Gaby Dabrowski was born in Canada and has spent much of her life training at Saddlebrook. Currently residing in Florida, Gaby can be found there when not traveling on tour. Being ranked well in ITF Juniors she decided to turn pro right away instead of going the college tennis route. She saw success in singles and doubles having a career-high singles ranking of 164 and doubles ranking of 7. This two-time Grand Slam Mixed Doubles Champion is currently ranked 10 in the world and continues to train hard toward her goals. During this interview, I could tell Gaby was passionate about her career and cares about the sport of tennis and the sustainability of our planet.
- When did you begin playing tennis and at what age did your love for the sport come about?
I started when I was 7 years old. Both of my parents returned to work so a close friend of my parents watched me over the summer. Her son and I were close enough in age and we found ourselves at a local park one day and we started playing. I got advice from someone saying that I should start taking lessons so we did. I am still waiting for the moment where I love the sport. Tennis is a love/hate relationship. It’s a sport where you can have the best day and then 24 hours later have the worst day. I liked playing when I was younger because I was naturally athletic and enjoyed running towards the net. I love parts of tennis, like other parts, and hate some parts of it.
- What did your junior career look like? Did you ever see yourself playing college tennis in the U.S?
When I was 12 or 13 I started traveling more internationally. I started training a little bit outside of Canada to see how others trained. When I was 14-16 I spent most of my training time at Saddlebrook. I would not say I played the fullest schedule of tournaments that you could, but it was pretty consistent. In my later teen years, I started playing ITFS as well as the junior players. My highest junior ranking was 5 in the world and tried to transition to the pro level.
- At what point during your life did you know you wanted to be a professional tennis player?
I had mixed signals from friends that went to college and played tennis. It was not until after I started my career that I heard the positive experiences of college tennis. For that reason, I went to play professional tennis and figured I could always take classes during or after my career. I am ok with the choices that I made, but if anyone is thinking about whether going to college or playing pro I would recommend looking into college tennis.
- Have you always been a doubles-focused player?
I have always played singles and doubles. I honestly cannot remember a tournament where I was not playing both. I think it is important when developing your game that you should expose yourself to all parts of the game. My dad and I would volley in our basement in the wintertime with a ball machine, a volleyball net used as a tennis net, and a sheet.
- Has singles or doubles come more naturally to you?
I believe doubles come more naturally to me. It is tough to say right now because my training is more geared towards doubles. I try to still play both but with my singles ranking, I do not play many singles matches.
- What are some of the initial challenges you faced on tour?
The financial challenges of moving forward. You are out there mostly on your own or with a parent. There is no consistency to it. If you have a coach, they are only traveling with you for a short amount of time.
- How hard is it to get sponsors and financial support early on?
I was very lucky. We had some amazing friends to help keep my tennis dreams alive at the beginning of my career. Not everyone is that lucky and might live in other countries where there is no support. I would love to see players 200-400 in the world be able to afford to play on tour. We are losing their talent due to financial reasons.
- What would you like to see change on the WTA tour? What do you think the WTA tour does well?
I think it important to look at tennis governing bodies as a whole and not just WTA. I would love to see them look at tennis not so much as an elite sport but as a sport that we want as many people playing as possible anywhere around the world. We need to remove that status that we see and in some countries, it costs a lot to play tennis. It is an expensive sport by nature and I think trying to remove that barrier would be very beneficial to get more eyes on the sport and more women in the sport. For example, every boy growing up in Canada plays hockey and the sport is much less expensive than tennis. I believe the WTA is doing a great job. We are getting closer to being seen as equals. They provide a lot of playing opportunities as well but I think there is still room for improvement. There is a bottleneck right now within the ranking system. Once you are in the top 100 it is very difficult to fall out of it due to that. I hope that we can take steps towards fixing that as well.
- How have those challenges changed today?
My challenge right now is finding a partner that I like to play with and build a partnership with them. It is definitely different from my previous challenges of finding someone to play with and get into the tournament. Covid has been a challenge as well and we are playing within these bubbles. I am trying to stay happy and find things to do within the bubble. For a lot of the tournaments right now we cannot sightsee due to having to stay in the bubble. We have to get creative in order to stay fresh mentally within the bubble.
- Can you talk about what it means to represent your country?
