On a late Thursday night doubles match at the Credit One Charleston Open, Danielle Collins punished a backhand return crosscourt before engaging in a series of jaw-dropping groundstroke exchanges with Kristina Mladenovic. To mix up the pace, Collins threw in a deep topspin lob that effectively pushed Mladenovic well behind the baseline.
And then the opportunity came that she was looking for – a backhand approach shot sitting directly in her strike zone.
Collins stepped in and slammed the ball down the middle of the court for a clean winner that preceded a signature “COME ON!” which loudly echoed across the stadium. The pro-American crowd, feeding off Collins’ high-energy game style, erupted in applause.
Collins’ signature backhand shot, one of the best weapons in the women’s game, combined with her intense competitive nature and fiery mentality make up the core of her tennis DNA. It’s a rare DNA that has created a vast and loyal fanbase among a tennis ecosystem craving for more authentic emotion from players in today’s media-trained world.
“Danielle off the court is just as dynamic and engaging as her game style on court,” said Jon Guerrica, host of the Fantastic Tennis Podcast. “I always look forward to Danielle’s matches because she’s one of the rare players who wears her emotions on her sleeve, which allows you to feel what she feels on court. She’s the type of big personality player we need in the game today, and the fact that she always gives 110% makes it so easy to be in her corner as a fan.”
After watching Danielle play doubles last week and sitting down with her at length during the Charleston Open, it’s evident she is on a mission to play more doubles in 2023.
Though largely viewed as second fiddle to singles, Collins believes doubles offers many benefits that help improve her singles game and overall mindset. “Camaraderie” was the word she referenced repeatedly in interviews throughout the week.
“I’d like to keep playing more doubles in general because it’s just fun,” said Collins. “I really value the teamwork and chemistry you get from playing doubles. It’s so important, not only in tennis but in life, to find that sense of camaraderie. In singles, it can be difficult to manage the ups and downs by yourself. Being able to share both the tough moments and the winning moments with a good friend like Des is really special.”
Collins and Krawczyk Win Charleston Open Title
Collins and partner Desirae Krawczyk teamed up to win the Credit One Charleston Open doubles title in a tightly contested final over No. 1 seeds Giuliana Olmos and Ena Shibahara, 0-6, 6-4, 14-12. The Americans fought through a slow start, difficult weather conditions, experienced opponents, and two championship points to win their first doubles trophy as a pairing.
After trailing 6-0, 3-1, Collins and Krawczyk knew they needed to make tactical changes to give themselves a chance to win the match.
“Gugu and Ena’s game plan to keep Danielle back in the first set was effective because they know that she can hit such a big ball from the baseline,” said Krawczyk. “In the second set, we came out more aggressive and were more intentional about calling set plays. We started moving more at the net and going off first and second balls to get them thinking.”
Collins and Krawczyk’s path to the Charleston Open finals wasn’t for the faint of heart. All four of their matches were decided by a mere few points in decisive third-set match tiebreakers.
“We played a lot of breakers this week and ultimately came out on top,” Collins added. “Ideally we’d like to avoid those situations and make it a little easier on ourselves in the future. Because of our friendship and camaraderie, we were able to rely on each other and it gave us confidence in those difficult moments.”
It was an impressive run that included wins over multi-slam champions, No. 2 seeds Kristina Mladenovic/Shuai Zhang in the quarterfinals, and 2020 U.S. Open champions, Laura Siegemund/Vera Zvonareva, in the semi-finals.
Given the no-ad scoring and match tie-breaker format in doubles, doubles brings a unique dynamic with its incredibly tight margins.
“In doubles, it’s important to remember that every point counts and you always have a chance to come back,” Krawczyk added. “All week we’ve been saying let’s just keep fighting and have fun, no matter what. We’ll always have bad bounces or calls that don’t go our way, but that’s just tennis.”
Joining the WTA doubles winner circle marked new territory for Collins, who won her first doubles title in Charleston in her maiden doubles final appearance. Krawczyk, an accomplished top 10 player who specializes in doubles, won her eighth WTA doubles title and competed in her 14th final to date.
Doubles Success with Desirae Krawczyk
Although this was their first title as a team, Collins and Krawczyk are no strangers to doubles success together. The pair of former NCAA standouts teamed up at the 2022 Wimbledon Championships for a surprise run to the semi-finals. Along the way, they knocked off an impressive roster of teams that included No. 3 seeds, Gaby Dabrowski/Gugu Olmos, and No. 11 seeds, Alicia Rosolska/Erin Routliffe, before losing a tight match to top-seeded Zhang Shuai and Elise Mertens.
