Saturday, July 13, 2024

Danielle Collins is the US tennis star who is quitting at 30 to try to start a family after endometriosis diagnosis – and a run at the title would be a real fairytale career end after she met her boyfriend in an SW19 coffee shop!

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Danielle Collins announced her retirement in January with brutal honesty. 

There was little fanfare to the breaking news from the former world No 7, merely a quickly spoken statement on the heels to a commonplace second-round Australian Open exit to all-conquering No 1 seed Iga Swiatek. 

‘This is actually going to be my last season competing,’ the 30-year-old told reporters immediately after leaving Rod Laver Arena. ‘I don’t really know exactly when, but this will be my last season and I’m really looking forward to that.’ 

The relief and contentment with her decision was palpable then, a night-and-day difference between the agonies that players older than the American have taken over when the right time to step back should be. Collins’ announcement was more in line with ‘the Danimal’s’ playing style on the court – front-footed and aggressive: this is my decision, and the end of the conversation. 

For most tennis players, rankings mired in the mid-50s and with the end in sight, it might have been. But almost immediately after Collins’ announcement in Melbourne, the conversations around her retirement have been louder than ever – and almost all of then clamouring for her to keep playing. 

Danielle Collins is through to the fourth round at Wimbledon for the first time in her career

Since announcing her retirement in January, Collins has picked up a slew of titles and rocketed up the rankings (pictured with boyfriend Bryan Kipp after winning the Charleston Open)

Since announcing her retirement in January, Collins has picked up a slew of titles and rocketed up the rankings (pictured with boyfriend Bryan Kipp after winning the Charleston Open)

The player - nicknamed 'The Danimal' - has been outspoken about her reasons for leaving sport

The player – nicknamed ‘The Danimal’ – has been outspoken about her reasons for leaving sport

As if playing with a great cloud lifted and experiencing the entirety of 2024 as a free swing, Collins has found herself addicted to winning tennis matches again, hitting the form of her career as the year has progressed. And after reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon for the first time in her career, Collins’ Last Dance is well and truly on. 

In an auspicious turn, Collins knocked out the returning Naomi Osaka at the first match after losing to Swiatek at the Abu Dhabi Open. But the rumblings of a run at Indian Wells on home soil were shut down by old foe Swiatek in the second round. 

That was only a false dusk, it turned out. Instead, in Collins’ home state of Florida, she cut a swathe through the pack at the Miami Open and beat Wimbledon winner – and potential SW19 opponent – Elena Rybakina to claim her maiden WTA1000 title, the lowest-ranked player in the competition’s history to achieve the feat. 

But that was only the start. From there, Collins went on a titanic 15-match winning streak, picking up the Charleston Open title after defeats against seeded big beasts including Maria Sakkari, Ons Jabeur, Elise Mertens, and fourth seed Daria Kasatkina in the final. Collins’ seemingly endless run hopped continents to the Madrid Open, where she was eventually stopped by Aryna Sabalenka. 

Collins announced her retirement after losing to Iga Swiatek at this year's Australian Open

Collins announced her retirement after losing to Iga Swiatek at this year’s Australian Open

Since then, the 30-year-old has scarcely put a foot wrong on all surfaces (pictured in Miami)

Since then, the 30-year-old has scarcely put a foot wrong on all surfaces (pictured in Miami)

Collins won the Miami Open as the lowest-ranked player to do so in the competition's history

Collins won the Miami Open as the lowest-ranked player to do so in the competition’s history

But Collins has been no slouch on clay and grass, reaching the semi-finals in Rome, and the final in Strasbourg. As a result, her ranking her shot from 52nd at the end of 2023 to 11th, and she started her Wimbledon fortnight at the No 11 seed and an ominous presence in the draw. 

Straight-sets wins against Clara Tauson and Dalmi Gaulfi, both outside the top 50, were good warm-ups for Collins, before she tested her mettle against No 20 seed Beatriz Haddad-Maia to book Monday’s meeting against Barbora Krejcikova without dropping a set. 

But behind her indeniable hot streak is a tangible sense of joy. Collins has been a player untethered, preparing for her 15-match run without a coach, and then roping in her old college coach to help her out at the tournament. Her surprise success has attracted a legions of new supporters, including Matthew McConaughey, who dubbed her ‘one of the great sport/life stories of 2024’ after her victory over Haddad-Maia. 

And such is her attitude to these towering new achievements that after her straight-sets Miami Open final against world No 4 Rybakina, she said that the experience was like ‘playing in front of thousands of my best friends’. 

But if she’s having so much fun, why stop? 

Collins' last run has attracted legions of new fans - including actor Matthew McConaughey

Collins’ last run has attracted legions of new fans – including actor Matthew McConaughey

The player has described how frequently her decision to retire has been challenged by those impressed by her killer run

The player has described how frequently her decision to retire has been challenged by those impressed by her killer run

But Team USA's future Olympian is keen to enjoy her final season without thoughts of a return

But Team USA’s future Olympian is keen to enjoy her final season without thoughts of a return

Collins’ choice to retire – adamantly – is one that, through some lenses, continues to raise eyebrows. She has taken part in the tour for just eight years due to opting to compete at collegiate level while studying at the University of Virginia. Compare her to Coco Gauff, who will have spent 15 years grinding in the WTA if she retires at the same age, and it’s barely any time at all. 

