CHARLESTON, SC - No.11 seed Danielle Collins couldn’t have asked for a smoother transition into the clay court swing. A period of the tennis calendar that historically her American compatriots dread, Collins has powered into the quarterfinals of the Volvo Car Open without dropping a set.
Born in St. Petersburg, Florida, Collins grew up plying her trade on the Sunshine State’s green Har-Tru tennis courts - the same ones used in Charleston - and as a result she’s feeling right at home.
“I’m very comfortable on clay. It wasn’t really even a shock to my system or anything, even though I’ve been on hardcourts for the past few months,” Collins told wtatennis.com. “I like playing on the clay, it’s one of my favorite surfaces. I was actually excited to get the clay court season started.”
Collins even has the statistics to back it up: the American has been leading the way in regards to returning statistics this week, topping the charts in the categories for both percentage of points (55.3%) and games (60.7%) won.
“I have a pretty good game for the clay: I’m a really versatile player and I grew up playing on clay in Florida, and especially the green clay,” she explained.
“It's been nice going and switching to the clay. It slows things down a little bit, and again, it gives me the ability to kind of use my defense and be able to come in a little bit more, slice at certain times in the match.”
It’s good news for American tennis fans who are eager to see their favorite players succeed on the terre battue again: apart from Serena Williams, who has lifted the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen three times in her storied career, there hasn’t been an American champion at Roland Garros in almost two decades.
The change of surface has been just what Collins needed as she seeks to find consistency after an up-and-down start to the season. After having to play qualifying in Sydney, Collins powered into her maiden Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open - recording big wins over seeded players Julia Goerges, Caroline Garcia and Angelique Kerber, who was ranked No.2 in the world then.
But she’s struggled to recreate the magic of her fairytale run when tennis returned stateside, recording early exits at Acapulco (first round), Indian Wells (third round) and Miami (third round).
Collins admitted that her loss in Miami was especially tough. Returning to the site of her spectacular 2018 breakthrough - which saw her reach her first WTA semifinal after wins over CoCo Vandeweghe and Venus Williams - she ran up against an inspired Wang Yafan. After leading Wang 4-2 in the first set, Collins’ found the set - and the match - slipping from her grasp as her opponent overpowered her to record a 7-5, 6-1 stunner.
“I’ve been really working hard on my fitness this past week, and just been making some adjustments based off my results in Miami,” Collins explained. “I think I didn't have my best match in Miami. I played well at Indian Wells.
“I think [the key is] just continuing to work on the things that we've been working on in practice.”
For Collins, who navigated the post-college transition from the ITF tour to the WTA last year, experience on this surface has made the biggest difference in 2019. Having never competed on red clay before in her career, Collins competed at Madrid, Rome, Strasbourg and Roland Garros in her first full WTA season.
“I think there were a lot of great takeaways from the results that I had, but just the learning experience that I gained from going over to Europe for the first time and competing on red clay. I've never played on red clay prior to last year,” she told press.
“To have, I think, four or five clay court tournaments in my schedule, that was kind of the first time that I've done that. There was a little break there when I was in college where I just didn't play on clay, so it took a little bit of getting used to again.
“I grew up playing on clay. So I'm comfortable with it, but I think just getting more match experience, that was the biggest thing.”
No.11 seed Collins will take on Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig in the quarterfinals of the Volvo Car Open on Friday.