When it comes to tennis talent, Canada is close to the top of the list.
The country’s recent roll of honour has included US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic as well as gifted youngsters Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime.
The most successful active Canadian player in terms of Grand Slams, however, is 28-year-old doubles specialist Gaby Dabrowski, who has two major titles to her name.
Becoming one of the best doubles players in the world came more out of necessity for Dabrowski to keep playing the sport she loves at the highest level, rather than any long term goal.
Introduction to Tennis
Dabrowski did not have the usual introduction to tennis that many players experience. Most grew up around the game, with parents or siblings who played the sport which led to them picking up a racket themselves.
This was not the case for Dabrowski, who is currently ranked inside the top-10 of the doubles standings and has two mixed doubles Grand Slam trophies as well as nine other titles on the WTA Tour.
Dabrowski said: “I started tennis on my own when I was seven. No one in my family played. It was a summer when both my parents were working and my father’s good friend from Poland came to look after me.
“She brought her son who was 10 at the time and so we started ‘hitting’ tennis balls at the park together. Soon after I began taking lessons.”
The dream to become a professional tennis player was evident from as early as nine years of age, just two years after she first handled a tennis racket.
Dabrowski said: “It’s sort of difficult to pin point an exact moment when I decided to pursue tennis as a career. I really feel like I’ve been ‘working’ since I was nine-years-old. I did know from a pretty young age that tennis was going to be the path I’d take.”
Despite no one in her family having ever played the sport, Dabrowski like many other young tennis players will be forever grateful to her parents who made substantial financial sacrifices in order for her to achieve her goals.
“The difficulty for me and my family was being able to afford a full-time coach or even consistent coaching,” said Dabrowski.
“When I was a teenager, my parents had to mortgage our home to keep my tennis dreams alive.”
Becoming a Doubles Specialist
When Dabrowski achieved her dream of becoming a professional, there were still financial issues along the way. As a singles player she was never ranked high enough to make significant earnings on the WTA Tour, leaving her no choice but to turn her focus to doubles, a side of the game which she excelled at.
Facing the reality that this was the only way to prolong her tennis career, she describes the necessity of making this transition,
“It was not a natural progression. I would consider it a forced progression. In my early 20’s I was struggling to break through in singles, but I was having consistently good doubles results. There came a point where I had to decide what to do.
“If I wanted to stay in tennis, I had to find a source of income. Doubles was my solution. My goal was to sacrifice singles and try to play some bigger tournaments in doubles and improve my ranking.”
Doubles tennis brings different challenges to singles, challenges which Dabrowski has a great appreciation for.
“You’re on a mini team and problem solving together and clicking together is special. It’s not always easy to manage a partner, so to perform well and overcome obstacles is a great feeling.”
This dedication to doubles has paid off, evidenced by her two mixed doubles Grand Slam titles: the French Open in 2017 with Rohan Bopanna and the 2018 Australian Open alongside Mate Pavic. These achievements also provided her with the financial stability needed to continue her career.
As many athletes would attest to, the second title was more enjoyable than the first:
“Winning a mixed doubles Grand Slam title is a lot of fun. The second title had different emotions. It was less of a relief and more pure joy of performing well under pressure.”
She has threatened to win a women’s doubles Grand Slam, losing in the Wimbledon final of 2019, and at the age of 28 has plenty of time left in her career to add to her collection.
Achieving the Olympic Dream
Most tennis players who have won multiple Grand Slam titles would likely refer to those achievements as the most special moments of their career. For Dabrowski, the most memorable occasion was representing her country at the Olympic Games in 2016.
Being of Polish descent, The Olympics has always been to the forefront of Dabrowski’s life and brings with it a deep meaning for her and her family.
Dabrowski said: “I’m half Polish, and in Poland the Olympics are literally everything. It is the be all and end all of an athlete’s career and life.
“I grew up with this passion surrounding the Olympics, so even though Grand Slams are more lucrative for a tennis player, making the Olympics or medalling at the Olympics is far more prestigious to me.”
A decision originating from financial struggles in committing to doubles has allowed this dream to become a reality for Dabrowski, a just reward for both her and her family after the years of dedication put towards her tennis career.