Miami | Collins beats the odds against Rybakina to land first WTA 1000 title

Unseeded Danielle Collins bagged the Miami Open final at her last attempt when she defeated Elena Rybakina, 7-5 6-3, on Saturday, playing on home ground in Florida in front of a lively and supportive crowd that included Andre Agassi and Martina Navratilova.

I have always wanted to win every tournament that I have signed up for, but I do think that, because it is my last year, I'm like, I really want to try to win a [WTA] 1000 this year. That's really important to me. That's something that I talked a lot about with everybody close to me.  It has been a goal, yeah. So I got to tick it off the list. Danielle Collins

The 30-year-old has confirmed that this will be her last season competing on the WTA Tour, and she is going out in some style, with a perfect send-off in Miami.

A native of St Petersburg, Collins, who is ranked 53 in the world, but has been as high as No 7, in July 2022, is the lowest-ranked woman to win the tournament, clinching her biggest career title in a 2 hour and 2 minute triumph.

“I couldn’t think of a better way to win my first 1000 title,” Collins said. “It means the world to me.

“The encouragement and support that I got, it was hard to hide the emotion because I think these are the moments that we live for, and we don’t always get to have them. It was really special.”

It is the 3rd career title of her career, and her first since San Jose in 2021, who leaves Miami with $1.1 million in prize money and will move up to No 22 in the rankings.

“I feel this tournament is the most centred I’ve been,” she said. “It sounds a little yoga, hippy-dippy but I think about that stuff a lot.”

Collins, who won NCAA singles titles at Virginia in 2014 and 2016, had never had Agassi attend one of her matches.

“Andre was my [service] return idol,” Collins said. “I can’t tell you how much footage I’ve watched of Andre. When I saw him out here, I almost teared up. It was surreal.”

4th seed Elena Rybakina was the favourite for the title but was outplayed by Danielle Collins in 2 tight sets in the Miami Open final

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Collins saved 10 of the 11 break points she faced, while Rybakina, the World No 4, could only manage 4 out of 7.

The Russian-born Kazakh had played 4 three-set matches in the tournament, and said it had taken its toll.

“She’s playing very aggressive,” Rybakina said. “I think, just these first few shots of the point, you need to be very reactive.

“Physically, I was not at my best so I couldn’t push myself. Maybe I should have, maybe, just risked a little bit more when I had these break points.”

Rybakina saved 2 break points while trying to serve her way into a first-set tiebreak, but Collins finally seized the set when the Kazakh nervously poked a backhand deep on the 3rd set point.

In the second, Collins broke at 4-4 when Rybakina hit a swinging volley into the net, then pounded another backhand long on break point.

Serving for the match, Collins jumped to a 30-0 lead, fell behind 30-40, then finally sealed it on the 4th match point.

“They wanted me to win so bad, I didn’t want to let the crowd down,” Collins said later. “Elena does not give up. I just had to hang in there.

“Now I get to celebrate,” she added. “I had so many family members fly in. We’re going to have a great weekend. And I have a night out on the town. I haven’t done that in a while, if I can stay up for it, and wear a non-tennis outfit!”

Collins had not defeated a Top 5 player since a win over the then World No 2 Paula Badosa at San Diego in October of 2022, but, on Saturday, she matched Rybakina shot-for-shot to claim the 5th Top 5 win of her career.

With the WTA 1000 trophy in her hands, Collins becomes the first American woman to take home the Miami Open title since Sloane Stephens in 2018, and the 6th overall to claim the crown, joining Navratilova, Chris Evert, 3-time champion Venus Williams, 8-time champion Serena Williams and Stephens.

“I have always wanted to win every tournament that I have signed up for, but I do think that, because it is my last year, I’m like, I really want to try to win a [WTA] 1000 this year,” said Collins, the 2022 Australian Open finalist. “That’s really important to me. That’s something that I talked a lot about with everybody close to me.

“It has been a goal, yeah. So I got to tick it off the list.”

Danielle Collins was thrilled to see Andre Agassi in the stands, on whom she has modelled her return game

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She had stared down last year’s Miami finalist, and the World No 4 had won the last 3 of their 4 career meetings, although they all gone to 3 sets, so she beat the odds against the favourite coming into the match.