It is an easy country to represent. Canada is so chill and I am proud of the strides Canada has made in terms of equality and human rights. I wish I had more time to visit Canada and see what it has to offer. I am lucky to be from such a beautiful country.
- What was the most memorable singles experience you had on tour?
In 2019 I played in Birmingham thinking I was the 3rd alternate but I was really the 1st alternate on the day of matches. The tournament staff made an error and told me I was 3rd, so I went to the hotel to hang out. There was a huge rush to come back to the site and play this singles match. I remember hyperventilating and my coach had to calm me down. I had a great singles match and ended up winning it.
- What has been your most memorable moment in doubles?
The 2016 Olympics in Rio. Walking out into the stadium with all of Team Canada was so special. Doubles allowed me to be there.
- What led to your decision to stick to doubles?
I was struggling financially and traveling on my own most of the time. I could not break through in singles and make money. I was consistently going far in the doubles draws and saw some girls full-time on the doubles tour. I had a good skill set for that side of tennis and knew if I did well I could support myself financially. I was around 130 in the world in doubles and was lucky to partner up with some girls who were formally ranking top 40 in the world and did pretty well. My ranking went up and then I started to get noticed and respected a little more. It was a snowball effect and was eventually able to achieve all of the things I wanted to.
- How important is it to build relationships on tour?
I tend to only be comfortable with people that I know very well. I have a few very good friends and I am happy and content with that. It is hard to maintain those friendships because you are competing against them. In general, I am relatively content to be myself and if I have friends at a tournament I will hang out with them. My favorite thing is to hang out with people outside of the tennis venue to take my mind off of tennis.
- Can you talk about the rankings you need to get into tournaments?
It varies quite a bit. You will need to be combined around 130-150 to get into a grand slam with your partner. Grand slams have a bigger draw than WTA events and players can get in with their singles rankings. So there is a lot of fluctuation.
- Is it more enjoyable traveling as a doubles player? Do you travel with your partner? Or a team?
If you are in a consistent partnership then you will probably travel together and perhaps share a coach. Right now, I am quite nervous to bring a support team with me. The people who are testing positive are usually the support teams. I am asking myself if I can survive this time mostly on my own and the answer is not really. I am trying to make the most of it. Traveling as a doubles player is not as nice as a singles player.
- How do you build trust and a relationship with your doubles partner?
I think it is very comparable to a relationship. In the early stages, you are not 100% sure that you are going to play doubles with them. You have to put your trust in the person if you have a similar vision. If you are not sure and only have 1 foot in the door then it will break down. You will need to be able to compromise due to scheduling.
- What are some travel stories or last-minute teammate changes before a tournament that have been stressful?
In the past, I had to make last-minute partner changes in order to get into tournaments. There definitely are moments where you need to pick a partner last minute. I remember a 250 event in Dallas and was ranked 150 and a player on the looking list was Hsieh who was ranked 30 in the world. I was hoping she would play with me. 30 seconds before the sign-in deadline she signed with me. We won our first-round match which was huge for me at the time because I was only playing ITFS.
- How can the strengths of a singles player differ from a doubles player?
Most singles players have a strong baseline game and serve well. Typically a predominately doubles player will have a little more finesse and look to make their way forward. As a doubles player and not having a lot of firepower, you might want to partner with someone who does. Being comfortable at the net can make a lot of singles players feel uncomfortable. When you have a combo of the two the player will be consistent and be tennis savvy in general.
- Can you talk about some of the charitable efforts that you like to partake in?
WTA has a branch for charities and is involved with many charities. They have partnered with Special Olympics and continue to do so. It was nice raising awareness for inclusiveness and diversity. I got to hear their tennis stories and share our experiences together. It is really inspiring! I also just became a part of High Impact Athletes and am donating to certain charities through that.
- What do you want to do after your professional career?
I have a whole list. First, I want to go on a ski trip and I am studying psychology right now and might pursue that past undergrad. If I have more time I would study architecture and interior design as well. I am not sure if I will be that person who sits at a desk every day. I am not sure when this list will start though.
- What is one thing you would like to be remembered for when you retire on tour?
Hopefully that I have made the tour a better place with small contributions. Whether that be with friendships, certain policies that are put into place that better the lives of players, hopefully having success down the line, and being a nice person. Those are probably the things that matter the most to me.