Danielle Collins wins the Miami Open — her way


MIAMI GARDENS, Florida — The moment Danielle Collins let Elena Rybakina and 14,000 fans at Hard Rock Stadium and everyone else in tennis know what was going down on Saturday happened when she was a point away from taking the first set and facing maybe the most dangerous serve in the game.

Rybakina did what she usually does, using that trebuchet of a right arm to launch one of her missiles down the middle of the court. And that’s when Collins, one of the great grip and rip tennis talents, reared back and ripped a swing that took both her feet off the ground, cranking a ball that didn’t come back and taking a lead that she would keep on her way to a victory that may very well be the capstone of her tennis life. 

About an hour later, she was standing on a stage holding the big glass trophy for winning one of the sport’s big titles at the tournament she watched as a kid growing up on the other side of Florida. Collins was a 7-5, 6-4 winner over a Wimbledon champion who is one of the most feared players in the sport. And she managed it just in time, because here is probably the oddest detail about this magical two weeks a few hours drive away from the public courts where started out – come the end of the season, she’s out.    

Collins, who is 30, just eight years into her pro career and playing the best tennis of her life, swears she is calling it quits no matter what happens the rest of the year. 

Doesn’t matter that the 2022 Australian Open finalist, a two-time NCAA champion, and a player with a locker room reputation as one of the most dangerous in the game, might just be getting in her groove. Thanks for the memories, this one and whatever else happens over the next seven months. 

She’s done, worn out, tired of trying to compete at the highest level while managing endometriosis and rheumatoid arthritis and the chronic pain that both conditions can bring. Plus the loneliness of the road and the game itself. And she wants to start a family, something that doctors tell her it would be good to get going on sooner rather than later, given her medical history.  

Few take issue with any of this. If nothing else, Collins speaks the truth, like few others in the sport. Always has.  

Still, her plans have bewildered lots of people around the sport. As she proved on Saturday and over the past two weeks, when healthy and locked in, she’s flat-out better than most women. They know it, and so does she. 

Also, there is a quality that Collins brings to a tennis court, a fire and and energy and an ability to take thousands of people packed into a stadium anywhere in the world on a journey with her. Andy Murray does it. So does Rafael Nadal. Serena Williams did. Bianca Andreescu, the gifted Canadian who won the U.S. Open in 2019 at 19 years old but has battled injuries ever since, can do it, too. 

To watch these players and a handful of others is to ride shotgun with them. And what a ride it can be, especially on a day like Saturday, when Collins was all fist-pumps, and bursting screams and come-ons, and the 14,000 people in the temporary arena inside Hard Rock Stadium were right there with her, especially in that lest moment, when a final, signature crosscourt backhand ripped across the court. 

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(Robert Prange/Getty Images)

Rybakina watched it sail by. Collins screamed, bent at her knees and stayed crouched for a good while, letting all the noise fall over her.    

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

From the outside, Collins’ run to the finals in Miami looks ridiculous.

She’s 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 qualifiers just to get into tournaments like this one, which is the level just below the Grand Slams. She’d never made a final at this level of tournament before. She suffered a back injury in Austin, Texas, last month and had to pull out in the middle of her quarterfinal.

She also committed herself to taking some time off the pro tennis hamster wheel during this last ride around the globe. She took a 10-day trip to Tasmania after losing in the second round of the Australian Open, figuring she might not be back in that part of the world for a while.

She’s been traveling without a coach since then. She grabbed a college coach from her hometown of St. Petersburg who has occasionally worked with her since 2015 to get her through this tournament, a guy called Ben Maxwell, the men’s and women’s coach at Eckerd College. He was with her here last weekend, then spent most of the week coaching at Eckerd, then came back on Thursday for the semifinals. 

Jimmy Arias, the American star from the 1980s who runs tennis development at the IMG Academy and has been one of her closet tennis gurus since childhood, showed up in her box on Saturday to help out, too.

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

Did he see anything different this week? 

She’s just been super resilient and really enjoying herself,” Maxwell said on Saturday evening. “Off court, we have a great time. Played some golf last couple of nights and just been kind of keeping it low key off the tennis court. I think that’s super important. Everybody gets so stuck in tennis, tennis, tennis and training and training. And I think sometimes it’s good to take a step back and do some non-tennis related activities and let the mind rest and she knows what to do. She’s a talented, talented player and one of the best in the world. I’m a big advocate for having that balance off the tennis court. I think it helps the mentality.”

About the golf. She’s been playing on her off-days. Nothing too serious. Some time on the range and then a few holes. She’s not very good at it all, she said. (Maxwell did not argue with this evaluation.) But that is why she likes to play. It’s good to be bad at something and to try to get better. It keeps her brain sharp and makes it think about something besides tennis. And then she gets back to tennis and feels completely awesome. 

She surfs a lot for the same reason. But the waves aren’t very good around Miami, or really anywhere near big tennis tournaments, so golf it is. Plus it lets her live her best Floridian life – little golf, little tennis, maybe a dip in a pool at the resort where she has been staying. 

“Living the dream,” she said the other day. 

And then there’s Quincy, her poodle mix who came with her for the tournament and has been keeping her on an even keel in a service dog kind of way. “Mr. Q.” she calls him.

She’s been sticking “Mr. Q.” in doggie day care during her matches and has some videos of him watching her play. Quincy is apparently very confused by it all, she said. He sees his mom. He sees a ball. He seems not to understand why he is not there and involved. 

He has never been far from her thoughts though. Maybe that’s why she was so efficient in Miami. She played seven matches and won 14 of 15 sets, then often excused herself from post-match chats by telling people she had to get to the day care service before it was too late.

Mr. Q., though, was not in her mind as she tried desperately to close out the biggest title of her career, with Rybakina stubbornly trying to snuff out the party that so many people had been setting in motion all day. 

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

Let’s go DC.

You can do this.

We love you.

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She’d never experienced anything like it before, except maybe at the final in Australia two years ago when everyone was giving their hometown hero, Ash Barty, that same treatment. This time, though, it was all for her.

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

From the start of the day, she had told herself to keep the emotions in the locker room, to wait until after the match to let them out. As one match point and then another and another slipped away, she returned to the between-point routines she has been working on. Back to the breath, just like in her yoga practice. Hop, hop, hop from foot to foot to keep the legs alive and to let the nervous energy dissipate so it doesn’t get in the way of the stuff she knew she would need. 

Then came one last ripping backhand.

“There were so many thoughts going through my head,” she said. “At the end, I was just like, ‘thank God, thank you, got through that hurdle.’”

Of course, then, there was the other question. Still going to quit?

Yup.

No reconsideration? 

Nope. 

The questions are coming from a good place, she said. They make her feel wanted. There’s just other stuff that she wants. Good stuff. Great stuff. And she’s not going to let anything get in the way of her trying to get that. 

Once more, Collins was speaking the truth.

(Frey/TPN/Getty Images)





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