Collins looks to crown late-career revival against Rybakina

tennis29 March 2024 23:20| © AFP
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Danielle Collins @ Getty Images

Danielle Collins is saving the best for last.

Having announced in January that she will retire from the sport at the end of this season, the 30-year-old American has reached her first WTA 1000 Series final and will meet Elena Rybakina on Saturday for the Miami Open title.

Outside of a run to the final of the 2022 Australian Open, which she lost to Ash Barty, this is Collins's best performance in an elite level event and the Floridian, ranked 53rd in the world, is loving every minute of it.

"To have made the finals, first finals of a 1000 level in my home state during my last season, this is just, like, great," she said after defeating Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova in the semifinal.

"The memories made this week on and off the court, I'm just over the moon."

The question inevitably arises as to whether Collins, having indicated her departure from the tour, is now benefitting from a more relaxed approach to the game with the pressure off.

Collins isn't convinced that such a psychological element has been a factor because, she says, the life of a professional tennis player doesn't leave much opportunity for reflection.

"I just don't really have the time to kind of sit and ponder and get too deep into the thoughts, because honestly, the day-to-day with us as athletes is a lot. I feel like the fans don't get to see that as much," she said.

"It's more than a 9-5 job, because it's just around the clock. Honestly, I'm just so consumed with doing all the things I need to do to get prepared for the next day.

"Yes, I think I feel pretty relaxed, because that could be due to a number of things. I've got a new hobby. I'm playing some more golf, running more, Pilates, all of these different things."

- Dog Quincy -

She also, lightheartedly, credits the presence of her dog Quincy in Miami as another contributing factor to her success.

But there is also the feeling that as she talks about her pet and her new-found enjoyment of golf, she remains proud of her achievements and focused on the chance to clinch the bigger prize of her career.

"This feels like a really big accomplishment. I think all of us want to make finals of 1000-level tournaments. These are our biggest tournaments of the year, aside from the Grand Slams. This is just so special. I can't stress it enough about being in my home state and having my dog here, friends, family. It's really special," she said.

"Yeah, I'm playing great tennis. Having some good battles out there against really great players. That should give me a lot of confidence for Saturday."

Rybakina, fourth in the world, will start as the clear favourite, having shrugged off the illness that kept her out of Indian Wells.

The 24-year-old, who represents Kazakhstan, has spent more than 11 hours on court with four of her five matches going the distance.

On Thursday, she defeated Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 0-6, 7-6 (7/2) and seems to have gained stamina through the tournament.

"I was not expecting honestly to be in the final because I was not prepared that well for this tournament," said the 2022 Wimbledon champion.

"These long matches helped me to get back in shape. Now I'm not in shape just because I'm tired from all these long matches, but overall, it has been a really successful tournament no matter how I do in the final."

Rybakina reached the final last year, losing to Czech Petra Kvitova, and she has won two 1000 events, taking Indian Wells and Rome last year.