“Getting to the semifinals of Wimbledon was one of the proudest moments of my career. It was so special to share that experience with a good friend like Des who I really care about and know that she really cares about me. There’s nothing like being able to share those moments together on court with such a close friend.”
The American pair also advanced to the Round of 16 at the 2022 Australian Open, the same tournament where Collins posted her best singles performance to date finishing runner-up to Ash Barty. In the doubles draw, they won two rounds before losing a tight-two set match 6-4, 6-4 to the top-ranked Czech duo of Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova. Collins described the match as a physically grueling, two-hour affair that was closer than the scoreline.
“Sometimes doubles matches can be just as physical as singles. The Czech girls really bring the heat in doubles. I was on court for more than five hours that day, so it can be a hard balancing act to juggle singles with doubles in those situations. Especially if you’re playing both matches on the same day.”
Playing Under Krawczyk’s Wing
As the less experienced doubles player on court, Collins has taken every opportunity to learn from Krawczyk. Krawczyk prefers calling the shots, and Collins is equally as happy taking orders and executing.
“Des is definitely the team captain of this doubles ship,” Collins said. “I like playing with people like Des who can lead the way. She plays doubles every week and it’s so helpful for me because she has great court sense and can anticipate certain plays that our opponents might make in high-pressure situations. She knows when to go, when to stay, when to fake, and when to lean.”
Krawczyk agrees that their captain-mentor doubles relationship has worked well during their limited time playing together. It’s an adjustment she’s had to make from playing with her regular partner on tour, Demi Schuurs, an experienced doubles player with a very different doubles tool bag than Collins.
“I can tell Danielle where to serve or where to stand and she’ll do it,” Krawczyk added. “I’m coaching her a little bit, but it’s so easy because she can rip the ball from anywhere so I have the freedom to be on top of the net more than I normally would. It gives me more flexibility to move when I get the opportunity.”
Balancing Singles vs. Doubles
Apart from a few standout doubles results, Collins is most well-known for her accomplishments on the singles court. Currently ranked No. 39 in singles, the 29-year-old American has been ranked as high as No. 7 in the world following a career-best season in 2022 when she finished runner-up at the Australian Open to Ash Barty. In 2021, Collins enjoyed a breakout year by capturing both of her maiden WTA singles titles in 2021 in Palermo, Italy, and San Jose, California.
But her 2023 season has gotten off to a lukewarm start for Collins’ standards. She has posted a 9-10 record in 2023 thus far with her best result coming during a semifinal run at the inaugural ATX Open. Collins has fallen victim to both difficult draws and a string of tough consecutive three-set losses at the beginning of the year. Four of her 10 losses came against top 5 players, and five of those losses were grueling three-set contests.
At the Charleston Open this week, Collins fell in the first round to fellow American and Charleston hometown favorite Shelby Rogers 6-7, 6-4, 6-1. When tennis players lose early in a tournament, it’s common for them to quickly pack their bags, get out of town, and travel to the next tournament to cleanse their mind and get a fresh start.
It would’ve been easy for Collins to follow suit in Charleston and leave on a sour note after a disappointing early exit in singles. Instead, she stuck around to play doubles with Krawczyk. And now she’s glad she did.
Regardless of the outcome, Collins takes doubles in stride and views it as an outlet to protect her mental health in the midst of the professional tennis circuit grind.
“I always play doubles with my close friends. For me, doubles is equally as important as singles and I’d like to continue playing more regularly. Whenever I have tough moments on court, my good friends and doubles partners have always been there to lift me back up.”
Looking Ahead to the Rest of 2023
With the Charleston Open and one-third of the 2023 season officially in the books, Collins and the rest of the traveling tennis circus will soon pack their bags for a three-month stretch in Europe on the clay and grass surfaces. Singles will continue to remain her top priority, but if nothing else, playing doubles will help keep her balanced and lift her spirits during the tougher weeks on the singles tour.
“The individual aspect of tennis can be really challenging and lonely with so many ups and downs. The more we can lean on each other, the better all of us will be.”
With her first WTA doubles title now under her belt alongside close friend Desirae Krawczyk, so far Danielle’s 2023 doubles mission appears to be right on track.