BOOSTED BY A $100,000 GRANT, DANIELLE COLLINS SCORED A SPRING SURGE
As in life, so in business and sports – you never know how your decisions, your investments and choices will turn out. Translation: the tennis-loving Oracle Corporation hoped to give a boost to the American game. So last year it began a program to provide an $100,000 annual grant to each of two American collegians to help them transition into the demanding pro game. One of the recipients, Danielle Collins, was an unlikely candidate.
The Floridian’s parents weren’t teaching pros – her Dad was a fisherman, her mom is a pre-school teacher. Collins didn’t grow up with the comforts of a country club. She learned tennis on public courts, where she had to beg to play with talented opponents. Gritty and focused, she was determined. She marched to the beat of her own drummer, explaining to Jon Wertheim that tennis, with all its individual accountability, was her calling, rather than soccer, where you “run around a field all afternoon with a bunch of girls.” The first in her family to make it to college, she twice won the NCAA singles championships at the University of Virginia and was the No. 1 collegiate player.
Sweet! But such success didn’t mean she’d just sashay to the top of the pros. Like many, she struggled. Triumphs were few – expenses were high. Housing wasn’t always easy and there were problematic moments like a dicey Greyhound bus ride from Tampa to Miami. It was “very terrifying,” Collins recalled. “[But] it was either an $80 bus ride or a $600 flight. It was kind of a no-brainer at the time.”
Collins did stake an early claim to fame when she took a set off of Simona Halep at the 2014 US Open. Last year she played the minor leagues, traveling from Bethany Beach, Florida to Stillwater, Oklahoma, and along the way won two tourneys. Yes, she still had a triple-digit ranking, but Oracle’s $100,000 grant was a lifeline. She invested in mental training and a coach to go on the road with her. Yet tennis is an unsparing, Darwinian meritocracy. This January at the Australian Open qualies she was demolished by Czech Denisa Allertova, 6-0, 6-1, in 45 minutes – ouch!
But then she saw light on the horizon. She got a wildcard into Oracle’s $125,000 Newport Beach tourney and won. And when she reached the quarters of Oracle’s $125,000 tourney in Indian Wells, that was enough to make it into the BNP Paribas Open’s main draw.
Still, against Taylor Townsend in the first round, she promptly lost the first set and was trailing in the second. All was slipping away. But she dug in, fought back, figured a way and won. It was the tipping point of her career – confidence is key. She went on to beat the US Open finalist and No. 14 Madison Keys and the former Wimbledon junior champ Sofya Zhuk. At 24, she finally broke into the top 100 and then headed to Miami, where she unleashed the kind of dreamy breakout run every wannabe imagines.
She played her way through qualifying and then beat No. 37 Irina-Camelia Begu, shocked two-time Grand Slam semifinalist Coco Vandeweghe and defeated Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig before scoring the biggest victory of her career against her idol, No. 8 Venus Williams, to become the first-ever qualifier to reach the Miami Open semis. She would fall to French Open champ Jelena Ostapenko, but emerge as the No. 53 player and a bit of an American darling – not bad for someone who has yet to win a Slam match.
Collins doesn’t hesitate to note the remarkable help she got. She told IT, “Oracle stepping up, prioritizing college tennis and making it important is so special to me. You’re seeing more and more kids going the college route.”
Danielle told SI.com that if you go to college, “You get two coaches, a physio, a sports psychologist, and a nutritionist. All your expenses are paid and even if you turn pro, you can go back and get an education. You know there is more to life than tennis.”
As for her Oracle grant, she says, “By making a big financial commitment to me and Mackenzie McDonald (who also got a grant), that takes a lot of the burden off of us when we’re out on court. That’s such a big thing when you’re getting started…The biggest thing was being able to go out and play freely knowing that Oracle had my back and that they were going to help me for the entire year. That gave me a lot of confidence. It made me feel important being part of such a huge inaugural grant, and that support has gone a long way.”
No kidding. Now. we wonder, will Danielle Collins go a long way? Many a fan and one corporation certainly hopes so.
ORACLE US TENNIS AWARD
Oracle CEO Mark Hurd announced that this year’s winners of the $100,000 Oracle US Tennis Award were Ohio State product Francesca Di Lorenzo, who won the 2017 NCAA women’s doubles championship and finished the year as the No. 1 singles and No. 3 doubles player, and Georgia Tech product Chris Eubanks, who emerged out of Atlanta’s community programs, won the Arthur Ashe Sportsmanship Award and finished the 2017 college season at No. 8
Di Lorenzo is currently No. 194 and Eubanks No. 184 in the world, both rising.
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