Gabriela Dabrowski’s breakout season was very much a learning process for the Canadian tennis player.
She made history a year ago when she became the first Canadian woman to win a Grand Slam title, hoisting the French Open mixed doubles trophy with Rohan Bopanna of India. Dabrowski also won two women’s doubles titles with China’s Yifan Xu in 2017, made her first WTA Finals appearance and cracked the top 20 in the year-end doubles rankings.
The 26-year-old Ottawa native feels a heightened sense of awareness on court and an improved emotional approach have helped her reach a higher level. Dabrowski also used a variety of techniques to help her relax in pressure situations and she focused on building on the positives from each performance.
Dabrowski’s confidence grew and the results followed.
“It was really wonderful to have those mini-breakthrough moments,” Dabrowski said Tuesday. “You can gain confidence from them and you know what they feel like. It’s easier to go about trying to create that again. It was really cool.”
Her success has carried over to this season. Dabrowski and Xu won the Sydney International last January and the Canadian teamed with Mate Pavic of Croatia to win the Australian Open mixed doubles title.
At this year’s French Open, Dabrowski holds the top seed with Pavic in the mixed draw and is seeded fifth in the women’s doubles draw with Xu.
Dabrowski and Xu were scheduled to play the French duo of Tessah Andrianjafitrimo and Fiona Ferro in first-round play Wednesday. There was no immediate word on when Dabrowski’s opening mixed doubles match would be played.
Pavic and Dabrowski teamed up together for the first time in Melbourne. They didn’t lose a set until the final, eventually outlasting Bopanna and Timea Babos of Hungary in a match tiebreak for the title.
“Sometimes doubles is funny that way,” Dabrowski told The Canadian Press from Paris. “To put it simply, you can have beginner’s luck in a way. You’re a new team, nobody really knows you, they don’t know your tendencies together so you kind of have that beginner advantage.”
There can be a lot of moving parts on the pro doubles scene. A number of players specialize in doubles while others focus on singles with some working in doubles play from time to time. Partners can change frequently depending on availability, fatigue, timing and the tournament.
Dabrowski started concentrating on doubles a few years ago and the decision has paid off. She picked up her seventh career women’s doubles title last February when she won in Doha, Qatar with Jelena Ostapenko.
The Canadian, who reached a career-high No. 7 in the world doubles rankings in March, currently holds the No. 11 position. She also helped Canada edge Ukraine 3-2 last month in a Fed Cup World Group II playoff tie.
“I love being at the net and I love transitioning to the net,” Dabrowski said of her game. “So serve and volleying, coming forward off of a return, I think my reflexes and reactions at the net are pretty good so that helps me steal a lot of points that maybe other (women) who are predominantly singles players — they don’t have that same skillset.
“They can rally from the baseline a thousand times in a row and run from side to side for two hours but my skillset is a little bit different. That’s why it suits doubles better.”
Dabrowski added she also enjoys the strategy in the four-player game.
“It’s very different tactically,” she said. “In singles, you can get away with hitting a return deep down the middle. But in doubles, you have to be a lot more precise against the good teams. You have to basically hit the lines to win a point. The accuracy factor is a lot more prevalent in doubles.
“And also you have a partner, so you have to have really good communication skills, leadership skills, good awareness about your attitude, and see how it’s affecting yourself as well as your partner. There are a lot of different components involved in playing good doubles.”
Xu, a left-hander, also likes coming to the net although both players are comfortable hammering away from the baseline if needed.
“I think our games complement each other pretty well,” Dabrowski said. “We like to do a lot similar things on court but we have a few differences to balance each other out.”
She’s also looking forward to playing with Pavic — the world No. 1 in men’s doubles — after their success Down Under. Both players have every reason to be confident.
“It definitely is nice to have been there before and to have it in the back of my mind, ‘Yeah I remember what that felt like,’” Dabrowski said. “That’s something you can hang on to — at least try to hang on to.”