in the world on a journey with her. Andy Murray does it. So does Rafael Nadal. Serena Williams did. Bianca Andreescu, the talented Canadian who won the US Open in 2019 at 19 but has struggled with injuries since, could do it too.

To watch these players and a handful of others is to ride shotgun with them. And what a ride it was, especially on a day like Saturday, when Collins had fist-pumping, thunderous screams, and the 14,000 people in the makeshift arena inside Hard Rock Stadium were there with her, especially in that terrifying moment, when a final backhand tore across the court. .


(Robert Prang/Getty Images)

Rybakina watched her sail by. Collins shouted, bending down on her knees and remaining crouched down for a long time, letting all the noise fall on her.

“I felt like I was playing in front of thousands of my best friends,” Collins said.

From the outside looking in, Collins making it to the Finals in Miami seems ridiculous.

She is ranked 53rd in the world, the lowest-ranked player ever to win the Miami Open, which has been happening since 1985. Last month, she was playing in qualifying just to get into tournaments like this, a level just below the Grand Slam. She has never reached a final at this level of the tournament before. She suffered a back injury in Austin, Texas, last month and was forced to withdraw in the middle of the quarter-final match.

She's also committed to taking some time off the professional tennis hamster wheel during this latest trip around the world. She took a 10-day trip to Tasmania after losing in the second round of the Australian Open, thinking she might not return to that part of the world for a while.

She has been traveling without a coach ever since. She enlisted the help of a college coach from her hometown of St. Petersburg who has worked with her occasionally since 2015, a man named Ben Maxwell, the men's and women's coach at Eckerd College. He was here with her last weekend, then spent most of the week training in Eckerd, then returned on Thursday for the semifinals.

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Jaime Arias, the American star from the 1980s who runs tennis development at IMG Academy and has been one of her tennis teachers since childhood, showed up at her box on Saturday to help out as well.

So, what exactly happened here to make all of this come together in a way it never has before?

Did he see anything different this week?

“She was very flexible and really enjoying herself,” Maxwell said Saturday evening. “Off the court, we're having a great time. I played some golf last night and I've been keeping it off the tennis court. I think that's very important. Everyone is stuck in tennis, tennis, tennis, training, training. I think sometimes it's good to take a step back and do some “Non-tennis activities and letting the mind rest and know what to do. She's a gifted, talented player and one of the best players in the world. I'm a big proponent of having that balance off the tennis court. I think it helps the mentality.”

About golf. She played on her days off. Nothing too serious. Some time on the range and then a few holes. She said she wasn't very good at all this. (Maxwell didn't dispute that assessment.) But that's why she loves to play. It's okay to be bad at something and try to get better. It keeps her mind sharp and makes her think about something other than tennis. And then she goes back to tennis and feels absolutely amazing.

She surfs a lot for the same reason. But the waves aren't very good in Miami, or anywhere near the big tennis tournaments, so it's golf. Plus it would allow her to live her best life in Florida – a little golf, a little tennis, or maybe a dip in the pool at the resort she was staying at.

“I'm living the dream,” she said one day.

Then there's Quincy, her poodle mix who came with her to the tournament and kept her balanced in a service dog-like way. “Mr. S.” I called him.

She was sticking with “Mr. S.” At doggie day care during her games and she has some videos of him watching her play. She said Quincy seemed to be very confused by it all. He sees his mother. He sees the ball. He doesn't seem to understand why he's not there and sharing.

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However, he was never far from her thoughts. Maybe that's why she was so effective in Miami. She played seven matches, winning 14 of 15 sets, then often excused herself from post-match chats by telling people she had to go to daycare before it was too late.

However, Mr. Q was not on her mind as she desperately tried to finish off the biggest title of her career, with Rybakina stubbornly trying to dampen the party that many people had been having all day.

Everywhere she walked Saturday, on the court and in every corner of the tennis court, Collins heard voices.

Let's go DC.

You can do this.

we love you.

She had never seen anything like it before, except perhaps in the final in Australia two years ago when everyone gave their hometown hero, Ash Barty, the same treatment. But this time it was all for her.

“It was just surreal,” she said. “I will never forget this day because of that.”

From the beginning of the day, she told herself to keep her emotions in the locker room and wait until the game was over to let them out. As the match point dropped and then another and another, she fell back into the routine between points she had been working on. Return to the breath, just as in her yoga practice. Hop, hop, hop from foot to foot to keep the legs alive and to allow the nervous energy to dissipate so you don't get in the way of things you know you'll need.

Then came a final backhand.

“There were so many thoughts running through my head,” she said. “In the end, I said: Thank God, thank you, I got over this hurdle.”

Of course, there was another question. Do you still intend to quit smoking?

Yes.

No reconsideration?

no.

She said the questions come from a good place. They make her feel wanted. There are just other things you want. Good stuff. Great stuff. And she won't let anything get in the way of her trying to get that.

Once again, Collins was telling the truth.

(Free/TBN/Getty Images)