MIAMI - Danielle Collins produced the performance of a lifetime and pulled off an almighty shock at the WTA Miami Open on Wednesday, sending Venus Williams crashing out 6-2, 6-3 to reach the semi-finals.
It was an amazing effort from a 24 year-old qualifier in just her second season as a professional and her debut appearance at Key Biscayne.
This was the first time in two attempts Collins has beaten a top 10 player, and even the crestfallen world number eight Williams would find it impossible to admit Collins didn't deserve to seal a meeting with French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko on Thursday for a place in Saturday’s final.
"I don't think it was my best night of tennis, but there wasn't a shot she couldn't make," Williams said. "She played very well and aggressively, and she went for every shot and it landed."
Collins was simply delighted with the win over a player she idolized.
"The first time I saw Venus in the locker room I nearly cried,“ Collins said. "She has been my favourite player so I am finding it difficult to wrap my head around this.
“All young American girls look up to Serena and Venus. I can relate to them and their upbringing. I didn’t come from a wealthy family so didn’t start playing at the country club as a kid.
“Playing on public courts helped give me a different perspective. It makes you grow up and even at a young age I was pretty mature.”
The previously unheralded Collins, a Florida native who ended 2017 ranked 167th but came into this tournament as the 93rd best player in the world, is certainly having a March to remember.
As a wildcard she reached the round of 16 in Indian Wells and has gone far better here with a fantastic run to the last four having come through qualifying.
That eclipsed the previous best result by a qualifier, when Marion Bartoli made the last eight in 2003.
Collins could be excused for being nervous, yet the media studies graduate from the University of Virginia,who claimed two NCAA collegiate singles titles in three seasons, made a brilliant start, racing into a 3-0 lead and never looked back.
Her hitting, especially from the back of the court, was of the highest order and now she takes on Ostapenko full of confidence and ready to reach her first big tournament final.
"I played Jelena a long time ago on clay in the juniors and I won, so now we are grown up I am excited to play her again," Collins added. "She's a fighter and I cannot wait to get out there and have another great match.
“This is such a cool situation, I need a couple of hours to process it all."
Ostapenko , meanwhile, showed the kind of aggression and heavy hitting which will be needed to keep Collins quiet when they meet in the last four on Thursday.
In a rematch of last year's round of 16 match at Wimbledon, the French Open champion was too strong for fourth seed Elina Svitolina, running out a deserved 7-6 (7/3) 7-6 (7/5) winner.
The 20-year-old hit 42 unforced errors in an effort to blow Svitolina off the court, but offset that with an impressive 44 winners.
"I knew I had to be aggressive and when I got the chance I really went for it," Ostapenko said.
Disappointing outings at Shenzhen, the Australian Open, Doha and Indian Wells compounded a difficult start to 2018, although a quarter-final exit at St Petersburg to eventual winner Petra Kvitova was a more positive return.
Now Ostapenko is determined to take the opportunity with both hands.
"I was rushing too much in the tie-breaks. I had to play smarter but my aggression helped,"Ostapenko said.
"The wind wasn't too bad but I am trying to be more consistent. I am not afraid to miss the ball and that helped me win the match."
For Svitolina, it was a disappointing result considering she has already won three titles so far this season, but the Ukrainian was quick to admit she deserved everything that came her way.
"She played a great match. She was much, much better than me if you look at the game."