Rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis for Collins

If it feels as though American Danielle Collins suddenly seemed to be in and out of tournaments more than average, the reason for that became clear Wednesday.

The 25-year-old from Florida announced via press statement that she has recently been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis.

She is the second player in the last 12 months to announce she had been diagnosed with RA. Former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki announced the same at the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore.

According to the American Arthritis Foundation, rheumatoid arthritis is an auto-immune disease. It is grouped in a category with lupus and Sjögren’s disease, which has affected Venus Williams’s career for more than a decade.

Williams was approximately the same age when she received her diagnosis. Wozniacki was a couple of years older. But all would be considered far younger than the average age of most who have contracted it.

“The body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints. This creates inflammation that causes the tissue that lines the inside of joints to thicken, resulting in swelling and pain in and around the joints. If inflammation goes unchecked, it can damage cartilage, the elastic tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint, as well as the bones themselves.”

The diagnosis is reportedly difficult because “in its early stages because the early signs and symptoms mimic those of many other diseases.”

More than 1.5 million Americans have it. And women are two to three times more likely to contract it.

Diagnosis the first step

Collins
Both Venus Williams and Danielle Collins have been affected by auto-immune diseases in their careers.

According to the press release, it is believed that Collins had it for “some time”, but only “recently” did she get the diagnosis.

(The poorly-written press release is extremely short on … everything).

“It’s a huge relief to get a diagnosis because as an athlete, everything is physical for me and now I can plan to attack this disease with a strategic management plan,” is the quote from Collins. “Collins is taking her diagnosis in stride, pulling on her on-the-court competitive spirit to fight this disease,” it adds.

Collins’s primary care physician Dr. Clifton Page, a sports physician based in Fairfax, Va., is quoted as saying that “for the elite athlete, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is not a career ending diagnosis.”

Diet and proper rest

According to the release, Collins plans diet adjustments and tailoring her off-court training. She will adjust her playing schedule to accommodate the now-necessary amount of recovery time.

“As an (sic) professional athlete, you are constantly reminded that your body is your temple. Everything is physical for me, and I’ve come to appreciate how both mental and physical conditions are aligned– how every muscle and joint in the body is in tuned with one another. My health is the utmost of importance to me and I’m ready to take on the fight of rheumatoid arthritis,” is Collins’s statement in the release.

“While I don’t know for sure what my journey to recovery will be, I do know that I feel really positive about getting back on the court. I feel like now I can get better and address my body’s needs in fighting this disease.”

Wozniacki announces during Singapore

Almost a year ago, after being eliminated at the WTA Tour finals in Singapore, Wozniacki made her announcement.

Wozniacki reveals rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis

Wozniacki hasn’t won a title this season. But she did reach the semifinals at the Beijing Mandatory last week. It was her 15th tournament of the year, with some solid breaks between blocks of two or three events.

She also got married, to David Lee, shortly before Wimbledon.

Collins still on rise

Collins revealed her rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis on Wednesday. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Collins, who went to the University of Virginia before turning pro and thus remains a “young” player on Tour despite being 25, obviously is at a different stage of her career.

Currently ranked No. 33 (her career high of No. 23 came after a great run at the Australian Open in January), she reached the top 50 for the first time only in 2018.

Ranked No. 35 at the time, Collins defeated Julia Goerges, Caroline Garcia and (then) No. 2 Angelique Kerber, losing just two games to the former Oz champion. Petra Kvitova defeated her in the semifinals in Melbourne.

As it happens, Collins has played almost the identical schedule to Wozniacki this season. The American also has played two Fed Cup ties for the U.S., plus the San Jose event in early August.

So it’s a tough blow for collins who did withdraw from some events this season, but who was on the come-up at the start of it.

She had been entered in the Luxembourg tournament next week, but has withdrawn. 

Upstart Collins reaches Oz Open semi

MELBOURNE, Australia – The world of women’s tennis hasn’t seen anyone quite like American Danielle Collins for a long time.

She’s fiery, this one. Feisty. Full of belief. And those are qualities far too rare on a Tour that too often exposes the lack of same from some very gifted athletes.

That belief didn’t just come this fortnight Down Under. And Collins’s in-your-face way of doing business is doubly effective when she’s on court against an opponent not similarly blessed.

Her insightful dissection of game plan and feelings, expressed with no apparent concern about how much she might be giving away or how it might be received, is another refreshing addition.

(And, of course, it’s escaped no one’s notice that she’s a tall, very attractive blonde with big blue eyes. We mention this not because it makes a whit of difference to her tennis. But it has – and will – make a big difference in the attention she receives and how she can maximize it going forward).

