Sunday, August 8, 2021

After unexpected drama, Collins wins second title in row

Fiery Danielle Collins exults after winning a point during her three-set victory
over Daria Kasatkina today in San Jose, Calif. Photo by Mal Taam
Daria Kasatkina gathers her thoughts during today's final. Photo by Mal Taam
   SAN JOSE, Calif. — It easily could have been over in 75 minutes.
   Instead, today's final in the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic went to three sets that included a nerve-wracking tiebreaker, which was practically a match in itself.
   In the end, No. 7 seed Danielle Collins of St. Petersburg, Fla., defeated No. 4 seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia 6-3, 6-7 (10), 6-1 in 2 hours, 18 minutes for her second consecutive title. 
   Collins had two championship points with Kasatkina serving at 3-5 in the second set, three in the tiebreaker and two in the final game, finally capitalizing when Kasatkina netted a runaround forehand.
   Kasatkina led 4-0 in the tiebreaker and converted her third set point when Collins netted a forehand.
   "Toward the end of the second set, I became a little bit too much of my own critic," Collins told reporters. "I was being really hard on myself. I had to have a reality check after losing that tiebreak and just say, Let's keep the positive energy going here. Let's not let this get me down.
   "I was actually in a similar situation a couple years ago. I played here against Maria Sakkari. I was up a set and by a lot in the second set, and I ended up losing that match in three sets. It was a heartbreaker because I was in control the whole way through. I feel like that experience gave me so much confidence today. Losing the tiebreak wasn't going to define me as a player. I just had to come back and be stronger."
   Collins did, jumping to a 2-0 lead in the third set. After Kasatkina broke for 1-2, Collins reeled off the last four games.
   "She started 2-0 up and 3-1 (in the third set), and it would be different story if it were 2-all or something," said the 24-year-old Kasatkina, who ousted top-seeded Elise Mertens in the semifinals. "But when the opponent is winning game by game in the third set and you're already pretty tired, it's like the life is leaving your body."
   The 27-year-old Collins, meanwhile, prides herself on her fitness. She extended her winning streak to 10 matches, including her first career title two weeks ago on clay in Palermo.
   Collins will rise eight notches to No. 28 in the world, five spots off her career high in January 2019.
   The first American to reach the Mubadala final in the three editions of the tournament, Collins ultimately overpowered Kasatkina with her serve, return of serve and groundstrokes. The aggressive, fiery Collins pounded 12 aces to Kasatkina's two and won 61.5 percent of the points on her second serve (32 of 52) to Kasatkina's 37.8 percent (17 of 45).
   Both finalists carried scars onto the court at San Jose State University as the tournament marked the record 50th anniversary of women's tour tennis in the San Francisco Bay Area. Collins' are literal, while Kasatkina's are figurative.
   Collins had surgery for endometriosis, a painful disorder in which tissue inside the uterus grows outside of it, in early April and returned less than two months later for the French Open. Doctors removed a cyst the size of a tennis ball from her ovary, as well as material from her bowel and bladder.
   "Before having the surgery, I was just not able to perform consistently tournament after tournament after tournament and have the stamina because I was constantly dealing with many, many issues in that area," Collins, an Australian Open semifinalist in 2019 and French Open quarterfinalist last October, said Saturday. "Now, it's giving me so much confidence knowing that my body is going to be able to show up consistently and I'm not going to be in physical agony or having to pull out of matches because of that issue."
   Collins has gone 14-2 since Wimbledon, reaching (in order) a quarterfinal and a semifinal before her  two titles.
   "It's been so rewarding to feel healthy," she said. "This is the best I've felt in a long, long time. For so many years, I got used to dealing with that. It got slowly and progressively worse, and I thought, Oh, this is a normal thing to be dealing with, and it really wasn't. The surgery has helped me so much. You couldn't pay me millions of dollars to go back to what I was dealing with. 
