By Sudipto Ganguly
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Danielle Collins overcame a slow start to book a maiden Grand Slam semi-final spot at the Australian Open when the unheralded American rallied from a set down to overcome Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 2-6 7-5 6-1 on Tuesday.
The 25-year-old Collins had not won a match in her previous five Grand Slam appearances but has now made it to the last four in her first main draw showing at Melbourne Park.
“This has all been a really incredible experience. Obviously it’s my first time playing main draw here in Australia, so I think that’s a little bit new to me,” Collins told reporters, after playing her first time at the Rod Laver Arena.
“This time last year I was playing a challenger in Newport Beach. But, yeah, I think I’m really embracing it. It makes it a lot easier when you play in front of great fans and really good energy.”
In a first career meeting between the pair, Collins and Pavlyuchenkova were evenly matched in their ability to hit winners, but the American had greater control on the unforced errors that proved decisive.
Collins, who crushed second seed and triple Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber in the fourth round, had 20 unforced errors in the match compared to her opponent’s 36.
The two-time NCAA collegiate tennis champion smashed 29 winners to beat Kerber under an hour but found the going difficult against the Russian at the start and had her first hold of serve only in the seventh game.
She paid for an over-aggressive approach in the first set as 44th-ranked Pavlyuchenkova remained unflustered to break the American’s serve three times before taking the opener when her opponent sent a backhand wide.
Collins found her range in the second, converting her third set point to break Pavlyuchenkova and level the match, before the world number 35 bulldozed through the third set to wrap up victory in two hours and 16 minutes.
Pavlyuchenkova, who defeated 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens in the fourth round, has now failed to get past the quarter-final stage at Grand Slam events in five attempts.
Collins advances to play Czech eighth seed Petra Kvitova, who later defeated local hope Ashleigh Barty 6-1 6-4, for a place in Saturday’s final.
The American played the double Wimbledon champion at the beginning of the year in Brisbane and narrowly lost the match in three closely fought sets.
Collins said it was tricky to play left-handed Kvitova, who was unable to compete for several months after sustaining career-threatening hand injuries in 2016 when an attacker stabbed her at her apartment.
“I followed a lot of her career. She’s an incredible champion, has gone through a lot,” Collins added.
“We had a really great battle a couple weeks ago, one of the best matches I’ve played. I didn’t even win that match. So very familiar with her.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by John O’Brien and Christian Radnedge)