The Fisherman’s Daughter – Cinderella Danielle Collins

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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 22: Danielle Collins celebrates winning a point in her quarter final match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Bill Simons

MELBOURNE

Danielle Collins is into the performing arts. Acting, the movies, theater – all that appeals to the Floridian. She didn’t win a match at last year’s US Open, but she came away from New York with a favorite play – the Broadway’s “Cinderella.”

Now Collins has emerged from tennis’ gritty off-Broadway grind and staged a Cinderella run of her own. For starters, she beat the No. 14 seed, German Julia Georges, in the first round. Never mind that she was just three points from losing. She beat the No. 19 seed Caroline Garcia, and then demolished three-time Slam winner Angie Kerber 6-2, 6-0.

But in the quarterfinals she stumbled out of the gate. She was nervous facing unseeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, whose name has to be one of the longest in the history of Grand Slam quarterfinals.

Collins had played a first-round match on Arthur Ashe Stadium and en route to reaching the Miami Open semis she’d played on Miami’s prime stadium court. But it’s not easy to come out and perform on Rod Laver Arena. Collins sprayed her strokes and tapped her inner Andy Murray as she punished herself with flash-pouts. She was imperfect. The Russian collected the first set 6-2. But Collins is no rookie. She’s 25 and has significant depth. No, it’s not just that she’s into Salvador Dali, has her own jewelry company and is the first in her family to graduate from college. Her father, who was a fisherman, is 80 and works every day. “He’s the hardest working man I know,” she told IT.

Danielle works hard, too. She wasn’t a whiz kid. “I think not being a child prodigy, not being a superstar at a young age certainly humbled me…I was kind of playing from behind…It’s made me hungrier…[I didn’t have] that, ‘Oh, I’ve always been really amazing at tennis.’”

While at Virginia, Collins was the NCAA champ and later she won the $100,000 Oracle US Tennis Award. Still, until about two years ago, she was playing in tennis’ backwaters – think Stillwater, Oklahoma. Until nine days ago she hadn’t won a single Slam match – ouch!

Today she ventured out onto one of tennis’ greatest arenas and was promptly taken to task by the savvy Russian, who has been around forever. Danielle dropped the first set 6-2.

But Collins has grit, and she’s smart – a spitfire who battles hard. Conventional wisdom has settled on one word for her – “feisty.” And Danielle believes. “I really put the work in,” she said. “It’s been a long journey. I went to college. I did it in a different way and I’m really proud of that. Now I can go out on court knowing I deserve to be on this stage playing against the best in the world.”

Noting her intensity, Chris Bowers quipped, “I don’t think you want get on her wrong side.” Collins adores competition and doesn’t mind getting in her opponent’s grill. Just ask Angie Kerber.  “I love making it a war… If somebody wants to get in my face on my unforced errors, I have no problem getting right back at them…I love when things get competitive. I’m always talking crap, pulling people’s legs.”

After dropping the first set, she didn’t panic. She did all she could to right her ship. Her Australian Open Cinderella carriage, that had been rolling along, hadn’t turned into a pumpkin yet – but she sensed she had to up her game ten per cent. She changed her rackets, began to hit freely and tried to make it a more physical match.

Pavlyuchenkova felt Danielle’s surge and faltered. Nervous and tired, she soon was overwhelmed. Collins won going away, 2-6, 7-5, 6-1, to become America’s first female collegiate player to reach a Slam semi since Stanford’s Meredith McCrath in 1996.

Yankees in this Down Under town have hopes for an All-American final. Danielle vs. Serena – that works. But that’s a big ask. Tomorrow in her quarterfinal Serena plays Karolina Pliskova. Collins will face Petra, “the Barty pooper,” Kvitova. The two-time Wimbledon champion beat Ashleigh Barty 6-1, 6-4 to abruptly put an end to Melbourne’s Barty party. Australian Open Radio told us that Ashleigh had learned a tough lesson: “When Kvitova gets on a roll you are a passenger.”

The powerful Czech lefty beat Collins a couple of weeks ago in Brisbane in three tight sets. Kvitova has won ten straight matches and she soon could be No. 1 in the world. Then again, if free-swinging Danielle is indeed a real Cinderella, when Melbourne’s tennis ball is over, just maybe the championship’s glass slipper will fit well and the fisherman’s daughter will live happily ever after.

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