But right now, most of all, Collins is a rookie Australian Open semifinalist.

Danielle Collins

At 25, this is the first time she has even played the Australian Open, as her professional career began relatively late by WTA standards because of a highly successful stint in college.

Collins didn’t just do well in tennis at the University of Virginia. She also graduated with a degree in media studies. 

Win after impressive win

The biggest surprise for Collins during this Australian Open wasn’t so much the 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova Tuesday. 

That was arguably not even top three.

Collins was down and almost out against Julia Goerges in the first round. The No. 14 seed has been in form after winning the tuneup title in Auckland. But the American pulled off a 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4 win in that one.

And then in the third round, the rolled over No. 19 seed Caroline Garcia. That was good. But then she coughed up just two games to former champion and No. 2 seed Angelique Kerber.

A fifth attempt to get past the quarterfinal level at a Grand Slam was a pressure-packed situation for Pavlyuchenkova, who couldn’t get over the finish line once again.

On Tuesday, Pavlyuchenkova started quickly.

“Today she didn’t really give me an opportunity in that first set to allow me to really take control. I think she was playing really well. I kind of had to make some adjustments within my game,” Collins said.

“Even though the set was 6-2, it took an hour. I felt like it was very close, regardless of the score. I told myself, ‘Hey, if I can just give a little bit more, 10 per cent or 15 per cent, I have an opportunity. Yeah, I stayed positive through that and kind of weathered the storm,” she added.

The game Collins plays can accurately be described as well-rounded. She’s a good athlete. She hits the ball hard from both sides. She serves well. And she doesn’t shy away from opportunities to come forward.  Best of all – and perhaps this was fine-tuned in the college system with coaching close at hand and a format that requires you to adjust or perish – she has awareness.

When he’s all clicking, she’s an opponent to be reckoned with.

Collins

“The second set, … I was trying to extend the points, make it more physical. There were some tight situations. So that made it even more challenging. She was playing really great tennis. That had every ounce to do with that. Then in the third set, I knew that she was nervous. I knew that she was physically deteriorating. So I decided that I wanted to play some long points, extend some rallies. And I went after my shots at the right time,” Collins said. 

“I think making some technical adjustments with my feet, with my court positioning. I think being a little bit quicker, recognizing the patterns that she was coming up with. She was coming up with some really incredible plays, doing some maybe things differently that my other opponents hadn’t been doing. I was staying tough in the moment and playing some longer points that I hadn’t played in the last couple matches.”

Collins also made the adjustments she needed to with her string tension. She realized he was missing some shots by very little, especially with the new balls. And she made sure she went to fresh (tighter) string jobs more frequently, before she fell behind too much.

In the end, her lack of experience, combined with her self-belief, was the winning formula. For Pavlyuchenkova, just two years older but in her 15th year as a pro, the quarterfinal ceiling is one she has yet to break through.

It doesn’t get easier each time she gets there. And drawing an unseeded player in her first Australian Open for an opportunity to get to the Final Four was both blessing and curse.

The pressure of the prodigy

Pavlyuchenkova was everything Collins was not as a kid: a genuine prodigy.

She became the No. 1 junior in the world back in 2006 after winning the Australian Open junior girls’ title over Caroline Wozniacki in the final. She also won the girls’ doubles with Canada’s Sharon Fichman. Pavlyuchenkova went 18-0 through three tournaments Down Under, dropping just two sets. Later, she got to the French Open junior final (losing to Agnieszka Radwanska) and won the doubles over Radwanska and Wozniacki, again with Fichman. 

She won the US Open juniors that year, too. And went for the calendar Grand Slam in doubles before losing in the final. And she won the Australian Open juniors again in 2017.

All of this long before turning 16. She reached her career high ranking of No. 13 the day after her 20th birthday in 2011.

She has played every single major since the 2008 French Open. But until this week, she had reached the quarterfinal stage just four times – once at each event. The pressure she was putting on herself to finally get through that door was palpable as the match went on.

Collins didn’t come in carrying any of that baggage. She veritably danced around the court as Pavlyuchenkova shuffled.

As well, Pavlyuchenkova had a very tough win over Sloane Stephens that ended far, far too early in the morning.  She just didn’t have enough gas left in the tank for the third set. And Collins knew it.

Not her first big splash

A year ago at this time, Collins was playing the Newport Beach Challenger. That’s the tournament that features Yanina Wickmayer, Varvara Lepchenko, Tatjana Maria and Genie Bouchard this year.

