NEWPORT BEACH, CA, USA -- Sunday was an eventful day for Danielle Collins, as the American wild card came back from a set and a break down to overcome Russian qualifier Sofya Zhuk, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, and claim the biggest title of her career at the inaugural Oracle Challenger Series event in Newport Beach.
"I had never won more than one match in a WTA event," exclaimed Collins during the trophy presentation at the WTA 125K Series event.
This run also gives Collins a definitive advantage towards being awarded a wild card into the 2018 BNP Paribas Open, which is granted to the top American finisher in the two Oracle Challenger Series events. The next Oracle Challenger Series event takes place in Indian Wells in four weeks.
The 24-year-old former University of Virginia standout owned a 2-0 head-to-head record against Zhuk coming into the match, with both wins coming last year. However, the 18-year-old Russian came close to defying that history before Collins turned the match around and claimed the trophy in one hour and 58 minutes.
When all was said and done, Collins converted seven out of the eight break points she held in the match. Zhuk had many chances in the tightly contested encounter as well, holding 13 break points of her own, but she could only convert six. The Russian also had seven double faults.
Collins had to rebound from a very difficult start, as Zhuk reeled off five straight games to open the match. The Russian won 70 percent of points on her first serve in the opener, compared to only 41 percent for Collins. The American wild card also had too many unforced errors in the set, easily handing over her first two service games to Zhuk.
Zhuk faltered serving for the set at 5-1, where she was broken at love, but the 2015 Wimbledon junior singles champion claimed a set point on Collins' serve with a forehand winner in the next game, and then Collins double faulted to give Zhuk the opener.
The Russian quickly broke for a 2-0 lead in the second set, after a strong return on break point forced an error from Collins. The American was bewildered at this point. "It wasn't looking good in the second set," Collins said during the trophy presentation. "I just had to stay tough."
Collins did stay tough, getting back on serve in the very next game with a forehand service return winner on break point. From that point forward, the American dramatically reduced her unforced errors, and attained a foothold in the match.
The power game of Collins and the penetrating groundstrokes of Zhuk combined to create a competitive second set. At 4-4, Zhuk dropped serve with a backhand miscue into the net down break point, giving Collins the opportunity to serve for the set.
Serving at 5-4, the American quickly raced to triple set point, and though Zhuk fended off two of the chances, the Russian could not successfully return a strong serve on the third.
The pair exchanged breaks at the start of the deciding set, as both players were initially tentative, each of them one set away from their biggest career title. But Collins went up a pivotal break for a 2-1 lead after a solid backhand forced an error from the Russian.
Zhuk then erred while serving at 4-2, when two consecutive double faults gave Collins two opportunities for a double break lead. Collins cracked a forehand service return for a winner on her first attempt to break, allowing her to serve for the match in the next game.
Collins was broken at 5-2, giving the young Russian hope. By this point in the match, though, the American had a handle on Zhuk's serve, and reached double match point after a Zhuk forehand went wide. Collins only needed one more point to close out the championship when a final Zhuk forehand went out of play, giving the excited American the largest trophy of her professional career.