Dressed in black for her first Grand Slam final, Danielle Collins looked the part as she sought to play the villain and wreck local hero Ash Barty’s coronation at the Australian Open on Saturday.
For a giddy half-hour as she stormed to a 5-1 lead in the second set at Rod Laver Arena, fists pumping and roaring in defiance, the American seemed primed for victory in a three-act thriller.
But in the end it was Barty who rose to land the knockout punch against world number 30 Collins, a bare-knuckle brawler who had swung hard to reach the final but missed when it counted to fall 6-3 7-6(2).
Top seed Barty soaked up the adulation of a country that had waited 44 years to celebrate a homegrown winner, as Collins, – thanking her coach and the few people, she said, who had believed in her tennis career – was left in tears.
“I tried to get the crowd fired up. I tried to get myself into it…,” Collins told reporters.
“Unfortunately it didn’t go my way, but I did everything I could, and that’s all you can do at the end of the day.”
Having brought no specialist coach and filled her players box with friends, Collins will exit Melbourne Park with a top 10 ranking and a ton more respect from rivals and tennis fans.
But she may also head off with some regret, having failed twice to serve out the second set, which would have thrown a dampener on the raucous crowd.
She had tried in vain to silence the fans, asking the chair umpire several times to intervene during the second set. Heckled after missing a first serve, she shook a fist in the direction of the heckler after winning that game.
She suggested things might have been different had she not been suffering with a lower back problem. “That was something that I was dealing with in the whole tournament, so I look forward to playing her when I feel 100%,” she said.
Whether that played a part in her surrendering a four-game lead and spraying shots far and wide in a messy tiebreak, Collins did not elaborate.
She showed little emotion after Barty sent a passing shot flying by her on match point and offered no hug or pats on the back when they met at the net.
But she found gracious words when interviewed courtside a few minutes later.
“I think I owe big congratulations to Ash,” Collins said. “…I really admire you as a player and the variety of your game and, hopefully, I can implement some of that into mine.”
She later spoke of the challenges of plotting matches without a coach but will still head off with lessons learnt.
“I feel like earlier on in my career people didn’t really know a lot about me… and I feel like this week has just been an incredible opportunity with all of the media here,” she said at her post-match news conference.
“I want people to get to know me better and feel as if they want to know me.”