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Mark Masters

SPORTSCENTRE Reporter

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With the tennis tours on hiatus until at least early June due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadian doubles ace Gaby Dabrowski is hunkered down in Tampa where she trains at the Saddlebrook Resort.

"I hit twice this week and I might hit twice next week just, I guess, for fun," the 27-year-old Ottawa native said with a laugh. "But I've been doing fitness every day this week. There's no real need to be playing a lot of tennis right now. You'll probably get burnt out if you do that so it's better to just take the precautionary measures to stay healthy and exercise and maintain at least some level of fitness."

Dabrowski, who is ranked No. 7 in the world in doubles, serves on the WTA Players' Council so she has spent plenty of time considering how the coronavirus crisis will impact not just her, but als​o other players and the tour as a whole.

On Friday afternoon, Dabrowski spoke to TSN about a range of topics, including why she believes the unilateral decision to move the French Open date won't stick, what she's learned about the business of tennis and why it's "more fair" to push the Olympics back a year. 

The following is an edited transcript of the phone interview. 

What's your average day look like in this new coronavirus reality?

"We're really lucky down here at Saddlebrook, we have great weather and we have lots of open spaces and fields so I can do fitness and run or be on the bike. We pull the bike out of the gym and then wipe it down before and after use so we're pretty lucky, actually, here. The main resort gym is shut down, but the sports performance gym is still open, but it's being deep cleaned and there aren't a whole lot of us in there. There's only a few of us in there if we're in there at the same time, but mostly we're outside doing body-weight workouts and if we use the kettlebells we wipe it down before and after and all that stuff so we're taking all the necessary precautions while also trying to stay sane."

How many players are down there?

"There are lots of players, actually. I think people are kind of in limbo and not sure what they should be doing so lots of juniors are still hitting and practising and staying fit. Sascha Zverev is down here with his team and Marcelo Melo and a couple other players from the tour. But, mostly, there's lots of juniors around and kids who went to the academy and then went to college, they're back because their parents have a house that is in Saddlebrook or near Saddlebrook so there are actually a lot of people around right now."

What's it like when you're not training?

"I just catch up on TV shows I haven't been able to watch for a while. I read. I might take up a little bit of cooking, we'll see, I'm not too inspired yet (laughs), but I keep buying a few things where I'm like, 'Ooh, I’ll try that,' but I haven't seemed to get to that yet, but I have plenty of time. And then, one more thing that's different for me is being on the Players' Council, we also have quite a few responsibilities and we've had some phone calls about what to do in terms of rankings points and potential compensation and potential scheduling and different hypothetical situations that might happen so we have those responsibilities as well."

What is the most pressing issue the Council is discussing?

"This week it was just about the ranking points just so everybody knows that until we resume play your ranking won't move, it will be frozen. We have several ideas of what to do when we return to play, but it just depends on that date, it depends on tournament scheduling, if we're able to schedule back in tournaments or if they're not enough tournaments, how it's all going to work, because maybe it's safer to play in one area of the world but not another area of the world and there's just so many things to take into consideration and right now we don't have any concrete answers about any of that so we're kind of like, 'This is our baseline idea,' but it will probably change."

What is the baseline idea?

"We haven't figured it out exactly yet, because we also have to talk to the tournaments and they have to agree so if I said anything it wouldn't even be what it's going to be so there's no point in really saying it."

What was your reaction to the French Federation unilaterally changing the date of the French Open?

"I think everybody was shocked. I mean, honestly, it was disrespectful to all parties involved, other tournaments, other slams and the players to just go ahead and pick that date when in reality, as of right now, we still have some of our Asian tournaments scheduled at that time and those obviously haven't been cancelled yet, because we don't know the situation and we have the Laver Cup that was scheduled at the same time, you know, that end-of-September window so we were all like, 'What just happened?' But, I'm sure they'll retract that. Of course, we want to play the French Open, but it needs to be a decision made by everybody together and right now things are way too uncertain to kind of do something like that."

How hard would it be to have a clay-court major start one week after the end of a hard-court slam?

"That's definitely a very tough situation. I mean, pfft, it's tough enough to go from clay to grass to hard again, but at least between French and Wimbledon you have a couple weeks to adjust. And it's really tough mentally, as well, to play a slam and if you go deep then you have to try to go deep in the next slam, which is a week later. Yeah, it just makes no sense."