   "I know that things can change very quickly, so I'm trying to ride out this great period of good health. I'm very fortunate." 
   Collins now can focus on her matches instead of her body.
   "One of the biggest challenges for me in my career was the physical, and it became mental as well because it was like, I just can't do this," said Collins, who won two NCAA singles titles at the University of Virginia. "It's physically impossible. I have to pull out of the match today because I'm throwing up and I have flu-like symptoms and I have a fever and I have fallen over and I can't feel anything in my foot because of sciatic nerve pain."
   Kasatkina reached the quarterfinals of the French Open and Wimbledon in 2018, soaring to No. 10 in the world at age 21. One year later, she had plunged to No. 69. 
   "Mostly, it was a mental thing," Kasatkina candidly said Saturday. "I put too much pressure on myself after the success from the 2018 season. I was expecting too much from myself, and that was obviously too much to handle.
   "I had a mental breakdown for a few months. Then it's always difficult to come back because you're competing on the highest level. Just to come back, I needed twice more effort, and that was tough. Actually, the pandemic helped me a little bit because there (were) no tournaments, and I had time to work on it."
    Ranked No. 71 at the end of last year, Kasatkina will improve four places to No. 27. 
    "I've been working a lot, not just a lot but in the right way," she said. "Last year, when the pandemic starts, I spend a lot of time on the court and in the gym. Also, I was doing a lot of work with my mental coach.
   "Hard work pays off, and I was just waiting for the moment when the puzzle (will) be completed. Now I'm happy (with) the way I'm doing, and I will just keep going this way."   
   Kasatkina added that she's trying to focus more on herself.
   "Before, I was studying the matches of my opponents and trying to play more from the opponent," she said, "but now I'm trying to go more from myself, to be dependent on my game, not on the game of the other girl." 
   In today's doubles final, second-seeded Darija Jurak of Croatia and Andreja Klepac of Slovenia beat top-seeded Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Luisa Stefani of Brazil 6-1, 7-5.
   Jurak, 37, won her eighth WTA doubles title and first with Klepac, 35, who has nine WTA doubles crowns overall.
   Stefani, a former Pepperdine All-American, won the bronze medal in women's doubles with Laura Pigossi in the Tokyo Olympics last week.
   Dabrowski reached the women's doubles final at Wimbledon in 2019 with Xu Yifan of China and won the mixed doubles title in the 2017 French Open with Rohan Bopanna of India and in the 2018 Australian Open with Mate Pavic of Croatia.
   Here are the complete singles and doubles draws.
   WTA Tour in Cluj-Napoca, Romania — No. 2 seed Andrea Petkovic of Germany won her first singles title in over six years, routing unseeded Mayar Sherif (Fresno State, 2015-16) of Egypt 6-1, 6-1 in 61 minutes on clay. Sherif, who ousted top-seeded Alize Cornet of France in the first round, became the first Egyptian to reach a WTA singles final.
   ATP Tour — No. 5 seed Jannik Sinner, 19, of Italy outlasted unseeded Mackenzie McDonald, a 26-year-old product of Piedmont in the Bay Area, 7-5, 4-6, 7-5 in Washington, D.C., to become the youngest ATP 500 champion since the category was created in 2009.
   McDonald, who eliminated reigning champion Nick Kyrgios in the opening round, saved 10 set points in the first set and 16 break points in the match.
   McDonald, now based in Orlando, Fla., will soar 43 notches to No. 64 after his first ATP final. He climbed to a career-high No. 57 in April 2019 but had right hamstring surgery the following June and missed seven months.
   In the doubles final, No. 4 seeds Raven Klaasen of South Africa and Ben McLachlan (University of California, Berkeley, 2011-14) of Japan beat No. 2 seeds Neal Skupski of Great Britain and Michael Venus of New Zealand 7-6 (4), 6-4.
   McLachlan, a New Zealand product who represents his mother's native country, won his seventh ATP doubles title overall and second with Klaasen.
   Venus won the bronze medal in men's doubles in Tokyo with Marcus Daniell. Skupski played for the California Dream of World TeamTennis in 2015, the squad's only year of existence.

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