By Dan Plouffe
Ottawa native Gabriela Dabrowski came agonizingly close to a third Grand Slam tennis title within the space of a year when she lost by the absolute minimum in the French Open mixed doubles final on June 7 at Roland Garros.
After dropping just one set in four victories to reach the championship match, Dabrowski and partner Mate Pavic of Croatia fell 8-10 in the final-set super tiebreak on the heels of 1-6, 7-6(5) scores earlier.
“It definitely sucks – wish I could have hit a couple of shots better,” Dabrowski said via Tennis Canada. “But in Australia we were down match point, and Mate came up with two aces and then I hit a return winner to win it.
“That’s tennis. Unfortunately the beauty of it is that one week it’ll go in your favour and the next week it might not.”
For Dabrowski, there remains beauty in the fact that she can be disappointed by only reaching a Grand Slam final. The 26-year-old doubles specialist now enters all tournaments as a top seed who’s expected to go deep.
Dabrowski became the first Canadian woman to win a Grand Slam when she earned last year’s French Open mixed doubles crown alongside Rohan Bopanna. She followed that up with an Australian Open triumph with Pavic to kickoff 2018.
There was a time not so long ago when Dabrowski was struggling to keep up with expenses while travelling to compete in lower-tier International Tennis Federation events, questioning whether it was all worth it when she’d get knocked out early.
Even if it’s not a gold trophy, the silver plate still shines nicely in contrast to her struggles as a young pro out of the junior ranks, and provides a nice reward the sacrifices she and her family endured along the way.
“It’s really special,” the Rio 2016 Olympian said of her advancement up the ranks. “The paycheque is bigger, and you do feel a sense of relief: ‘Yes, it’s OK – I’m here.'”
Buzz back on local tennis scene
Back on the other side of the ocean, many local junior players got their seasons underway with tournaments in town. For them, the dream is to become the next Dabrowski.
“Gaby’s a tremendous inspiration,” underlines Nick Patterson, a local coach and volunteer with the National Capital Tennis Association. “When the kids see one of their own who grew up on public tennis courts in the city, and who trained at the very clubs they train at – it’s a great story.”
Manotick and Barrhaven Tennis Clubs hosted recent Ontario Tennis Association junior tournaments, while the NCTA has launched a local inter-club circuit. Participants from St. James, Rideau, Rockcliffe, Elmdale, Britannia, Barrhaven, City View and Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club kicked off the inaugural season that runs on Saturday afternoons throughout the summer.
“They enjoy being on a team,” highlights Patterson. “It’s a fun environment and also a competitive environment.”
Juniors targeting the top levels will be shooting for the Roman Cup July 30-Aug. 5 at OTLBC and Ottawa Athletic Club, while the U16 Rogers Junior Nationals take place Aug. 18-23 in Gatineau.
At the high school level, national capital students brought home hardware from the OFSAA provincial championships June 4-6 in Toronto.
Ashbury’s Adam & Andrea Douglas won silver in the high school mixed doubles division, Colonel By’s Tuder Lungu & Guillaume Williams were 4th in open boys’ doubles, Glebe’s Kristen Riis & Sadie Sider-Echenberg took bronze in open girls’ doubles, while Nepean’s Brooke Auger & Tiana Milijusevic were 4th.
The first of what is considered Ottawa’s grand slam series for open age groups runs June 9-17 with the Elmdale Open, followed by the June 16-20 Pierre Despatie Memorial at OTLBC.
NCAA player Malik Bhatnagar, the 2-time reigning Ottawa Sports Awards tennis player of the year from Barrhaven, is home for the Elmdale and Despatie events, and will be the man to beat.
The Phil Leblanc Memorial in Barrhaven and the Kanata Classic at March Tennis Club take place in July, leading up to the NCTA City Championships Aug. 25-Sept. 2.
Many local volunteers, ball kids and spectators will head over to see the pros for the Gatineau National Bank Challenger from July 14-22 at Parc de l’Île, which also features a talent identification activity on July 14.
The enthusiasm for tennis spreads across a wide range of ages and levels locally, Patterson signals.
“It’s really the best time of year for tennis,” adds the instructor of 35+ years. “The weather’s beautiful, the days are long, and everyone is out playing.”