NEW YORK—The U.S. Open ended just three days ago, but University of Virginia graduate Danielle Collins already knows she’ll back in Flushing Meadows next year.

Collins won the American Collegiate Invitational, earning her entry in the 2017 U.S. Open.  It’s her third career U.S. Open wild card, and she’s well-equipped to make the most of it.

Collins had quite an illustrious college career, winning two NCAA singles championships. The 22-year-old was the first UVA women’s player to win an individual NCAA title, and just the seventh woman in history to win two.

You may remember Collins from the first time she played the U.S. Open, two years ago. The then-sophomore took the first set off a second-seeded Simona Halep on Arthur Ashe Stadium, and then returned quietly to college.

Who knew she would be back again in 2016 via the exact same route? This time she fell to Evgeniya Rodina in the first round.

It didn’t all start at UVA. The St. Petersburg, Florida native began her collegiate career at the University of Florida.

“I just didn’t have the greatest relationship with the head coach there,” Collins told “I feel like, wherever you go, I think there will be a player that [the] coach prioritizes. I just wasn’t a priority in Florida. It just wasn’t working for me.”

Collins quickly became a priority after she transferred to Virginia, and her coaches, Mark Guilbeau and Troy Porco, were the perfect fit.


“Virginia was awesome because I loved the coaches, and they really loved me,” she said. “They worked with me, starting even before day one. They would be on the phone with me, trying to give me pep talks.”

Collins needed more than just love.

“They really pushed me the way I needed to be pushed and wanted to be pushed,” she said. “It was the perfect fit for me. They were very hands-on, and for me, making the transition from high school to college, you kind of need that.”

In her first year at UVA, she captured her first NCAA singles title. But Collins lists a team achievement as her greatest highlight in Charlottesville.

“Winning the ACC Championship for the first time was amazing,” Collins said, “because we were playing Duke in the final and my best friend, Stephanie [Nauta], clinched. It was so cool. It was such a big moment for her.”

The team would win the conference again the following year, but by then it had become business as usual, just like her winning a second NCAA singles title. But Collins is about much more than herself, and she admitted that she had bigger dreams.

“I think winning the two national championships was cool, but I think there’s a value in winning something as a team,” Collins said. “I’m always kind of nostalgic like, ‘Oh, I wish we’d won a team championship.’ I probably sound like such a brat, and should be happy with what I have.”

She doesn’t sound like a brat at all. On the contrary, she sounds like a real team player. But now that team is gone. She graduated from Virginia this summer with a degree in media studies, and in addition to longer having a team, she’s no longer part of a system that worked so well for her.

“When I’m on the road, and I have to pick up food for myself, I really miss Mark and Tory,” the world No. 658 said. “I didn’t realize it would be such a culture shock. But it’s good. It’s a part of growing up. Luckily, I’m a pretty organized person.”


After illustrious college career, Danielle Collins working through culture shock of being a pro

After illustrious college career, Danielle Collins working through culture shock of being a pro

Collins isn’t wading through the deep by herself. She trained at the IMG Academy with Nick Bollettieri before and during college, and is still based out of the Bradenton tennis mecca. Her father taught her to play the game, but has long since taken on the supportive parent role.

“Once I was at IMG, he sort of let the people at IMG take over,” Collins said. “He realizes everybody has their area of expertise. He doesn’t want to interfere with what they’re doing because he trusts the process they have for me at IMG.”

Next up for the collegiate champion is a full-time stab at the pro tour. She’s still looking to pick the right coach to travel with—which she’s taking her time with— and is getting sponsorships in order (which is working out well, she says).

When college athletes attempt to make it on the tour after graduation, there’s a certain degree of culture shock, which Collins is finding out firsthand.

“It’s a little bit more stressful, doing things like being in charge of your own finances and booking your own flights,” Collins said. “Doing things I never thought about when I was in school.”

Again, it may sound bratty, but it’s far from it.

“My coaches were so nice; they would grip our racquets,” Collins said. “Some people are appalled when I told them they actually grip racquets. I guess that’s a rarity.”

At an elite Division I college, players have someone taking care of everything for them: ordering meals; picking outfits; planning tournament schedules; booking flights, hotels and rental cars; getting water and Gatorade; stringing racquets, and yes, even gripping them. The all-encompassing support system creates a protective bubble around the athletes so they can focus solely on what’s happening on the court (and in school).

It may sound like the 22-year-old is now left unprepared for the real world, but does Novak Djokovic worry about gripping his racquet? If Collins can battle past the lower echelon of the pro tour, she can one day assemble a team just as strong, or even stronger, than her UVA one.

There’s going to be growing pains, but Collins is already in good company. Steve Johnson, like Collins, won two NCAA singles titles during his college career at USC, and he’s now the second-ranked American male behind John Isner, another college graduate.

Collins, also, already has another U.S. Open to look forward to. Her title at the American Collegiate Invitational guarantees her a spot in the 2017 qualifying draw. If she can get her ranking up to No. 120, she’ll get a main-draw wildcard, and she’d like nothing more than a chance to revisit Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“I had a pretty cool match,” Collins said. “I took a set off Halep. Hopefully I can get back in there at some point, and hopefully win a match instead of losing in three.”