World No. 37 Danielle Collins takes the Oracle Challenger Series court for the third time tomorrow, hoping to continue the momentum she gained from the Newport Beach and Indian Wells events earlier this year.
For the rising American tennis star the path to securing a spot on the WTA tour was an unusual one – one that did not include turning pro at age 16 or traveling the world to play professional events week-in and week-out like many of her peers.
Collins got her start in the game at age six, when she began hitting tennis balls against backdrops at public parks near her parents’ home in St. Petersburg, Florida. Her mother Cathy, a pre-school teacher, and her father Walter, a landscaper, enjoyed the game of tennis casually, but did not have access to resources that could catapult the young, hopeful Collins into a development program.
Collins would have to make it doing things her own way. Aspiring to take her talents from the public courts of St. Petersburg to the WTA tour, she took the lack of opportunity and made her own. From ages eight to 12, she created and spent time working on her own performance and development program – which involved approaching male and female tennis players (all of whom were much older than her) and asking them to hit with her each chance she got. Collins would develop her game locally and from the ground up – unlike most juniors her age.
Collins weaved in and out of tennis camps and competed in local tournaments in the following years, polishing her game, and by doing so, she quickly drew interest from major Division Iuniversities. Determined to be the first in her family to attend and graduate college, she committed to playing tennis at the University of Florida in 2012. A tough first year overshadowed by a lack of playing time left Collins feeling underutilized and in search of a fresh start. Later that year, she transferred to the University of Virginia, a place she deemed a better fit for both her on-court development and academic endeavors.
Collins would spend the next three years in Charlottesville, where she captured two NCAA Singles titles and went on to graduate the No. 1 college player in the country.
Fast forward to 2018 at Newport Beach. Playing in the WTA 125K Oracle Challenger Series, Collins found herself on-the-brink of an early exit against 18-year-old Sofya Zhuk. What happened next may have come to the surprise of some – not so for Collins. She would overcome the young Russian 6-4, 6-4 and go on to win the title, her first on Tour.
Collins followed up the Newport Beach Challenger title by making the quarterfinals of the Oracle Challenger Series – Indian Wells event a week later. The impressive two-week run nabbed Collins a wild card into the 2018 BNP Paribas Open, where she advanced through qualifying and proceeded to stun World No. 14 Madison Keys en route to a Round of 16 appearance.
As an encore, playing her first tournament since cracking the WTA top-100, Collins advanced through qualifying at the Miami Open, stunning World No. 37 Irina-Camelia Begu. Wins over CoCo Vandeweghe, Donna Vekić and Monica Puig set up a quarterfinal showdown with American tennis legend and World No. 8 Venus Williams. Seizing the moment, Collins dismissed the 21-time Grand Slam Champion, becoming the first qualifier to reach a semifinal at Key Biscayne. She would eventually fall to Jelena Ostapenko in straight sets in the semifinal, but Collins made the statement that she had arrived. And she did it her way.
“I think it’s incredible that oracle has decided to step up to the plate and add more tournaments,” said Collins. “It’s nice that they’re providing a lot for American players and other people that want to come over to the states to compete.”
Collins is currently No. 37 in the WTA rankings and is the sixth-highest ranked American female in the world.