Danielle Collins Keeps Forging Own Path, Enters French Open As Top U.S. Woman
by Todd Kortemeier
Danielle Collins competes against Naomi Osaka during their women's singles match at the 2022 Miami Open on March 29, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Things look a little different for Danielle Collins walking into Roland Garros this time around.
When she made her run to the quarterfinals in the 2020 tournament, her best career performance at the French Open, she did so as an unseeded player. Then 26 and in her fourth full year as a pro, the native of St. Petersburg, Florida, upset former world No. 1 Garbiñe Muguruza and then Ons Jabeur before losing an all-American quarterfinal to Sofia Kenin.
“I’m still trying to figure out this tour thing,” Collins joked to NBC Sports following her upset of Jabeur to reach the quarters. “It’s a little bit different than my life before.”
Now going into this year’s French Open, which formally kicks off Sunday, the 28-year-old Collins is the top-ranked U.S. singles player at No. 9 in the world. In addition to her run to the quarters at Roland Garros in 2020, she’s also made two trips to the final four at the Australian Open — including to the final earlier this year.
With five American women and seven men seeded among the top 32, Collins comes into Paris with a strong record on clay and good form of late, and she can reasonably be described as the best hope to claim the first U.S. singles title at Roland Garros since Serena Williams in 2015.
Her route to get to this point has been unusual for high-level tennis players.
Rather than work her way up through the junior circuit and smaller tours to debut on the pro tour at a young age, Collins instead made a name for herself in college tennis. After starting out at Florida, Collins transferred to Virginia, where she won two national titles. She also won the Honda Sport Award for tennis as the nation’s top women’s collegiate player in 2016. It was shortly after that she turned pro and began making her way on tour.
Her breakthrough victory came in 2018 when she upset No. 8 Venus Williams — her tennis idol — in the quarterfinals of the Miami Open. She was the first qualifier to make the semis at the Miami Open, and it was her first time in the semis at a WTA event. With it, Collins was in the top 50 for the first time.
“I’m just starting to finally put all of the pieces together,” Collins said then to USA Today.
2019 saw that first Grand Slam semifinal in Melbourne, which included knocking off No. 2 Angelique Kerber in straight sets. But it was also a difficult year as Collins revealed her diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, which had been causing her pain for some time.
Danielle Collins poses during the trophy presentation for the women's singles final against Ashleigh Barty (Australia) at the 2022 Australian Open on Jan. 29, 2022 in Melbourne, Australia.
“While I don’t know for sure what my journey to recovery will be, I do know that I feel really positive about getting back on the court,” she said at the time.
Much more of an impediment to Collins’ career than her arthritis in 2020 was the COVID-19 pandemic, which upended the tennis world for six months. Collins had opened the year strong but struggled after the season restarted in August. Her run to the quarters at Roland Garros, though, had her feeling confident again.
Then came another battle with her health, a diagnosis of endometriosis that required surgery in April of 2021. She was forced to withdraw from that month’s Charleston Open, but by July was hoisting the trophy at the Palermo International in Italy for her first WTA title.
“The last 24 hours has been a whirlwind,” Collins wrote on Instagram. “This week has been so rewarding to win my first @wta title. To do it on my own after traveling by myself with no family, friends, coach, etc…for the last month has had its ups and down. I have to say that no one is immune to having bad days. It has not been easy at times, and it can be especially hard being alone in this individual sport. I’m really proud of myself for giving it my best everyday, and never throwing in the towel.”
Collins won more hardware the next month, winning the Silicon Valley Classic. Then came her showdown with world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty in the final at Melbourne earlier this year. Though Collins fell in straight sets, she nonetheless established herself as a bona fide contender going into Roland Garros.
Collins and the rest of the field will have to contend with world No. 1 Iga Swiatek of Poland. But the American doesn’t have to look back far to know she can beat Swiatek, having upset her in the semis of the Aussie Open just a few months ago.
Collins may have come to pro tennis late, but she’s just getting started.
“To be the top-ranked American now means so much to me,” Collins said to Yahoo! News. “It’s something that I think everybody dreams of, for people that want to be professional tennis players. But to be able to accomplish this means the world to me. I’m kind of at a loss of words and almost uncomfortable thinking about it.”