Event: Women’s Doubles
Residence: Tampa Bay, Florida
By Martin Cleary
OLYMPIC BOUND: Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski is off to her second Olympics, which she calls “my top priority.” Her Tokyo tennis trip for women’s doubles can also be viewed as a reunion.
For the first time in six years, Dabrowski will be reunited at the Summer Games with former doubles partner Sharon Fichman of Toronto. That’s the longest period they’ve ever played apart, after having a good run of success.
The Dabrowski-Fichman team was notable on the International Tennis Federation circuit from 2007 to 2013 before becoming part of Tennis Canada’s Federation Cup (now Billie Jean King Cup) squad in 2014 and 2015.
In July 2013, they won their first professional women’s doubles title at the $50,000 ITF Waterloo Challenger. A month later at the WTA’s Rogers Cup in Toronto, the 22-year-olds elevated their games to astonishing heights.
Wild-card women’s singles entries who also played in the doubles draw during Canada’s most prestigious pro tournament, Dabrowski and Fichman defeated the top seeds and reached the semifinals.
Dabrowski and Fichman, who had international highlight moments in their junior careers, defeated the 2013 world No. 1 doubles team of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinca, who also were top-10 singles players.
Aiming to become the first Canadian winners of the women’s doubles since 1969, their tournament three-match winning streak was ended by Jelena Jankovic and Katarina Srebotnik 7-5, 6-3, in the semifinals.
“It shows we do have a good level of doubles together, but I don’t think it necessarily means anything certain going forward,” Dabrowski said, following their upset quarter-final victory.
For the next two years, Tennis Canada tabbed Dabrowski and Fichman as its doubles team for Fed Cup World Group II action in 2014 and 2015. But by May, 2016, injuries forced Fichman out of the game.
Miraculously, Fichman returned in April 2018, and since then she and Dabrowski have carved out impressive, but separate, women’s doubles careers. Dabrowski, once ranked No. 7 by the WTA, is 14th and Fichman is a career-best 28th.
Dabrowski, the 2019 Wimbledon women’s doubles finalist and a two-time Grand Slam winner and runner-up in mixed doubles, reached the Madrid Open doubles final in May. It was her fifth straight loss in a final going back to 2019 Wimbledon.
Fichman has fared well in 2021, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals (a personal best), winning the Internazionali BNL D’Italia tournament in Rome and reaching the third round at the French Open and Wimbledon.
“I have no idea,” Dabrowski wrote in an email interview, when asked about their return to playing. “All I know is that we are both very dedicated to improving our games so I am sure we will work hard to make each other better.
“At this time of the year, it’s most important to be fresh physically and mentally. I think we will only need a few practices together to figure out how to maximize our strengths and what we should be looking to do tactically.
Dabrowski added she expects they’ll “play proper doubles.” What that means is “we are aggressive at the net and (will) try to make the court feel small for our opponents with our positioning and shot selection.”
From 2007 until 2013, Dabrowski and Fichman reached seven ITF Circuit women’s doubles finals, winning the 2007 and 2010 Toronto Challenger, the 2013 Weisbaden tournament and the 2013 Waterloo Challenger.
Dabrowski also got to learn about Fichman’s doubles game, when she played against her in two ITF tournaments in 2012. Fichman’s partner at that time was Canadian Marie-Eve Pelletier.
On the main WTA circuit, Dabrowski has appeared in 20 women’s doubles finals, emerging nine times as champion. In May 2019, Dabrowski and China’s Xu Yifan defeated Fichman and Nicole Melichar in three sets at the Nuremberg Cup.
Dabrowski is uncertain at the moment if she’ll participate in the Olympic mixed doubles competition, as the players must sign-in on site and “no one has made any final decisions.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, Dabrowski put down her racquet between April and June. She practised once a week, but maintained her fitness by training five to six days a week.
“I loved the break,” she enthused. “I loved the ease of going to bed and waking up at the same time every day and having a similar schedule weekly. I learned that I value the outdoors even more than I thought.
“I felt very lucky to be in Florida, where most things were open, training was possible and where I could spend a lot of time outside running, biking, swimming. I kept busy with the WTA player council duties and college courses.”
Dabrowski recently became a Special Olympics ambassador and is involved with a charity called High Impact Athletes and an organization called EcoAthletes.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 48 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.