Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski will soon be Australia-bound to kick off a tennis season shrouded in uncertainty.
Along the way she plans to continue doing her part to help build the four-player game.
Dabrowski, ranked 10th in the world in doubles, serves on the WTA Players’ Council and has worked to promote and strengthen the doubles game. The 28-year-old Ottawa native was hoping to implement some doubles initiatives last season but the COVID-19 pandemic postponed those plans.
“A lot of those things kind of stopped so hopefully in 2021 we can try to bring that back,” she said Friday. “But a lot of it is also dependent on fans at tournaments and having more interactions with them and sponsor visits and media days and things like that.
Limited spectators will be allowed on site at some events this season. For now, the WTA Tour calendar is only listing tournaments until Wimbledon in early July.
The Delray Beach Open is underway this week in Florida with outdoor seating capped at about 25 per cent total capacity. Limited crowds are also planned for the Australian Open next month.
Dabrowski, who still plays singles on occasion, received the Peachy Kellmeyer player service award in 2019. It recognizes a player’s efforts to support her peers and wider initiatives on behalf of the WTA.
She’d like to see doubles players visit sponsor suites at tournaments, hold fan clinics and participate in tennis talks with spectators to help build interest.
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Dabrowski feels there’s an untapped market available given the discipline’s popularity at the club level.
“I want to prove that doubles players can be household names too and that they’re interesting people, they have interesting games, interesting stories and backgrounds in their journeys to tennis,” she said. “I would like to be able to showcase that more.”
“My goal is to be able to put doubles on the map a little bit more and have it gain respect like it does at World Team Tennis and the Olympics and a couple other tournaments,” Dabrowski added.
“But broadcasters probably need to hear from the fans and from people who watch tennis and sports in general that they want to see doubles televised too.”
Olympics could help boost doubles profile
A lack of dedicated TV time has been a long-standing hurdle for doubles growth. Singles matches usually dominate the spotlight.
“It’s very tricky because broadcasters firmly believe that the only way to make doubles marketable is if top singles players play,” Dabrowski said from Tampa, Fla., where she’s been training in recent weeks. “They’re convinced there’s no other way at all.”
The Summer Olympics will help boost the discipline’s profile. Men’s, women’s and mixed doubles will all be on the program in Tokyo along with regular singles draws.
The first big event on the calendar is the Australian Open, now set for Feb. 8-21 in Melbourne. Players must spend 14 days in hotel quarantine but will be allowed limited practice sessions in a bubble setting.
Dabrowski will team up with Croatia’s Mate Pavic in mixed doubles and join American Bethanie Mattek-Sands in women’s doubles.
Dabrowski won her first Grand Slam title at the 2017 French Open with India’s Rohan Bopanna. She took the Australian Open mixed title in 2018 with Pavic, one of 11 career doubles titles on her resume.
They last played together at the 2019 U.S. Open.
“He’s a lefty which makes it very tricky for others and he plays on the deuce side,” she said. “So we just happen to fit pretty well together I guess.”
“Hopefully when we partner up again it’ll be like no time has passed,” Dabrowski added.
She’s hoping some quality practice time with Mattek-Sands will help them find a rhythm for their first draw together.
“I just want to enjoy my time on the court,” she said. “And even if I’m stuck in a bubble, find ways to have fun and make the most of playing sport for a living.”