KEY BISCAYNE – The old cliché (before Milos Raonic and Eugenie Bouchard came along) was that Canadians are really good at doubles.
That’s still true on the men’s side, with Vasek Pospisil and Daniel Nestor among the world’s best. But on the women’s side, there’s Gabriela Dabrowski. That’s pretty much it.
The 24-year-old from Gloucester, Ont. has had to carve her own path through the professional ranks. And the challenge has been to find the right partner, one she can play an entire season with and build good results.
Until that day comes, Dabrowski scrambles. But with Yi-Fan Xu (“American” name: Julie), she has reached the semi-finals of the women’s doubles at the Miami Open.
The pair upset No. 8 seeds Katarina Srebotnik and Abigail Spears in the first round in a high-level, fairly classic doubles encounter. They navigated some choppy seas in dispatch a less-accomplished team in Lara Arruabarrena and Chen Liang in the second round. And they posted their finest victory Wednesday in upsetting the No. 2 seeds, Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina of Russia, 7-6, 6-1.
They will face No. 4 seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Shuai Peng in the semis on Friday.
Dabrowski, who won the Orange Bowl 18-and-unders as a junior, is a fine singles player – albeit one whose current ranking will not allow her to play singles at the high-level tournaments in which she can play doubles.
But as a doubles player, she’s a charming throwback. It’s definitely not a style learned within the fairly rigid Tennis Canada system; it’s one all her own and the doubles showcases it to great effect. She will chip and charge on first serves, ensuring the ball has enough height to allow her time to get to the net. She will lob with purpose. And she even – gasp – will serve and volley.
Against the Russians, who are accomplished doubles players primarily on the strength of their singles skills (serving and returning), she and the well-rounded Xu applied a lot of pressure. Their retrieving skills, aided by Dabrowski’s anticipation and Xu’s combination of court sense and speed, caused errors. The pressure at the net caused more errors and by the end, they ran away with it.
(Apologies for the bobbing Dabrowski head; the sun was so bright you literally couldn’t even see on the screen what was being shot!)