Melbourne - Unheralded Danielle Collins marched into the Australian Open semi-finals on her tournament debut Tuesday, then revealed she never thought she had the talent to make it as a professional tennis player.
The 25-year-old American is enjoying a dream run in her first appearance at the season-opening Grand Slam, making the final four with a 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 win over Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
It was Collins' toughest test yet at Melbourne Park but the Florida native said she was mentally tough after working her way up through the sport's backblocks.
"It's a little bit new to me," she said when asked how she was enjoying playing on the Grand Slam stage.
"This time last year I was playing a challenger in Newport Beach. But, yeah, I'm really embracing it."
Collins, who has mostly played on the US college circuit, grabbed the tennis world's attention with a 6-0, 6-2 drubbing of second seed Angelique Kerber in the fourth round.
She was unable to repeat that sizzling form against Pavlyuchenkova but was pleased she worked out a way to come from behind and make her more experienced opponent wilt under pressure.
"I knew that she was nervous. I knew that she was physically deteriorating," said Collins, who will play two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the last four.
"I decided that I wanted to play some long points, extend some rallies. I went after my shots at the right time."
Collins had never won a match at a Grand Slam in five previous attempts before her Cinderella run at Melbourne Park.
She has been a late bloomer in a sport notorious for putting talented youngsters under pressure from an early age, saying she was not a standout player as a teen and took "a different route" to the top.
"I think not being a child prodigy, not being a superstar at a young age certainly humbled me, made me in a way work harder for things," she said.
"I was talented and athletic, but maybe not to the level that other players were at, like, 14, 15, 16.
"I was kind of like playing from behind because I wasn't 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."
Instead of going on the women's tour, Collins graduated in media studies while playing tennis in the US college system, crediting it with making her a more mature person and keeping her humble.
"It's kind of made me hungrier in some ways," she said. "Not having that, 'Oh, I've always been really amazing at tennis' (attitude). It wasn't always like that for me. I wasn't always great or good."
Collins was full of praise for Kvitova, who defeated her at a warm-up tournament in Brisbane earlier this month.
"I followed a lot of her career. She's an incredible champion, she's has gone through a lot," Collins said.
"We had a really great battle a couple weeks ago, one of the best matches I've played even though I didn't even win the match. So I'm very familiar with her."