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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Saturday, March 30, 2024


Unseeded Danielle Collins denied 10 of 11 break points edging Elena Rybakina 7-5, 6-3 in the Miami Open final to capture the biggest title of her life.

Photo credit: Miami Open/Hard Rock Stadium

Amping up the volume of her drives and grunts, Danielle Collins channeled swang song into career crescendo.

Unleashing booming backhands, defiant drives and a fierce appetite for the fight, Collins conquered Elena Rybakina 7-5, 6-3 in rousing performance today to capture the Miami Open championship.

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The 53rd-ranked Collins denied 10 of 11 break points becoming the lowest-ranked Miami Open champion in history and first American woman to win Miami since fellow Floridian Sloane Stephens in 2018.

"That was a battle. This whole week has been tough," Collins told Miami fans. "I've played against some of the toughest competitors, some of the best players in the world.

"To be out here and share the court with Elena in the finals, you've had an incredible tournament, an incredible two years and so well deserved. I'm always rooting you on and hopefully we'll play many more finals." 

Battling through an 11-minute final game, Collins refused to lose. Stepping into the court Collins slammed her signature shot, the backhand crosscourt, to convert her her fourth championship point tossing her Tecnifibre racquet aside and burying her face in her hands in joy.

Playing perhaps her final pro match in her home state, Collins transformed Hard Rock Stadium into Danimal House.

"To the fans, I’ve played a few finals, but nothing like this," Collins told the crowd. "To play in my home state in a tournament I used to watch on TV in a kid....

"To come out here and feel like I’m playing in front of thousands of my best friends and everyone that was pushing me to get over this hurdle today it just meant the world.

"I was getting very emotional and I had to keep telling myself to leave those emotions in the locker room and wait until after the match. It was just an incredible environment. I’ve never experienced anything like it. Thank you everyone."

The 30-year-old Collins’ drive has fueled her tennis career since her father and first coach, Walter Collins, introduced her to the sport on the public park courts near her Florida home.

That intense determination has carried Collins to a couple of NCAA championships, the 2022 Australian Open final and the 2020 Roland Garros quarterfinals solidifying he status as a fierce fighter on tour as she competes while battling rheumatoid arthritis that has left her body aching at times.

Through it all, Collins brings grit, intensity and determination to each match and did it again before a packed and supportive crowd that included Hall of Famers Andre Agassi and Martina Navratilova. The victory vaults Collins, who conceded she "almost teared up" seeing her "return hero, Andre Agassi" court-side, to No. 22 in the WTA Live Rankings.

It is Collins' third career title, her first WTA 1000 and came against a former Wimbledon champion who fought her until the final ball.

“Second year into the final I think it’s a great result some consistency,” Rybakina said. “It was a great two weeks, a lot of tough matches, great battles, thank you so much to the fans for all the support through these two weeks.

“You give energy to keep us fighting through all these tough matches. Of course, I want to congratulate Danielle for a great two weeks, great matches. You played here, great tennis, for sure."

All three of their prior meetings spanned three sets—at the 2023 Adelaide and 2023 Australian Open and last month’s Abu Dhabi quarterfinals—with Rybakina prevailing in all three.

Today, both women came out banging the ball with menacing intent.

The fourth-seeded Rybakina saved a break point in her opening service game, painting the line with a backhand down the line. That strike helped her level after two games.

WTA 1000 debutant Collins showed no trace of nerves plowing through a love hold for 3-2.

Finding her range and rhythm, Rybakina was whipping deep returns right down the middle as she piled up pressure earning four break points in the seventh game.

Barking at her box to make more noise, Collins generated her own electricity fighting off all four break points erupting with a celebratory scream to end a hard-fought hold for 4-3.

Rybakina rolled through 12 of 14 points on serve leveling after 10 games then applying pressure again in the 11th game.

Contesting her fourth career final, Collins cracked a backhand winner down the line to erase a break point. Collins kept going after her second serve and stood tall navigating a gutsy hold for 6-5.

The woman affectionately nicknamed “Danimal” fired herself—and Miami fans—up after that stirring stand. Collins banged a backhand to start the 12th game that saw her earn double set point.

The 2023 finalist fought off both set points, including smacking a forehand winner.

Undeterred, Collins dragged Rybakina into her forehand corner and pounded out an error for a third set point. This time, Collins converted cranking up a drive that rattled Rybakina into a backhand error to end a hard-hitting opening set in one hour.

The former all American broke for a one-set, 2-0 lead. Collins had a couple of chances to stretch her second-set lead to 3-0, but Rybakina refused to wilt.

Knowing she needed to stop a four-game slide, Rybakina came right back. Rybakina slammed successive backhand winners to break back in the third game.

In their last meeting last month, Rybakina reeled off four of the final four games rallying past qualifier Collins 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to reach the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open quarterfinals.

As she did in that match, Rybakina’s crosscourt forehand got sharper as the match progressed. She reeled off seven straight points, leveling for 2-all.

Serving with new balls, Collins stung her shots running through a love hold for 3-2.

Ninety-seven minutes into the match, Rybakina pumped a perfect crosscourt forehand winner for break point.

Lining up her favorite backhand return to confront a 79 mph second serve, Rybakina missed it long then started at her box in disbelief.

Facing a third break point, Collins was falling backward when she fought off a jamming drive with a diagonal forehand winner. That piece of improvised shotmaking helped her survive a stress test for 4-3 as the Rybakina backhand—typically a rock-solid shot—failed her.

Deadlocked at deuce, Rybakina was a foot from the service line when she flagged a swing volley into net, handing Collins break point.

Turning her hips and shoulders into her return, Collins blasted a backhand return down the line breaking for 5-3.

Serving for the biggest title of her life, Collins was two points from the championship at 30-love.

The Brisbane champion wasn’t done. Rybakina earned break point and had a good look at a second serve. Rybakina sent her backhand return long—she was one of 10 on break points at that point.

A pumped up Collins cracked a crosscourt forehand for championship point.

On the eight shot of the ensuing rally, Rybakina curled a crosscourt forehand winner off the sideline to save it.

A bullet backhand pass drew a lunging volley into net for a second championship point. Collins went for her favored backhand down the line and narrowly missed it long.

A Collins backhand collided into the tape then crawled over wide for a second break point. Collins denied it.

The game dragged on past 10 minutes—and drama escalated—as Rybakina repelled a third championship point.

On this day, the St. Petersburg native’s dream would not be denied.

On her fourth championship point, Collins opened the court then spun one final backhand winner crosscourt, dropped her Tecnifibre racquet and covered her face in her hands in pure joy.

"I mean, what a dream come true to have played at the level that I have played consistently over the last two weeks," Collins said. "30 years old, you know, this was the finals of my first 1000, and it's been a different journey than I think a lot of the stories that we're familiar with.

"Yeah, it's just been amazing to go out today and to have felt the energy that I felt from the fans and literally feel like I'm playing in front of thousands of my best friends, that was just surreal. I will never forget this day because of that.

"Everywhere I looked, people were, like, Let's go, Danielle. You can do this.

"The encouragement I got, it was hard for me to hide the emotion. I think these are the moments that we live for and don't always get to have them. It was just really special."


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