In a late-night match between two big hitters that felt more like a quarterfinal than a first-round bout, Danielle Collins defeated Naomi Osaka, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, to send the two-time U.S. Open champion packing after a disappointing year at the majors.
The win was a triumphant breakthrough for Collins after three career losses in straight sets to an opponent she had never managed to crack.
For Osaka, it was the second opening-round loss in three majors she has contested this year.
The 24-year-old lost to another American, Amanda Anisimova, at the French Open before missing out on Wimbledon with a left Achilles’ injury. She entered Tuesday night with a meager 2-4 record since Roland Garros, along with one retirement because of a lower back issue in Toronto this month.
Osaka, ranked 44th in the world, was happy to have made it through Tuesday night without her back flaring up. She said she only began serving Sunday again.
“Everyone deals with injuries. I would say, for me, it’s been more prominent this year. But I think it’s something I can learn [from],” Osaka said. “I learned a lot more about my body. I learned what’s weak and what I can do to prevent it. The sport is very physical, but it’s my job to stay on top of it.”
Collins, a two-time NCAA singles champion at Virginia ranked 19th in the world, advances to face qualifier Cristina Bucsa in the second round.
Like Osaka, Collins took off most of the summer to deal with a string of injuries, playing just three matches since the French Open. She’s hoping the first-round victory against a four-time major champion builds enough confidence to send her on the run similar to the one she made at the Australian Open this year.
Collins ran through a gantlet that included current world No. 1 Iga Swiatek and veteran Alize Cornet en route to the final in Melbourne, where she lost to Ashleigh Barty.
“I’m just really still kind of speechless because I took the summer off,” Collins said. “To come out here, play a tough opponent first round, someone that’s won two Grand Slams here, it’s not easy.”
Two-time U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka has won only two of seven matches since the French Open.
The match never had the feel — or sound — of an opening-round contest. Collins and Osaka began with the cracking groundstrokes, full-bellied roars, and fist pumps that could make a viewer shake their fist at the computer that sets the draw.
Collins quickly fell into an 0-3 hole, a margin that, along with her previous struggles against Osaka on her mind, prompted her to loosen up. She evened the match with go-for-broke groundstrokes that nicked lines, and she grew in confidence from there, taking advantage of Osaka’s questionable decision-making as the set wore on.
“When you lose to somebody three times, you kind of have nothing to lose,” Collins said in an on-court interview. “I just went for it and hoped for the best.”
In the first-set tiebreaker, Osaka again appeared in control at 4-4. She tugged her opponent from corner to corner. She had her leaning wide to her backhand side with a potential winner to end the rally — but Collins guessed right on Osaka’s forehand slam and got her racket on the ball enough to place a pinpoint lob on the baseline.
It was the first of two punishing line-clippers that made Osaka pay for errors she might have gotten away with against a less experienced player.
“I got lucky in some big moments, but I was working hard for the points,” Collins said. “She wasn’t giving me a ton of free ones.”
The three career losses against Osaka gave Collins more than a sense of freedom on the court Tuesday night — they also provided her with valuable intel on Osaka. One key to Collins’s win was changing her return position during Osaka’s serve on pivotal moments to significant effect. Collins converted two of three break points in the second set to keep Osaka from mounting a comeback.
“I just needed to lock into that, try to read her toss a little bit,” Collins said. “I’m delighted with how I returned.”
“… Hoping that I can continue the momentum. Hopefully, this gives me confidence knowing that I can beat someone like Naomi and compete hard after not having any matches going into it.”