Collins
Collins received her Indian Wells main-draw credential in a ceremony with tournament director Tommy Haas during the Challenger event. She got to the fourth round. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

She was working on winning the Indian Wells wild card that went to the highest-performing American during the Oracle Series. And she won it, beating Madison Keys on her way to the fourth round of the big event. Next up, in Miami – still having to qualify because of the lag time with the ranking – she did even better.

Collin went from the qualies to the semis, beating Coco Vandeweghe and Venus Williams before bowing to Jelena Ostapenko.

rankings
Collins went from the qualies to the semis in Miami in 2018. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

She began that stretch ranked No. 119 and, by the end of it, was knocking on the door of the top 50.

But it didn’t carry through the spring and summer – especially Grand Slams. And her first WTA fall Asian swing didn’t produce a lot of results, either.

So Collins arrived in Melbourne looking for her first career win in a Grand Slam main draw.

“When I lost at the French Open, I played Wozniacki. And when I lost at Wimbledon, I played Mertens. When I lost at the US Open, I played Sabalenka. So I lost to some really good players. I did everything I could those days,” Collins said.

“I think I’ve gained more experience in the last year, which is great. Yeah, I don’t think much has really changed. I think I’m just getting a little bit different outcome. That’s based off of the hard work that’s been put in in the past, just having faith in what I’m doing.”

She didn’t just post her first win, she has posted her first five Slam wins.

Next up is Petra Kvitova, who looked nigh-on unbeatable in sending local favorite Ashleigh Barty out of the tournament Tuesday night.

The two had a battle in the first match of their respective seasons. Kvitova won the Brisbane barnburner 6-7(6), 7-6(6) 6-3.

If their Australian Open semifinal on Thursday – to be played on a day when the forecast high is exactly body temperature, 37C (98.6 F) – comes even close, that’s a hugely promising prospect.

Ostapenko through to Miami final

MIAMI, Fla. – A reigning Grand Slam champion smacked down American Danielle Collins’s sky-high dreams Thursday night.

And so 20-year-old Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia will meet another reigning Grand Slam champ, US Open titleholder Sloane Stephens, in a rather unexpected Miami Open final Saturday.

“I saw the match yesterday against Venus, many down-the-lines from the backhand side, so I was expecting a very tough match,” Ostapenko said in her on-court interview after a 7-6 (1), 6-3 victory.

The first set alone took exactly one hour.

“She had a set point in the first set, but I was fighting very hard, and I think it helped me a lot,” Ostapenko said.

Ostapenko dry spell finally broken

The out-of-nowhere French Open title last June was a hard act to follow in the intervening months.

Ostapenko survived a nail-biter she probably should have lost to Canadian qualifier Françoise Abanda in the second round at Wimbledon on her way to a very respectable quarterfinal finish there a month after her French Open run.

And she teamed up with Canadian Gabriela Dabrowski to win the doubles title in Qatar last month.

OstapenkoBut Ostapenko’s only other career singles title was at a lower-level WTA tournament in Seoul, Korea last fall.

The rankings of the players she defeated in that event hovered between No. 71 and No. 155.

So reaching the final in Miami is a confidence builder.

It also will buffet her ranking against the potential carnage of an early loss at Roland Garros, when she returns to defend her title.

“Of course I was working on my mentality more, because I need my confidence and to be more consistent,” she said. “Because sometimes I was playing one match amazing, the next one not that great. Now, I’m playing more consistent.”

Having Aussie coach David Taylor in her corner for this swing, even with a surprisingly early loss to Belinda Bencic at Indian Wells, has seemed to be a major plus. 

Ostapenko

Taylor is offered sound advice on the coaching consults. And better still, Ostapenko is reactive, interactive and seemingly receptive.

Career-high ranking with a win Saturday

Ostapenko
Still a career-kickstarting run for Collins, who can leave the ITF circuit behind with her her new ranking status.

If she can defeat Stephens, the Latvian would rise to a career-best No. 4 in the rankings.

Stephens finally jumped into the top 10 this week, for the first time in her career. Win or lose, she will check in at No. 9.

The final will be played Saturday at 1 p.m. – the last women’s final at the Key Biscayne site before the tournament moves inland for 2019.

It may be not a minute too soon.

Ostapenko and Collins got a late start, and it was midnight by the time they finished. An issue with one of the big lighting standards delayed the men’s quarterfinal match played before theirs.

Alexander Zverev and Borna Coric were about an hour and 15 minutes late getting started (Zverev prevailed, 6-4, 6-4). Collins and Ostapenko didn’t start until 10 p.m.

(Screenshots from WTATV)