HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
Imagine Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski putting tennis on the backburner. That’s a major double fault in her accomplished, 15-year international career. But, wait, there’s a good reason and it’s all for her own personal development.
When the COVID-19 pandemic aced the world with a powerful serve down the T-line, the WTA suspended operation until the time was right for a return. But during that shutdown, Dabrowski branched out into new ventures and discovered so much about herself.
Dabrowski stayed fit during these unprecedented times, but she started taking academic courses through WTA University, connecting with the Special Olympics (a longtime tour charity), continuing her work with the WTA Players’ Council, and learning to play golf.
“The WTA is trying to make sure that you have more than just tennis, and that is something really important post-career to think about and when you retire from the sport,” Dabrowski told writer Steve Pratt in a story last September.
“Just that you feel that you have a backup plan. For me, I have so many other interests than tennis. I’m really grateful to have this opportunity to further my studies.”
That attitude and approach was invaluable for Dabrowski in the troubling weeks before the recent Australian Open in Melbourne. On her flight to Australia, she was deemed to have had close contact with a passenger who had the COVID-19 virus.
The email that broke that news briefly shook her up, but family, friends and players calmed her down. Dabrowski was forced into a strict, two-week quarantine in her hotel room. But she quickly devised a survival plan.
“There was no real reason to be bored,” she told CBC Ottawa Morning radio.
That was certainly true. She read books, studied her school courses, made phone calls concerning player council issues and worked out on a supplied stationary bike and with various weights.
Dabrowski, a two-time Grand Slam mixed doubles champion and 11-time tour women’s doubles winner, played in the Australian Open, losing in the mixed doubles quarterfinals with Mate Pavic, and the third round of women’s doubles with Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
When Dabrowski was developing as a junior player – becoming the first Canadian to win the prestigious girls’ singles title at 14 at Les Petits As and an Orange Bowl title – her focus was tennis now, university later. That made the most sense to her.
Ranked No. 10 on the WTA’s women’s doubles list (highest is No. 7 three years ago), Dabrowski also is reaching out for academic courses these days. She is plugged into WTA University, an online educational platform created by tour partner SAP’s Litmos solutions.
That post-tennis-career-developing program started in March 2020, to offer WTA players physical and mental health resources as well as personal and professional growth options. The program is available to 500 active WTA players.
Dabrowski also has enrolled in the Indiana University East Bachelor’s degree partnership program along with 20 other players.
“I’m just starting out, but took a public speaking course over the summer and a drawing course,” she said in September.
Her main academic goal is to earn a degree in psychology, which she can do by taking one class at a time. Dabrowski also used the tour lockdown time for weekly online meditation seminars, yoga, pilates and crossfit classes.
The pandemic cancelled her plans to meet and interact with Special Olympic athletes at certain tour tournaments. But she was able to be a guest on a Social Club show staged by the Maryland chapter of Special Olympics. She had a blast.
“One of the first questions was actually like, have you ever broken a racquet?” Dabrowski told WTA writer Stephanie Livaudais. “I was like, yes, but don’t tell anyone.”
In her 60-minute video chat, she gave tennis tips and answered a range of questions.
“It’s within the last few years I’ve been learning a lot more about myself and what I value and what my beliefs are about certain things. And I’m starting to really grasp the concept that a lot of our internal happiness comes from serving others,” said the 28-year-old.
“I think it’s so important to think outside of yourself and to be able to give back – not just to the sport of tennis, but to sport in general. Because sports gives us so much in our lives, you know? It’s really important to me to be involved in something like this (Special Olympics).”
Dabrowski started learning about community caring at a young age, and focusing her career on doubles and playing with different partners suits her personality.
“I like working with somebody else, problem solving with somebody else,” Dabrowski added. “And I think the skills that you learn when you’re playing doubles are actually more applicable to real life than singles.”
In August 2019, Dabrowski was elected to the WTA Players’ Council. One of her main goals is to strengthen the doubles game. She would like to see the players interact more with fans, sponsors and media, which could eventually heighten their profiles and translate into more TV coverage.
On the WTA Players’ Council, Dabrowski represents players ranked No. 51-100.
“She cares a lot… lots to offer, terrific asset to council,” posted Stephanie Myles on her website called The Only Tennis Site… You’ll Ever Need.