What can players do if the French Federation doesn't retract the decision?

"I just don't think it'll happen that way. I just think there will be more discussions, because you can't possibly schedule your tournament during other events where lots of other players have committed to play like at the Laver Cup and, for us, in Asia. You just can't pick a date and sit on it. Yeah, I don't really know what the protocol is for a situation like that. Obviously, this entire thing is unprecedented but, at the same time, the way that we handle it now will set the standard for the future if we ever face something like this again. Everyone is going step by step and learning along the way so to make a rash decision like that is just out of line and even though you're a grand slam you should have respect for everybody else. And I'm sure that those discussions are being held now and I'm sure they felt the repercussions already."

 

For now, Tokyo 2020 organizers are saying the Games will go on this summer. What do you think will happen with the Olympics?

"It's a very strange situation, because I don't see how they can move forward when the qualifying events, not for tennis, because our rankings are frozen so we know the cut-off if everybody plays, but in other sports, they have to play events and then from those events then they know if they made it and no sporting event is happening around the world so how are they supposed to do that? I don't know. I don't see how they could move forward right now, but I don't know the ins and outs of it."

You have said in the past that the Olympics are your No. 1 priority, would it be a big reset for you if they postponed it a year?

"I guess, yeah. But it is what it is and it's not like the Olympics are going away forever. There are more important things happening right now so, honestly, if that's the decision then that's OK with me. I think it's more fair if they do push it."

What has your experience been like on Players' Council?

"It's a big challenge, but I do enjoy it, because I feel that I'm somebody that cares a lot and who wants the best for the players on tour and I want to be able to represent my group well and make sure their voices are heard by the people who make the decisions and to articulate the ideas that are brought to me. I think the Council, in general, works quite well together. We listen to each others' ideas even though we don't always agree, like, we try and hear somebody out or explain our side and our perspective and that kind of thing so I think overall it's been a really good experience. Also, learning a lot about the business side of the tour and things that happen behind the scenes that maybe your average player doesn't really think about or consider so it's been good to see the other side, if you will. This year has been very busy, because in Australia we had the qualifying of the Australian Open with the bushfires going on and the concern over player heath and all that stuff so we've been pretty involved and pretty vocal this year so it's definitely been busy and we're all in contact with each other pretty regularly to try and figure stuff out." 

Anything surprise you about the business side of the game?

"The tournaments have a lot of power. They have their own agenda just as players have their own agenda so it can be challenging, with the WTA in the middle in between the two, to come to answers that are fair for everybody. There is a lot of compromise involved. I understand that tennis is a business but we don't have any kind of proper representation like other sports organizations have. We don't have a player association, we don't have any official contract or base salary or expected bargaining rights, we don't have that unionization so obviously we're kind of at the mercy of the powers that be in their decision making.

"At the same time, I do feel like Players' Council gives a lot of feedback and a lot of that feedback is heard, which is a positive. The only thing is that there's that constant level of compromise so that can be very tricky to navigate. I think it would be beneficial if more players did understand the business side of tennis. 

"It would be nice in a time like this to be guaranteed a salary so we knew that we can still pay our coaches or our fitness trainers or cost of living wherever you may be and just have some kind of a foundation, because players, especially lower-ranked players and those coming up on the ITF, most of them, they don't have the kind of savings the top players do and so to ride out the next few months will probably be tough for them and they'll probably find it a big challenge to further invest in themselves when they do return to the tour and all that so I wish tennis would structure it a little bit differently so we wouldn't have such a headache all the time. 

“I've seen some things on social media where it’s like, 'Oh, tennis players are so privileged and they can make all this money,' and it’s like, absolutely, there is an opportunity to do well here for yourself, for your family and all that stuff but, at the same time, tennis is one of the most expensive sports to get into and the amount of expenses we all accumulate over the course of our tennis life, I mean, my family alone probably invested $500,000 and my parents don't have a very secure retirement because of it. They had to mortgage the house to keep my tennis afloat and you hear stories like that a lot so people may forget that side of things. It doesn't cost as much to be on a team sport because you know you're going to get paid even if you don't play so it's just a different dynamic and so there's a lot to learn from all sides I think.”