Danielle Collins' remarkable run continued as she became the first female college player to reach a Grand Slam semifinal since 1996 with a 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. The 25-year old fired 38 winners in winning eight of the final nine games.
The 35th-ranked American, playing in just her sixth major, had never won a match at any of the four Grand Slams before arriving in Melbourne. The University of Virginia product, a two-time NCAA champion will face eighth seed Petra Kvitova in the last four for a spot in Saturday's final.
Pavlyuchenkova runs away with first set
Pavlyuchenkova was playing in her fifth major quarterfinal in her career and she took advantage of some early nerves by Collins, who dumped a forehand into the net on the Russian's second break point of the opening game of the match.
After a 16-minute, 28-point game in which Pavlyuchenkova svaed five break points, the 44th-ranked Russian was quickly ahead a double break, the American's forehand again misfiring to give her a 4-1 advantage.
Both players held to love to set the stage for Pavlyuchenkova to try and serve out the set at 5-2. After double-faulting on set point, the Russian stung a backhand for a winner to save break point and closed out the set on her second chance, Collins' backhand going well wide.
Feisty Collins claims second set late
A tame start to the second set saw Collins ahead 2-1 before she made her first breakthrough of the match, hammering a forehand for a winner after retrieving a drop shot and lob from the Russian. A hold consolidated the break and the American led 4-1.
The nerves returned for Collins as she served for the set at 5-3, broken after Pavlyuchenkova stepped up to a short ball and fired home a backhand winner. The Russian held for 5-5 and the 35th-ranked American answered to go back out in front 6-5.
Serving to stay in the set, Pavlyuchenkova staved off two break points, but faced a third after another fine backhand from the American. An off-forehand from Collins behind her lower-ranked opponent clinched the set for the American and leveled the match at one set apiece.
American runs away with third set to reach maiden Slam semifinal
After both ladies went off court for a break, the third set was one-way traffic, Collins taking 20 of the first 23 points. An ace closed out a love hold and a cross court forehand winner sealed a break to give the American a 2-0 lead.
Again, an ace closed out her next service game to stretch the lead to 3-0 and another break to 15 made it 4-0, Collins in full flight, Pavlyuchenkova wondering where her form from the first set had gone.
Remarkably, Collins dished out two more aces in a row to hold again, moving to within 5-0 and a game away from an unlikely semifinal berth. A sensational lob gave her match point, but Pavlyuchenkova saved it and held on for 5-1.
Serving for the match, the 35th-ranked American could still do no wrong and although she was challenged on serve, Pavlyuchenkova getting to deuce, Collins fired another cross court backhand for a winner to set up a second match point.
Finally it was a backhand long by the Russian, which she challenged only to see that it was out, that ended the two hour, 16 minute quarterfinal and sent Collins to the last four, the sixth active American woman to reach that stage of a major.
Collins talks to the media after quarterfinal victory
"I think i'm playing really good tennis", said Collins. "I've gained more experience in the last year, which is great. I don't think much has changed. I'm just getting a little bit different outcome. That's based off of the hard work that's been put in and having faith in what i'm doing".
The 25-year old, 0-5 in Grand Slam matches before her run in Melbourne, believes her college experience has prepared her for this stage: "I think not being a superstar at a young age certainly humbled me, made me work harder for things.
"I was talented and athletic, maybe not to the level that other players were at 14, 15, 16. Not being a child prodigy, I went a different route. I wasn't really sure if I could make it playing professional tennis when I was that age. Going to college was really crucial for me and my development. I think it's made me hungrier".
Facing Kvitova, who defeated Collins in three sets in their only meeting two weeks ago in the first round in Brisbane, may be her biggest challenge yet. "She's tricky because she's a lefty. She's an incredible champion. We had a great battle a couple weeks ago, one of the best matches i've played and I didn't even win that match."