HIGHLIGHTS: Collins outhits Kasatkina for San Jose crown

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For all the metrics that have entered tennis in recent years, none remains more revealing than the sport’s remarkable scoring system. Two sets into Sunday’s Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic final, Danielle Collins had hit 43 winners, compared to seven for her opponent, Daria Kasatkina.

But then there was this metric: five—the number of championship points Kasatkina had fought off; or more accurately, as the rallies revealed, the opportunities an overheated Collins had failed to convert. So it was that after 113 minutes of tennis, the two were deadlocked, Collins winning the first set 6-3, Kasatkina the second, 12-10 in the tiebreaker.

To Collins’ credit, her exceptional competitive intensity did not get the better of her. She didn’t shrivel. Nor did she methodically regain the momentum. Better, she seized it. With Kasatkina serving at 1-2 in the third, Collins swept through 16 of the next 19 points to close out the match even more emphatically than she’d started it.

By a final score of 6-3, 6-7 (10), 6-1—and on her seventh championship point—Collins had won the biggest tournament of her career. Oddly enough, Kasatkina had won their previous match, at the Philip Island stop in Melbourne this past winter, by a close-enough score of 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-1. Kasatkina also led their rivalry 2-0.

Having recently earned her first WTA singles title in Palermo, Collins has now won ten consecutive matches. Ranked 36th coming into San Jose, Collins will next week return to the Top 30. “One of my goals was to win a tournament this year,” said Collins, “and to now win two, is just incredible.”

Collins was ranked No. 49 on July 12, but returns to No. 28 on Monday.

Collins was ranked No. 49 on July 12, but returns to No. 28 on Monday.

From the start, just about every shot Collins was forceful. One deep, hard and pinpointed laser followed another, particularly off her two-handed backhand. The forehand was plenty powerful too. Collins’ splendid serving also continually smothered Kasatkina.

Through the first seven games, Kasatkina hung in just well enough. Then it was Collins’ turn to pull the rug out from her. With Kasatkina serving at 3-4, Collins composed an impressive mix of loops and drives to break at love. But when it came time to close out the set, guile was jettisoned. Collins opened the 5-3 game with three aces, then struck a service winner. In the face of so much firepower, Kasatkina looked helpless. “She felt amazing from both sides,” said Kasatkina.

A route seemed likely when Kasatkina served in the second set at 3-5, 15-40. But on that first championship point, Collins netted a forehand return. On the second, running wide to her forehand, Collins went for glory, trying for a down-the-line winner from a defensive position. That too found the net. Trying to serve it out at 5-4, Collins rallied from 15-40 down to deuce, but eventually was broken.

Call the tiebreaker a tragical mystery tour for Collins and a great escape for Kasatkina. With Collins vexed by everything from crowd noise to her failure to have closed earlier, Kasatkina inched ahead 4-0. Down 6-4, Collins rallied and earned another championship point, this time on her serve at 7-6, only to net a highly makeable crosscourt forehand. Two more match points evaporated, Collins misfiring both times on groundstrokes. “There were some crucial moments,” said Collins. “There were some distractions I let interfere with my game.”

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Kasatkina was aiming to clinch her second 500-level title of the year (St. Petersburg).

Kasatkina was aiming to clinch her second 500-level title of the year (St. Petersburg).

If after the first set and three-quarters of this match, it was hard to imagine how Kasatkina had ever been able to subdue Collins, after the second, the picture appeared vivid. Were Kasatkina a boxer, she’d be the kind of fighter who can dance around long enough to let an amped-up opponent punch herself out. Wasn’t that case with Collins? Praising Kasatkina’s movement and anticipation skills, Collins said, “Certain shots that are winners against another player aren’t a winner against Dasha.”

But Collins is studious. Carrying the memory of a lead she’d blown here versus Maria Sakkari three years ago, she gave herself a pep talk after the second. Said Collins, “Me losing the tiebreak wasn’t going to define me as a player.”

Buoyed by that lesson from the past, Collins returned to the present and resumed her attack. “In important moments, she was more aggressive,” said Kasatkina. This indeed is the challenge for a clever player like Kasatkina. She can cut, but can she kill? With the match on the table, momentum clearly in Kasatkina’s favor, Collins reeling, Kasatkina did little to assert herself.

This tournament marked its golden anniversary this year. Back in 1971, Billie Jean King was its co-founder, as well as its first winner. One of King’s pet phrases applies to what Collins did today: champions finish—even if sometimes it takes longer than desired.