No Hollywood ending this time for Danielle Collins, but a franchise may be beginning

The St. Petersburg native’s tennis future is looking brighter after her run to the Australian Open semis.
United States' Danielle Collins reacts after winning a point against Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic during their semifinal at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
United States' Danielle Collins reacts after winning a point against Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic during their semifinal at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Published Jan. 24, 2019|Updated Jan. 24, 2019

What, you were expecting a fairy tale?

All upsets and hallelujahs? Danielle Collins would go from never having won a Grand Slam match to taking the Australian Open in one magical journey?

Sorry, it didn’t happen that way. Collins fell to two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 7-6, 6-0 in a semifinal that, for the briefest time, the St. Petersburg native controlled.

No one who follows Collins, 25, would say this was the preferred result, but maybe it was more apropos. She has never been the weepy-eyed ending type. Collins has always controlled her own narrative, and now her story is finally playing out on her terms.

Yes, fame took its sweet time finding Collins and perhaps she will savor it more than most.

“I remember talking to her last year when she was in Spain and she was upset about a match she lost,’’ her mother, Cathy, said Thursday. “I told her it just wasn’t her time yet, but it would come soon.

“I just didn’t know it would be this soon.’’

Just a couple of months ago, Collins cut her 2018 season short to come home to St. Pete and reevaluate her plans. She had been playing in China for several weeks and was miserable stuck alone in a hotel.

She missed her dogs — Scout, Harper and Lola — and missed her family and friends. Mostly, she missed the idea of a life outside of professional tennis that she’d had during college.

Visiting friends in Miami, spending the holidays with her parents — the karaoke machine she got for Christmas is still waiting to be opened — Collins seemed to rediscover a balance she’d been missing.

When she returned to the tour at the end of December, she opted to bring a team along with her. For the first time, Collins was travelling with a coach, a physical trainer and a hitting partner.

And she went from unseeded to prime time on ESPN2 in two weeks.

Two weeks that required almost 20 years of preparation.

“Not being a child prodigy, not being a superstar at a young age certainly humbled me and made me, in a way, work harder for things,’’ Collins said at Australian Open news conference earlier in the week. “I was talented and athletic but maybe not to the level other players were at 14, 15, 16. So it made me, I don’t want to say work harder, but I was kind of playing from behind. I went a different route.’’

That route involved a lot of solitary days hitting balls against a wall in St. Pete, and looking for older players to test herself against. What it did not involve was a lot of high-cost junior tournaments around the globe. Not for the daughter of a preschool teacher and the owner of a landscape business.

While other teen sensations were dreaming of the big lights, Collins figured she would be better off with a backup plan. After one year at the University of Florida, she transferred to Virginia, where she left with a bachelor’s degree in media studies, a master’s in business and two NCAA singles titles.

When she finally turned pro, she spent 2017 knocking around low-profile tournaments in places such as Norman, Okla., Tyler, Texas, Florence, S.C. and Macon, Ga. earning paychecks of $1,216 and $1,144.

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But along the way she started winning some minor events and reached the later rounds in some WTA tournaments. She beat Venus Williams, Madison Keys and Coco Vandeweghe and went from being ranked No. 299 in the world to No. 35.

And when she reached the semifinals in Melbourne this week, she became the first former collegiate player to get that far in a Grand Slam event in 23 years.

“I know there are people who said she hadn’t accomplished anything yet,’’ her mother said. “I’d read on the Internet where somebody would say, ‘Oh, she beat Venus (Williams) but she’s getting old.’

“I don’t think they can say that anymore.’’

It is not just her backstory that makes Collins unique, but also her personality. There is an edge to her that she embraces on the court and that makes her a magnet for both admirers and critics.

She’s not afraid to exchange staredowns or shouts with opponents. During her Aussie semifinal, she had a pair of tense exchanges with the chair umpire.

It is that feistiness, Collins says, that makes her the player she is. It’s the same independent streak that allowed her to put professional tennis on hold while she figured out the person she wanted to be.

“I wasn’t sure if I could really make it playing professional tennis when I was (18) so going to college was really crucial for me,’’ Collins said. “It’s made me hungrier in some ways not having that ‘Oh I’ve always been really amazing at tennis.’ It wasn’t always like that."

So where does Collins go from here?

Presumably higher in the rankings. By Monday, she could be flirting with a top-25 world ranking. And that should also mean better draws in future Grand Slam events. No more facing Caroline Wozniacki in the first round of the French Open or Elise Mertens in the first round at Wimbledon.

But her more immediate problem is juggling her travel schedule. She was supposed to defend her title at the Oracle Challenger Series in Newport Beach but was still playing the Australian Open when that tournament began in California this week.

So instead Collins is going to take an unscheduled break and fly home for a few days. After all, it’s her life and her story. She’s done a pretty good job of scripting it so far.