Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski hoping to break through in women’s doubles

Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada. (Jacques Boissinot/CP)

LONDON – Gabriela Dabrowski wants to get to a point where she feels as good on a women’s doubles court as she does in the mixed game, a discipline where she is a two-time Grand Slam champion.

If Friday is any indication, she’s continuing to make progress.

Fresh off a women’s doubles title last week in Eastbourne, England – her third of the season – Dabrowski and partner Yifan Xu continued their winning ways by advancing to the third round at Wimbledon.

The sixth-ranked team beat Shuko Aoyama and Jennifer Brady 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 to already secure a career-best finish at the All England Club in women’s doubles for Dabrowski.

“We’re really trying to encourage each other to play bigger tennis and to keep on going for it and staying aggressive because we know that to progress that’s the way that we have to play,” the 26-year-old Ottawa native said. “We did a better job last week. But last week the top teams weren’t playing at Eastbourne. It’s different to here.

“We’re on that track. Whether it’ll happen or not, I don’t know if we’re quite there yet. But we’re definitely working towards it. We’re trying to be brave. I’m hoping that we can have some deeper Slam results. But there are a lot of good teams, so it’s tough.”

Dabrowski’s best finishes at a major tournament came at the 2017 U.S. Open and the 2018 Australian Open, where she – along with Xu – reached the quarterfinal.

The partnership has been steadily improving. Dabrowski said neither player is afraid to say something to the other if necessary. They’re also both supportive and know each other’s tendencies.

“You hope that in tight moments that that will pay off. So far, it has,” she said.

Still, however, she feels more confident in the mixed game. Given her results, it’s hard not to understand why that’s the case.

Dabrowski won the French Open last year with Rohan Bopanna, becoming the first Canadian woman to win a major at the senior level. She then claimed the Australian Open this year with Mate Pavic.

Dabrowski and Pavic are the No. 1 seed and have a direct bye to the second round of the tournament here. She reached the quarterfinal last year.

Being more “relaxed” in mixed doubles goes beyond the results, though.

“It’s just a different dynamic playing with a guy,” Dabrowski said. “Not knowing that they’re going to hold serve, but the chances are higher. I like to be at the net, so I feel really comfortable there. It just settles me down. I also know that the pressure’s kinda off of me. I’m not supposed to be returning the guy’s serve, so I just swing out and I’m a lot more relaxed. That’s why I’ve been able to do better.

“I’m trying to implement that into women’s doubles. But it’s a hard transition because, in the women’s (game), that’s where the ranking points are. That’s where my main goals are, so it’s a little tougher.”

Dabrowski is not exclusively a doubles player, but she’s nearly at that point.

She plays singles occasionally – she’s 1-4 in WTA events this year – and is ranked 538th in the world. She said she hasn’t thrown in the towel on her singles career, but the emphasis clearly shifted several years ago.

Coming out of junior, Dabrowski was trying to transition to the pro circuit and was struggling.

She said her parents had to mortgage their house to allow her to continue playing tennis. Playing doubles led to better results — and more money.

“When the results weren’t really coming on the singles side, I would go further in the doubles draw almost every time,” Dabrowski said. “There wasn’t a click, but it seemed obvious after a certain amount of time that maybe my focus should be to become more financially stable. Doubles ended up providing that.”

It’s proven to be a wise decision.

Dabrowski’s goal is to make the WTA Finals in Tokyo at season’s end. Only the top eight doubles teams make it and she and Xu are currently ranked fifth.

Like Dabrowski said, they’re on the right track.

An example of that came midway through the third set on Friday when the match looked to be taking a turn for the worst.

Having already dropped the second set, Dabrowski put herself in a 0-40 deficit in the fifth game. However, she and Xu recovered to win the next five points to claim the game.

“It’s happened to me before. In the past, sometimes I might rush through it,” she said. “And this time I thought I’d take my time and it enabled us to get us back to deuce. So, then you can kind of settle in again. I’m really happy with how we handled that game.”

They broke to go up 5-3 and then Dabrowski held serve to win the match.

Just another sign of progress as Dabrowski aims to find her peak performance in women’s doubles.

“It’s nice to have some wins,” Dabrowski said. “My previous grass-court seasons were not very successful. So, it’s nice to keep our streak going from last week in Eastbourne. I’m happy that we’re playing better.”

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