It’s a classic underdog story.
Before arriving at this year’s Australian Open, American tennis player Danielle Collins had never won a single match in a Grand Slam main draw in five attempts. Today, she will play in the semifinal of the Melbourne event, taking on sixth-ranked Petra Kvitová of the Czech Republic.
The 25-year-old’s stunning run in Australia has turned the tennis world on its head, particularly considering her unusual path to success. She eschewed turning pro when she was younger in favor of heading to college to earn a degree and arming herself with a backup plan in case tennis didn’t work out. After transferring from the University of Florida her freshman year, Collins was a star player at the University of Virginia, nabbing two National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) women’s singles titles and finishing as the top-ranked player in the country when she graduated in 2016.
Collins cites her college experience as the driving force behind her Australian Open success. “I think not being a superstar at a young age certainly humbled me and made me work harder for things,” she told ESPN this week. “I was talented and athletic but maybe not to the level that other players were at like 14, 15, 16. Not being a child prodigy, I went a different route. I wasn’t really sure if I could make it playing professional tennis when I was that age. Going to college was really crucial for me and my development. I think it’s made me hungrier.”
After college, Collins hit the professional circuit and began steadily climbing the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings. Last season, she cracked the top 50 on the back of strong showings at Indian Wells and Miami, scoring major upsets against several top-seeded players along the way. Her scrappy rise caught the eye of sneaker giant New Balance, which signed her to its tennis athlete roster.
Collins’ much-anticipated match with Kvitová, a two-time Wimbledon champion, will air on ESPN2 at 10 p.m. EST tonight. Collins gave the Czech player quite a challenge earlier this month when the two faced off at Brisbane International. Kvitová ultimately triumphed, winning 6-7, 7-6, 6-3.
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