Outwardly too, Collins is looking sharper than ever while players all around her are dealing with persistent physical issues and battling through regardless, such as Paula Badosa, who doctors have previously advised retire from the sport altogether – only for their pleas to fall on deaf ears. 

But scratch the surface, and Collins’ road has been a rocky one. At the end of 2019, Collins shared that she had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease which causes persistent aches and pains due to swelling in the joints. 

The condition affects her more significantly, Collins shared, due to her suffering endometriosis, a condition found in women in which cells normally found in the womb lining are found in different parts of the body. 

‘I remember when I had my diagnosis with RA, at the time I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, is this the end of my career,’ Collins told Good Morning America in April, and the her 2016 diagnosis of endometriosis – which effects over 1.5million women in the UK – only intensified its symptoms. 

In 2021, Collins had a cyst removed in a related operation which she, with gallows humour, described as ‘tennis ball-sized’. There is currently no cure for endometriosis, only the management of the pain it can cause, and dealing with two chronic illnesses has forced the player to ‘get creative’ with competing in light of the curveballs her body can throw at her. 

Dealing with two chronic illnesses has been a struggle since receiving her diagnoses in 2016 and 2016

Dealing with two chronic illnesses has been a struggle since receiving her diagnoses in 2016 and 2016

Collins' frequent travelling companion is her dog Quincy, AKA 'Mr Q' (pictured with Charleston finalist Daria Kasatkina)

Collins’ frequent travelling companion is her dog Quincy, AKA ‘Mr Q’ (pictured with Charleston finalist Daria Kasatkina)

I’ve had to take different approaches at different times, and really look at everything holistically, everything from my diet to when I train, and how hard I train,’ Collins added. 

More personally, Collins has spoken of her desire to start a family, and with both rheumatoid arthritis and endometriosis impacting fertility, is aware of that this is not a desire that can be worn lightly. 

Sharing her intention with her initial announcement, Collins has noted that the idea that she can’t just have it all her way – and keep playing – has been one she has had to keep defending. 

‘I find it so interesting, because I felt like when I was announcing my retirement, everyone has been like congratulating me and (been) so excited for me,’ Collins noted in March. 

‘But then on the other hand, I feel I’ve had to justify my decision a lot. I feel like if I was a guy, I probably wouldn’t have to justify it that much.’ 

There have been other dark spots. At the start of the month, Collins revealed that she had been targeted by stalkers throughout her career, in a sadly familiar scenario to a number of players featuring in the WTA. 

While Collins at one point had a win-rate third only to Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka this year, the player has run deep at the majors

While Collins at one point had a win-rate third only to Swiatek and Aryna Sabalenka this year, the player has run deep at the majors

Collins' highest-ever Grand Slam finish came with her 2022 final appearance in Melbourne

Collins’ highest-ever Grand Slam finish came with her 2022 final appearance in Melbourne

‘I don’t think it’s something that gets talked about a ton, but many of us have had security issues during our time playing on tour,’ Collins told Telegraph Sport. ‘I had a few different situations over the years. It’s never fun, the feeling of looking over your shoulder.’

Collins, an outspoken presence on the tour, found herself becoming more guarded and restrained off court in the wake of a string of incidents, one involving a person who contacted her friends and family. 

Taking part in the Olympics as a member of Team USA has been a much-discussed goal for Collins, but going all the way at Wimbledon could also be a swansong for the ages – not least because of Collins’ personal connection with the Championships. 

The 30-year-old met her partner, Bryan Kipp, during the tournament at a coffee shop. Kipp, who is vice president of a biotech firm, is believed to have zero idea she was a professional tennis player. 

Collins’ dream 2024 is yet to extend to Grand Slams, but already, she has improved on her strongest ever finish – a third-round exit in 2019 – when she steps onto No 1 against Krejcikova. The pair have only faced each other once before, in a three-set battle at the San Diego Open which the Czech player edged, but if Collins can circumnavigate her opponent, the highest-ranked opponent she could meet on route to a Centre Court final would be the already-vanquished Rybakina. 

Kipp is an important source of support for Collins, and she thanked him after winning the Charleston Open

Kipp is an important source of support for Collins, and she thanked him after winning the Charleston Open

If Collins can get past Barbora Krejcikova, she could meet the player she defeated in Miami - Elena Rybakina (pictured right)

If Collins can get past Barbora Krejcikova, she could meet the player she defeated in Miami – Elena Rybakina (pictured right)

However Collins does go out of the tournament, however, it will be with all guns blazing, as she explained on Saturday.  

‘I lay my emotions out there and I wear my heart on my sleeve,’ Collins said. ‘I’m someone who’s not afraid to be myself and I think as women, we should really embrace that and support each other and be able to use that passion to fire us up. 

‘I think it’s a lot. We get framed as emotional and frustrated and this and that, and I just say, “F it!” 

‘I’m going for it and I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve and I’m going to always bring the passion.’ 

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