MIAMI • Danielle Collins was six years old when Venus Williams won Wimbledon for the first time, in 2000. She was just beginning to play tennis at the time and, for most of the next two decades, Venus and her younger sister Serena would provide inspiration for Collins.
On Wednesday, in her home state, Collins produced the performance of a lifetime to overpower her childhood idol Venus 6-2, 6-3 in a stunning quarter-final upset at the Miami Open.
The qualifier pounded winner after winner to beat Williams at her own game and set up this morning's (Singapore time) semi-final against French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
"I played Jelena a long time ago on clay in the juniors and I won, so now we are grown up I am excited to play her again," said the 24-year-old Florida native. "She's a fighter and I cannot wait to get out there and have another great match."
She fired 18 winners on Wednesday - two more than three-time champion Williams - as she repeatedly went for broke with groundstrokes that painted the lines at the Crandon Park centre court.
It was the first time in two attempts Collins has beaten a top-10 player, and world No. 8 Williams admitted that her fellow American was the better player on the day.
NO WORDS TO DESCRIBE
The first time I saw Venus in the locker room I nearly cried. She's been my favourite player forever and this is just a special moment I'm trying to wrap my head around.
DANIELLE COLLINS, on her admiration for former world No. 1 Venus Williams (above).
"I don't think it was my best night of tennis, but there wasn't a shot she couldn't make," said the seven-time Major champion.
"She played very well and aggressively, and she went for every shot and it landed."
Collins could have been excused for being nervous, yet the media studies graduate from the University of Virginia, who claimed two National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) collegiate singles titles in three seasons, made a brilliant start, racing into a 3-0 lead and never looked back.
Williams can take some credit for Collins' hard-hitting style. As a young girl, Collins imitated the former world No. 1, smashing tennis balls against a backboard at the public courts of St Petersburg, Florida.
After seeing the Williams sisters' success, she knew she, too, could make it from public courts to the pro circuit.
Entering this tournament, her ranking had risen to No. 93 from No. 160 at the beginning of the year - her second season as a professional. Jn her debut appearance at Key Biscayne, she has already eclipsed the previous best result by a qualifier, when Marion Bartoli made the last eight in 2003. A fortnight ago at Indian Wells, Collins, as a wild card, reached the round of 16.
"The first time I saw Venus in the locker room I nearly cried," Collins said. "She's been my favourite player forever and this is just a special moment I'm trying to wrap my head around.
"All young American girls look up to Serena and Venus. I can relate to them and their upbringing. I didn't come from a wealthy family so I didn't start playing at the country club as a kid.
"Playing on public courts helped give me a different perspective. It makes you grow up and, even at a young age, I was pretty mature."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NYTIMES
ATP/WTA MIAMI OPEN
Men's q-final 4 & s-final 1: StarHub Ch201, 7am & tomorrow, 1am Women's s-final 2: Ch203, 9am