Collins’s power game came to the fore, and with steely determination, she came through dangerous times with dogged play, saving 4 break points in a gritty hold for 4-3 n the first set, and then erasing another at 5-5 with a fiery backhand rally winner.

The normally imperturbable Rybakina then wavered on her serve, offering up 3 set points to Collins at 6-5, and the American finally achieved the first break of the set after the Kazakh sent her backhand wide.

Following an early exchange of breaks in the second, Collins again ground out a tough hold for 4-3, saving 3 break points this time, and, in the next game, the American’s aggressive return stance paid off, forcing an error with a backhand reply to lead 5-3.

Serving for her biggest title, Collins had to stave off 2 break points and needed 4 championship points overall, but the home favourite fired a backhand crosscourt winner to hoist her first trophy in two-and-a-half years.

“I had a few match points, and Elena was doing some great things out there, and pushing me back, and really forcing me to come up with some good stuff movement-wise, hitting hard shots, hitting the small parts of the court,” Collins said. “So that is really challenging, when someone forces you to come up with your best stuff.

“I certainly felt that way on the returns, and the serving today. I knew that I had to bring my A game.”

Collins was teary-eyed during the on-court trophy ceremony.

“To the fans, I’ve played a lot of tennis, a few finals, and nothing close to this,” Collins said. “In my home state, to come out here in front of thousands of my best friends pushing me to get over this hurdle, I was getting very emotional. It was an incredible environment. I’ve never experienced anything like it.”

Danielle Collins needed 4 championship points to see off Elena Rybakina in Saturday's final

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While Collins insists that her recent run of form won’t lead her to reconsider her departure from the sport, it was a disappointing second straight loss in a Miami final for Rybakina, who missed out to Petra Kvitova last year.

The 24-year-old, the 2022 Wimbledon champion, missed out on Indian Wells due to a gastrointestinal illness and said that with 4 of her 5 matches in Miami en route to the final having gone to three sets, she was not in peak condition.

“I was feeling the body, of course,” she said. “Also, it was not easy tournament, because the first matches I was playing quite late, finishing, and then I was going to sleep around 2:00, 3:00. Then some matches were during the day. So the schedule was also up and down, and recovery, it doesn’t help, for sure.

“I had a lot of tough matches. Some of them went my way with a bit of luck here and there. This one didn’t, and, of course, I was not expecting to be fresh in this final, and she played really well,” she added.

Still, Collins played an incredible match, and, for Rybakina, the loss was a mix of not playing so well with playing against someone who has enjoyed sensational two weeks.

“So overall, I think it was just tough to compete against someone who is playing so well these two weeks,” Rybakina added. “I think physically she was much fresher than me.”

A delighted Danielle Collins delivers her victory speech as Elena Rybakina looks on during the trophy ceremony

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Collins too has had physical problems of her own, telling the media she had faced injury woes in the days leading up to the tournament.

“I was coming off a back injury that happened in Austin,” she said. “I was devastated not to be able to finish out that tournament.

“I went to Indian Wells and had multiple days off in a row. I had a few days, not exaggerating, I literally couldn’t walk. I was having to have my boyfriend help me a lot.

“It was awful. There were a lot of tears about, oh, my gosh, I have played all these tournaments, I have worked so hard for this, and now we’re at Indian Wells and Miami and this is happening, like, why?

“Luckily with, I think, the help of the physical therapy and chiropractor we were able to kind of get it under control, and make some adjustments too with some of my training and recovery, and got it to a place where it was more manageable.

“After Indian Wells I was able to get a couple good days of practice. I felt pretty confident, but it was still the amount of time that I was practicing on court, and the type of drills that we were doing, I was, like, this is going to be hard, going into Miami.”

The former World No 7 lost her opening set of the Miami Open against 1st-round opponent Bernarda Pera, but then won her next 14 sets en route the title.

“When I came out in the first round, I had a tough match against Pera. I was happy to really get through that. But I also did a great job of putting all that fear of, oh, am I doing enough, am I not doing enough, am I too injured, am I too this, too that?” she said.

Collins said that the main takeaway for her was how she overcame the challenges along the way at the Miami Open.

“I think what makes some of these players the best in the world is that they learn how to play around those things.

“That’s the thing that I have learned the most this tournament is, okay, it’s never going to be 100% and you’ve got to figure out a way to, even though you have those challenges, work through it and get through it.”



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