This time last year, Danielle Collins was playing in Newport Beach, California. She was ranked No. 162 in the world and at a Challenger event, one tier of tennis competition below the WTA tour. Before arriving in Melbourne this year, Collins had not won a single match in the main draw of a major, with an 0-5 record in the first round. The 25-year-old American had never even played a main draw match at the Australian Open. Tomorrow, somehow, she’ll compete in its semifinal.
The path there has been forbidding for the former collegiate singles champion at Virginia. Though she made strides in her 2018 season, Collins still came into this event unseeded. Through five matches, she has had to topple the No. 14, No. 19, and No. 2 seeds, and that last one, a fourth-round deletion of Angelique Kerber, was the real mind-scrambler.
Kerber had easily swept Collins off grass 6-1, 6-1 last year in their only prior meeting. This match flipped that result. There are upsets, and then there are outright slaughters that make it entirely unclear what the power balance was in the first place. Watch Collins’s 6-0, 6-2 win without context, and it’s impossible to discern which woman had never won a match here and which woman had won the whole title in 2016.
Collins ripped 29 winners and harassed Kerber’s relatively weak serve to win 57 percent of her points on return, an almost unbelievable figure even in victories. “From the very first point I showed her that I wasn’t going to let her into the match and that I was going to dictate the entire way through. And I stuck to my gameplan, and it clearly worked out well for me. Pretty much smooth sailing throughout the entire thing,” Collins said coolly afterwards. “I love making it kind of a war,” she said of her temperament on the court.
Today’s 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has vaulted Collins into rarefied territory. No collegiate player on the women’s side has made a major semifinal since 1996; typically the ones bound for stardom skip that phase entirely and head straight for the pros. Collins has insisted that she was never the prodigy and wanted a degree to give herself more career options if the pro game never worked out. If this level is sustainable, that concern will evaporate: No matter her other results this week, Collins will enter the top 25 for the first time in her career. Despite never having made it out of the initial 128 at a major, she now finds herself in the final four. The next seed to test Collins—or test her own luck, it’s hard to tell at this point—will be No. 8 Petra Kvitova in the semifinal.