MELBOURNE, Australia — As the buzz around American giant slayer Danielle Collins has grown around Melbourne Park, so, too, has the support in her player’s box. Tuesday afternoon, as Collins fought back from a one-set deficit to defeat Russian player Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 2-5, 7-5, 6-1, and lock in her first spot in a Grand Slam semifinal, Collins’ cousin, Ana Chisholm, was updating family back home from her courtside seat.
“I was trying not to look at my phone during the match,” Chisholm said after watching Collins play the first match of her career on Rod Laver Arena. “But we have a big family text chain going. On breaks, they were all like, ‘Let’s finish this! Let’s get it, Danielle!'”
That Collins, 25, is a surprise semifinalist here in Melbourne — she was 0-5 in Grand Slam matches before this tournament — only partly accounts for her lack of familial support this fortnight. Of all the Slams, the Australian Open proves the greatest logistical puzzle for many athletes’ families, even those who arrive expecting to play deep into the draw.
“I don’t think it’s been a surprise to any of us that she’s made it this far,” Chisholm said. “Her parents know her talent and her drive to be the best. There’s so much pride. We know how hard Danielle’s fought. It’s a matter of logistics with these far-away tournaments. But she has such a big, supportive family and I felt like somebody needed to be here to represent us all.”
Saturday night, after watching Collins win her fourth-round match over No. 2 Angelique Kerber in straight sets, Chisholm texted Collins and told her she was booking a flight to Australia. Sunday morning, she kissed her husband and four kids goodbye, drove from their home in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, to Minneapolis and hopped a flight to Melbourne. More than 24 hours later, she arrived at her hotel with just enough time to shower before meeting Collins at the player’s lounge for lunch.
“I had like five minutes to pack,” Chisholm said. “It’s winter at home and my shorts were all packed away. I didn’t have time to get a ladder and pull them down.”
While Chisholm might be unprepared for an extended stay in the southern hemisphere, Collins has seemed completely at home the second week of a Slam, unfazed by the pressure of playing in the first Australian Open main draw of her career. A two-time NCAA champion at the University of Virginia, Collins turned pro just two years ago, after graduating with a degree in media studies and a master’s degree in business, and began steadily climbing the WTA rankings. Last season, she broke into the top 50 on the back of strong runs at Indian Wells and Miami and scored upsets against several top-20 players along the way.
As her ranking rose, so did her confidence. At this tournament, Collins has played each of her matches with the mindset that she belongs on this stage. That she delayed her arrival to hone her game in college is simply part of her story, one she believes will eventually include Grand Slam wins.
“I think I’m playing really good tennis,” Collins said after her quarterfinal win. “I’ve gained more experience in the last year, which is great. I don’t think much has changed. I’m just getting a little bit different outcome. That’s based off of the hard work that’s been put in, and having faith in what I’m doing.”
Although Collins took an unusual path to this stage — becoming only the second collegiate player in 23 years to make the semifinals at a major — she believes her experiences have made her a stronger person, as well as a more well-rounded player.
“I think not being a superstar at a young age certainly humbled me, made me work harder for things,” Collins said. “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.”
That drive has been on full display here in Melbourne. In her first five matches, Collins, who entered the tournament ranked No. 35 but is assured to jump into the top 25 after this week, defeated No. 123 Sachia Vickery, No. 44 Pavlyuchenkova, No. 19 Caroline Garcia, No. 14 Julia Goerges and Kerber to earn a slot in the semifinals. She next faces No. 8 Petra Kvitova, a player who is on a 10-match win streak, hasn’t dropped a set this tournament and is playing arguably her best tennis since winning her second Wimbledon title in 2014.
“She’s tricky because she’s a lefty,” Collins said of Kvitova, whom she played for the first time in Brisbane earlier this month. “She’s an incredible champion. We had a great battle a couple weeks ago, one of the best matches I’ve played. And I didn’t even win that match.”
Thursday, with Chisholm in her player’s box manning the family text chain and a spot in the final on the line, Collins will attempt to even that score.
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