Gabriela Dabrowski and Luisa Stefani have never lost before the final when they team up for a tournament. The sample size is small - they've only played three events together - but after cementing their new partnership with a title run at the 2021 Omnium Banque Nationale last week in Montreal, the Canadian-Brazilian duo are a new team to reckon with on the doubles tour. The title was Dabrowski's tenth career title and first since 2019. For Stefani, Montreal was the third and biggest title of her career.
The signs were there last fall that Dabrowski, 29, and Stefani, 24, might find success together. Teaming up for the first time for a one-off week in Ostrava, they advanced to the final before losing to the formidable pair of Elise Mertens and Aryna Sabalenka.
When the 2021 season began, Stefani and her long-time partner Hayley Carter flew out of the gates, making three finals in Abu Dhabi, Adelaide, and the Miami Open. But Carter would sustain a foot injury over the summer and opted for a new path, taking a job as an assistant coach at her alma mater, Vanderbilt University.
While Stefani played the season with a stable partner, Dabrowski was still searching for a permanent pairing after she and Xu Yifan ended their successful run after the 2019 season. Dabrowski had teamed with 10 different partners this season before she linked up with Stefani after Wimbledon.
It's been good vibes ever since. Knowing she would be returning to the tour with one of the best doubles players in the game after the Olympics, Stefani captured Brazil's first tennis medal in Tokyo. A last-minute call up to the team, Stefani and Laura Pigossi not only advanced to the medal rounds, they saved four match points to win the bronze medal match.
With Stefani still surfing the high from the Olympics, the duo have gone 10-1 this summer after advancing to the quarterfinals at the Western & Southern Open.
Stefani and Dabrowski sat down with WTA Insider to discuss their newfound partnership and their goals for the rest of the season.
WTA Insider: What makes your partnership work?
Dabrowski: I feel we play all areas of the court, all angles of the court. I feel like we have all the shots on any given day. Just knowing that you can be strong from all spots on the court is really nice for me to feel in a partner.
I have a lot of trust in Luisa and that's something that was hard for me to find after stopping with Julie a few years ago because I've been switching around so much. So I'm really grateful that we're able to partner together. Our games gel pretty well because we can kind of cover each other. If one of us is in one area, we move well on the court together. In that sense, we probably play a more traditional doubles style. We come to the net a lot. We absorb pace very well. We're very quick at the net. We have good hands and reactions. So I think on a day where we are serving well and returning well, I think we are dangerous.
What a week!!! So thrilled to lift this trophy with @Luisa__Stefani 👯♀️ Thank you to the @OBNmontreal team for all of their hard work and to the Canadian government for allowing this event to take place.— Gaby Dabrowski (@GabyDabrowski) August 16, 2021
Merci et à bientôt!
Obrigada à todos!
So it's fun knowing that and I'm really excited to keep on working together. She's played with Hay for a long time, so they've sort of had that combo together already of stepping on the practice court, knowing what you want to work on, knowing what your strengths and weaknesses are. That's the beauty of playing with a consistent partner.
So for me right now, that's something that I'm really looking forward to, just being able to have a purpose when I'm practicing and then just keep trying to get a little bit better each day.
Stefani: It's been a blast for me to play with Gaby. Obviously I was playing with Hay for the longest time. We had amazing times on the court and off the court. I feel like I thrive playing with friends.
They are two of my closest friends. I look up to them on the court, to their games, and off-court we have a great time. I look up to them as people as well, as humans, and I keep learning from them. Maybe that's why I feel like I have great success, great results.
So that's why I'm so excited to play with Gaby. We're going to play the rest of the season and then the future, I don't know. You know how it goes. I feel like in tennis we gotta adapt all the time.
One of the things I try to do the most is to make the most of what I have in the moment, make the most of what we have in life right now. It's something I try to live by and I think it's working and I feel better when I do it. I think that's how I'm taking this partnership.
I'm so excited. I look forward to keep going and then we'll see how it goes.
Stefani: I've always been a big fan of her game as well. I think that's why maybe we gel well and why I'm not so surprised. I'm happy with the result but I won't say I'm surprised.
I told her that I think her game is top-notch. I think she could be No.1 in the world and I told her that when we were not playing together. So if she makes it while we're playing together, I don't complain (laughs).
I think that's where we're aiming, but mostly just keep building, keep improving and having a good time is the most important right now.
WTA Insider: With your immediate success already this summer, do you think winning Montreal changes your outlook or expectations as you look towards the US Open?
Stefani: I think after Tokyo, I'm pretty sure that a lot of pressure to come back from four match points for the bronze medal, I think I learned some things about myself, about my game that I had never felt before. There were feelings and emotions that I went through and I'm still going through after that week that it's hard to explain. I'm glad about how much I learned and I'm still using it.
Life goes in phases and I'm in a good phase. People are saying that it's clear I'm happy. It's a good vibe. So I'm just trying to enjoy and let it last as long as possible. But I'm mainly focusing on that feeling and practices.
I replay it in my head every day, but the main quote that stuck with me from that week is play for the love, not the results. I feel like when I started doing that, when you let go of some things that you can't control - it's easier said than done - but I think when you live it, when you actually feel it, and also when you have people to help me with my team and Gaby now on court, it's a special feeling. I'm just trying to hold onto it as much as possible and obviously aim high for where we want to get.
But it just won't take anything away if we lose a match for sure. I will try not to lose that if we lose one match in a tournament.
WTA Insider: Stepping back a bit, what do you think has been the story of the doubles circuit in 2021? When I spoke to Nicole Melichar and Demis Schuurs after they won Charleston, they highlighted how well the pure doubles teams have fared at the big events. Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara are having a breakout season, Luisa and Hayley had a great start, Nicole and Demi, for example.
Dabrowski: Even Darija and Andreja last week, this week and a little bit before, too. I feel like it's showing that doubles has a lot more to offer than what most people might think.
They might think that you might have the best doubles match with big names involved, and while that's partially true, you will also have an amazing doubles match with players who know how to play doubles just because it is a little bit of a different game to singles. So it doesn't really surprise me that girls who play well consistently and who train how to play proper doubles are doing well.
Granted, we have teams that can do both. You have Krejcikova/Siniakova, who have unreal success in their singles. But when they play doubles, they also volley really well. They move so well around the court. They know how to use the angles. They know how to hold and disguise their shots. You don't know where they're going. These are all elements of doubles that are very unique to it.
So I hope that it's showing the tour and broadcasters that doubles can be really exciting, even if it's not the names that you normally hear of. It's names you don't know, but everyone's got this really great story behind what they're doing. I just hope that gains us some more attention going forward.