MELBOURNE, (AFP):- “No pain, no gain” is a mantra often heard anywhere elite athletes train. Danielle Collins has had more than her fair share of pain on the long road to a first Grand Slam final.
Last year the 28-year-old American had emergency surgery for endometriosis and at the French Open suffered an abdominal injury.
Nine months later the world number 30 is in the Australian Open final after blowing away Polish seventh seed Iga Swiatek 6-4, 6-1 in a power-packed 73-minute display of violent ball-striking.
“It feels incredible,” says Collins, who credits surgeons for saving her career.
“It has been such a journey. It is so many years of hard work… all the early mornings my dad would get up and practise with me before school,” adds the fiercely determined Collins, who has gained legions of fans in Melbourne for her never-say-die attitude and displays of raw emotion on court.
“Especially after some of the health challenges that I’ve had to be able to get back to this level and be able to compete the way that I have been, being able to be as physical as I have been, has been so rewarding.”
Collins describes the pain caused by endometriosis — where the tissue that lines the womb grows outside of it — as completely debilitating.
“The agony that I experienced from my menstrual cycles and from the endometriosis is some of the worst pain I’ve ever had,” Collins says of the inflammatory condition that affects one in 10 women.
“When so much of the advice you’ve gotten over the years is that painful periods are normal, taking anti-inflammatories on a regular basis is normal, I felt like it was something that I just had to deal with.
– Late bloomer-
Collins was a late bloomer on the professional circuit, playing college tennis until 2016 and was 23 when she finally made a tour breakthrough in 2018. By contrast, at the age of 23 Naomi Osaka was winning her fourth Grand Slam title.
Collins started the 2018 season ranked 162nd in the world and quickly gained a reputation as a dangerous unseeded floater in WTA tournament draws.
She reached the last 16 at Indian Wells, followed by a semi-final at the Miami Open as a qualifier, and a semi-final in San Jose to end the year inside the top 40.
A first Grand Slam semi-final at the 2019 Australian Open followed, but the continuous pain from her condition kept holding her back.
But the improvement following her surgery is there for all to see.
Since Wimbledon in July last year she has won 31 of her 39 matches, including her first two WTA Titles, which came back-to-back at Palermo and San Jose and is undoubtedly a more accomplished player than during her semi-final run three years ago.
“I feel like the surgery helped me so much, not just from a physical standpoint but from a mental standpoint,” says Collins.
“When you’re dealing with that type of physical pain multiple weeks out of the month, you’re not putting yourself in a position to be able to perform consistently.
“I certainly feel a lot freer.”