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American Danielle Collins a winner despite loss in Australian Open women's final

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The first time wasn't quite the charm for Danielle Collins.

Against all odds (Collins was 50-1 entering the tournament), the 27th-seeded American battled world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty on Saturday at the Australian Open in her first Grand Slam finals appearance, losing 6-3, 7-6 (7-2).

After dropping the first set, Collins had her chance to force a third set, building a 5-1 lead, but Barty rallied and eventually won the set — and the match — in a tiebreaker.

Barty became the first Australian woman in 44 years to win the Australian Open title, but — after rolling through her first six matches in the tournament — knew she was in a battle against Collins. It took Barty an hour and 27 minutes to defeat Collins, much longer than the 1-hour, 1-minute average Barty had in her other six matches at this major championship.

"I have to say congratulations to Danielle and her team," Barty said after the match. "It's been an amazing fortnight for you here. You're in the top 10, which is absolutely where you belong.

"I know you'll be fighting for many more [titles] in the future."

Collins wasn't No. 1 at the Australian Open, but she's projected to move into the WTA's top 10 next week, which will be No. 1 among American women.

Collins is considered one of the fiercest competitors on the women's tour, tough and demonstrative on the court, and it's those qualities that helped her hang tough against the native Australian who hasn't moved from the No. 1 spot since September 2019.

Barty's style is precise and efficient, and Collins' relentlessness was the perfect antidote. Barty had lost just one service game entering the match, but Collins broke Barty twice in the second set alone.

An emotional Danielle Collins of the United States speaks after her loss to Australia's Ashleigh Barty in the women's singles final at the Australian Open. (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)
An emotional Danielle Collins of the United States speaks after her loss to Australia's Ashleigh Barty in the women's singles final at the Australian Open. (Photo by WILLIAM WEST/AFP via Getty Images)

Collins comes alive in second set

Collins was down after losing the first set, but she was far from out.

Collins held to open the second set, then broke Barty — the second break for Barty in the entire tournament — for a 2-0 lead, sealing it with an overhead winner. Collins survived a few break points in the next game — one on a beautiful cross-court winner — for a 3-0 lead.

Collins' lead grew to 5-1, but she couldn't hold off Barty's furious rally.

"It's been tremendous to watch Ash climb the rankings all the way to No. 1 and live out her dreams," Collins said to Barty after the match. "I really admire you for the player that you are and the variety in your game. Hopefully, I can implement some of that into mine."

Collins showed plenty of game in the final, especially early in the second set, and she wrapped it up with an emotional post-match speech.

"I've met some really incredible people along the way, which is one of the most special things about being a professional athlete," Collins said.

Collins thanks several of her supporters, including longtime mentor Marty Schneider.

"I haven't had a ton of people believe in me in my career," Collins said. "Marty has been somebody who has supported me since I ever wanted to do this."

Collins overcame crippling heath issue

In the year since the 2021 Australian Open, Collins has been through a lot. She was in agony due to endometriosis, a painful condition in which the tissue lining the uterus grows outside the uterus. The pain got even worse during her menstrual cycles, and it had been affecting both her tennis and her day-to-day life. During last year's Australian Open, she was in so much pain that she collapsed on the practice court and needed the attention of a doctor.

Collins had been living with the pain for years, having been told by numerous doctors that it was normal. She finally was diagnosed with endometriosis in April 2021, and just a few days later she was having emergency surgery. Doctors removed a cyst the size of a tennis ball from her uterus, which was so large that it had moved from her ovary and was pressing against her spinal nerve, and doctors had to go through her bladder, bowels and abdominal muscles to remove it.

"Had I not had the surgery, I just couldn't keep living my life like that," Collins told the WTA website in August. "The agony that I experienced from my menstrual cycles and from the endometriosis is some of the worst pain I've ever had."

She has been pain-free since, and recovered quickly enough to compete at the French Open last year. After that, she won her first two WTA titles back-to-back, and has spent the past nine months playing some of the best tennis of her life.

And that best tennis now includes advancing to the women's final at the Australian Open.

"I'm, honestly, just lucky to be out here competing," Collins said. "To have gotten this far has been incredible with some of the adversity that I faced physically early on in the tournament."

Collins said the Australian Open is "one of my favorite events to compete at ... and most of the players' favorite Grand Slams." The past two weeks were certainly great for Collins.

"We all met by chance," Collins said. "And now we're friends for life."