Gator Nation News

Q&A with Danielle Collins

As a Gator-turned-tennis pro prepares for this month’s Australian Open, she answered a few questions about travel, tournament life and her return to UF.

When not on the court, Danielle Collins designs jewelry, travels and works with fashion designers. She also represents sports apparel company New Balance, Babolat tennis gear and Oracle Cloud Solutions.

Perhaps the greatest force in professional tennis player Danielle Collins’ short-but-jam-packed, 27-year journey is timing – good and bad.

Each moment and milestone – winning an international match at 16; being recruited by her dream school, UF; getting bumped from the court by NCAA championship-winning juniors and seniors; transferring to the University of Virginia to win her own NCAA titles; going pro; being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis; enduring extensive tournament COVID-19 precautions – altered the direction of her life.

Those course changes brought her back, full circle, to UF. Collins is earning a certificate in sports management and, eventually, a master’s, thanks to a partnership between UF and the Women’s Tennis Association.

Collins, No. 45 in WTA’s rankings, hopes the opportunity to expand her education will provide skills for whatever follows her pro career. She’s already testing the waters, launching a jewelry business and fashion partnerships. She also believes it would be easy to become a travel adviser after all the trips she’s made. But for now, Collins will continue the pro tennis circuit while planning for her future.

She took a few minutes to answer questions for Gator Nation News.

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What made you come back to UF?
When the pandemic started and everything came to a halt in terms of traveling, I found myself with a lot of time to think about the future. This WTA partnership gives me a chance to come back to UF – the school I’ve loved since I was a little girl – and have a different experience than when I was here as an undergrad.
Why sports management?
It’s a good fit for me because I’d like to work in pro or collegiate sports. I’ve worked with a lot of agents and managers and tournament organizers and officials in the WTA, and I’d like to educate myself on the day-to-day operations and what takes place. I also think the sports management field needs more women.

Danielle Collins won two NCAA singles titles (2014 and 2016) after transferring to the University of Virginia following her freshman year at UF. Today, she’s ranked No. 45 in the world but has been ranked as high as No. 23.

How hard is it to juggle a pro tennis career and your studies?
I usually don’t have a lot of free time. Now with all the (pandemic) safety protocols during tournaments, we’re confined to our hotel rooms when we’re not on the courts. So, for instance, during the French Open and some of the Grand Slams, sometimes I was watching lectures and doing discussion boards and texting with my partner about what I needed to do for a project. I tried to focus on my schoolwork during the week so I wouldn’t have a crunch at the end of the week. Being a college athlete taught me time management.
What are your biggest pet peeves?
Since I’ve been an athlete, I realize how much judgement there is. It can be good at times, but sometimes it can be unfortunate when people are hypercritical of others. We all make mistakes. I try to be nonjudgmental.
What was it like being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 26?
As humans we learn to adapt. I’ve learned what triggers these episodes. I realized that there were some things within my control, such as my diet. So I’ve spent more time in the kitchen learning to prepare meals for myself. It’s been so transformative for me.
Describe what you felt before you were diagnosed.
A lot of joint pain throughout my body that started in my neck, chronic neck pain. Then I started having more pain in my hands and feet, with some spells lasting five to 12 days … It was a three-month process of seeing doctors before I had a diagnosis and a plan. When I started limiting specific foods out of my diet – gluten and dairy – that’s when I really started to improve. But everyone is different.

Danielle Collins, one of the few women who played tennis in college prior to turning pro, defeated the world’s No. 2 player, Angelique Kerber, in the 2019 Australian Open to advance to the semifinals.

What’s your favorite Gator sport besides tennis?
Gymnastics was my favorite sport to attend at UF. [2016 telecommunications graduate] Bridget Sloan was on the team when I was there. She was a silver medalist at the Olympics. It was phenomenal to think that I could go to a collegiate match and see Olympic athletes.
What’s your favorite tennis match of your career so far?
The first time I beat [five-time Wimbledon champion] Venus Williams. That was a turning point in my transition from college to the pros. Plus, it was getting that win in Florida at the Miami Open, where my family had come down from St. Pete to watch me. Playing on that big stadium court was amazing. And Venus was my childhood idol.
Your career has taken you around the world. What’s been your best stop/city so far?
I love Australia. My boyfriend is an Aussie. The people there are so warm and friendly and positive. I like playing in Europe as well. How about I choose a favorite city on different continents?
  • Australia: Melbourne.
  • Europe: Would have to be Paris because it has so much amazing art and architecture.
  • United States: It’s hard to choose. I love Indian Wells, Calif., and Miami. Any tennis fan should try to attend the stadiums there at some point. But everything about both cities is wonderful — the atmosphere, scenery, weather.
  • Asia: Tokyo.
Best gadget for big-time travelers?
If you can get an iPad instead of a laptop, it’s so much better to travel with because the battery doesn’t die as fast as computers, they’re lighter and they fit in your purse easily.

Danielle Collins, left, is one of only three WTA players in the Top 100 who participated in college tennis. The last Gator to achieve such success is Lisa Raymond, right, who won national championships at UF in 1992 and 1993, and has since won 11 Grand Slam doubles titles. Raymond finished second in a recent International Tennis Hall of Fame fan poll. She once said about her decision to play college tennis: “It was without question one of the best decisions, if not the best decision, I have ever made. Those two years helped build me into the person I am and the tennis player I became.”

Any advice for young athletes?
When you find something you’re passionate about, you’ve got to stick with it. We all have bad days. We may have periods when we don’t love it as much, and things can be challenging. But the love will come back. Create goals that will get you where you want to go. With tennis, for example, you don’t have to be a pro – you can be a coach, official, work for tournaments, etc. If later on you find out that you want to steer in a little bit different direction, you can use the tools you learned along the way to adjust.
What’s next for you?
I want to play tennis as long as possible, but I would love to help people and make a difference in my community. I would like to help underprivileged children in public schools who most of the time aren’t athletes and need a positive figure in their life. I have applied to be a mentor at the school I attended, Northeast High in St. Pete.