MATCH POINT: Collins topples Stephens

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Fresh off winning her first WTA title at the clay-court tournament in Palermo on July 25, Danielle Collins has seamlessly carried over that breakthrough performance to her first US Open Series event of the summer.

The 27-year-old began her switch to the outdoor hard surface by outhitting countrywoman Shelby Rogers at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic. On Thursday, Collins found herself in a different position, playing from behind against another American, Sloane Stephens. The seventh seed was up for the challenge, as she battled for a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory to round out the quarterfinal lineup.

“There were some bumps along the way,” Collins assessed in an on-court interview afterwards. “I think playing against Sloane and being the consistent player she is, it required a lot more concentration on my part today than maybe other matches that I’ve played recently.”

After exchanging early breaks to start, Stephens saved a break point at 2-3 with a compact serve +1 combo, wiping it away with a well struck backhand winner up the line. A forehand unforced error in the following game from Collins saw her drop serve, and Stephens rode out the advantage to a one-set lead, breaking again by nailing her forehand crosscourt pass target.

Collins was taking on Stephens for the first time.

Collins was taking on Stephens for the first time.

At 1-1 in the second set, Stephens reached game point three times, but couldn’t find her range. Collins capitalized, and it proved to be a pivotal game. The former two-time NCAA champion protected her serve well and was rewarded with a third-set shootout.

Stephens looked to rebound when she broke for 2-0, having staved off three break points in the opening game of the decider. Collins channeled her frustration into an aggressive response, clocking three winners to break back at 15. From then on, Collins controlled the pulse of the contest, ending with a backhand return winner to reach the finish line after two hours and 10 minutes.

“It took more balls and more patience to win some of those tough points,” said Collins. “I tried make little improvements along the way, especially with the serving. I tried to get my first-serve percentage up. I saw the numbers in the first set and I wasn’t happy about that.”

Collins will go for her eighth consecutive win (and 11th in 12 matches overall) Friday when she meets No. 2 seed Elena Rybakina. The Kazakh arrived to the WTA 500 tournament after ending her Tokyo Olympics in heartbreaking fashion, falling to Elina Svitolina in the bronze medal match. Earlier Thursday, Rybakina also successfully turned the tide in eliminating Claire Liu, 2-6, 6-0, 6-2.

Top seed Elise Mertens and No. 8 seed Yulia Putintseva also booked their places in the final eight. The two are set to square off in Friday’s day session.