WESLEY CHAPEL, FL, USA - Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski knows that tennis is an individual sport. But if there’s anything that the World No.7 has learned from her years at the top of the doubles game, it’s that great things happen when people come together and give back - on and off the court.
As the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to leave professional sports in limbo, Dabrowski counts herself as one of the lucky ones: she is currently spending the lockdown in Florida at the Saddlebrook Resort, a popular pre-season training ground for tennis players.
But despite having 45 courts to choose from, the two-time Grand Slam champion has found herself playing less tennis than one would expect. With the WTA season suspension extended until July 13, the Canadian suddenly has ample time to explore life outside of the sport - and she’s finding that she likes it.
“I’d rather work on staying in shape,” Dabrowski explained, speaking to wtatennis.com by phone. “And I have a course that I’m working on with school, and then the WTA Player Council responsibilities… Tennis is kind of on the back burner right now.”
It’s an entirely new feeling for someone who’s been playing the sport since she was seven years old. But the break has given Dabrowski the opportunity to explore different sides of herself - including the one that is committed to give back to her community. Even before being elected to the WTA Player Council last year, Dabrowski advocated for her fellow players and made it her mission to shine a spotlight on the doubles game.
Dabrowski has also gotten involved with the Special Olympics, working to support the longtime WTA Charities’ partner’s mission of bringing sports and competition to children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
“Obviously some of the things that we’d planned on doing couldn’t happen because of the tournaments not happening,” Dabrowski explained. “There are tournaments like in Washington DC, the Citi Open, or in Charleston, at the Volvo Car Open where we have the kids [from each local Special Olympics chapter] come and play. If I was at any of those tournaments, I would definitely be involved with any of the on-site initiatives that they’ve got going on there.
“And I was actually told that last year at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen they helped to establish a Special Olympics tennis program at a school… I hope that they continue with these initiatives because I think they’re awesome.”
Even amid the lockdown, Dabrowski was still committed to staying involved, and was recently a guest on an episode of “Social Club” hosted by Special Olympics’ Maryland chapter. She got to have a video chat with the chapter members, where she gave out tennis advice and tips, and answered all their questions.
“One of the first questions was actually like, have you ever broken a racquet? I was like, yes, but don’t tell anyone!” Dabrowski laughed.
“So we started off the call in a very lighthearted way and it just kept going. I thought they were incredibly engaged and all of them seemed really happy to be chatting with me. I was really happy to be chatting with them.”
The almost hour-long video chat was Dabrowski’s first time getting involved with a WTA Charities initiative. But the best part is what happened next: Dabrowski said she caught herself smiling for the rest of the evening, and even the next day.
“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,” she explained.
Dabrowski credits part of that to her upbringing - which she spoke about candidly in a previous WTA Insider Doubles Dossier interview - and having community-mindedness ingrained in her from a young age.
But it’s also something that she’s learned on the court as well, Dabrowski said, from her years of playing doubles. Dabrowski made the decision to focus her career on doubles - and to great success, having spent years as Canada’s standard-bearer, despite lacking support from her country’s federation. Her 2017 French Open mixed doubles title also made her Canada’s first Grand Slam champion, leading the way two years before Bianca Andreescu’s rapid rise.
Having a successful career in doubles means learning to adapt to new partners and the rapidly-changing momentum swings in a match where points are played at a breakneck pace. It also teaches a player to cultivate awareness for others, Dabrowski explained, qualities that naturally translate into caring for one's own community in times of need.
“I just think sometimes, especially in tennis which is a very individual sport, we can get caught up in being quite selfish. Which is kind of why I like playing doubles as well - not just because my tennis skill set is more tailored to doubles, but also my personality,” she said.
“I like working with somebody else, problem solving with somebody else. And I think the skills that you learn when you’re playing doubles are actually more applicable to real life than singles.”
It’s exactly those doubles skills that also make Dabrowski a great ambassador for the Special Olympics’ unified tennis program, an initiative that assigns Special Olympics athletes and athletes without intellectual disabilities as partners in the same doubles team for training and competition.
But until the coronavirus pandemic releases its grip on the world, Dabrowski will continue to stay involved in online video chats and digital campaigns - like the viral Special Olympics International Dance Day Challenge, which Dabrowski took on with Brazilian player Louisa Stefani from Saddlebrook. And somewhere in between her WTA Player Council duties and her school courses, she’ll find time for a bit of tennis, too.
“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,” Dabrowski said.
“Because sports gives us so much in our lives, you know? So it’s really important to me to be involved in something like this.”
Follow the WTA 4 Love campaign to learn more about how the tennis community is coming together during the COVID-19 pandemic..