A strong year for doubles ace Dabrowski, who won a Slam and helped Canada win BJK Cup
Doubles star Gabriela Dabrowski made history on more than one occasion this season to cement her place in the Canadian tennis record books.
She teamed with Erin Routliffe to become the first Canadian duo to win a Grand Slam women's doubles title last summer at the U.S. Open.
Dabrowski capped her memorable campaign a couple months later by helping Canada win the Billie Jean King Cup for the first time.
"It was so special, honestly," Dabrowski said. "It's a moment I'll never forget."
Leylah Fernandez was a force for the Canadian side at the women's team tennis event in Spain. Canada swept its way to the weekend playoffs before beating Italy 2-0 in the final.
Fernandez, a Montreal native, won all five of her matches while relative unknown Marina Stakusic of Mississauga, Ont., delivered three upset victories. Dabrowski teamed with Fernandez in the deciding semifinal match to push Canada past Czechia.
Heidi el Tabakh captained a roster that also included Montreal native Eugenie Bouchard and Vancouver's Rebecca Marino.
Dabrowski, from Ottawa, was ready if the best-of-three final went the distance, but the doubles match wasn't required after Stakusic and Fernandez won their singles matches in straight sets.
"I just feel like we're pretty good front-runners and we're pretty good with carrying momentum very quickly," Dabrowski said.
Canada made its debut at the annual tournament — previously known as the Federation Cup — in 1963. The country's best previous result was a semifinal appearance in 1988.
The Canadian men, meanwhile, were unable to duplicate their run to the Davis Cup title in 2022. Canada earned an automatic berth in this year's Final 8 as defending champion but crashed out in the first round to Finland.
It was a so-so year on the singles front for Canadian players on tour.
Fernandez and Montreal's Felix Auger-Aliassime each won titles late in the season after enduring uneven results earlier in the year. Injuries, meanwhile, plagued the campaigns of Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont.
Shapovalov (knee) is on the entry list for next month's Australian Open but Andreescu will skip the first major of the season due to a lingering back issue.
"I'm doing everything I can to get (healthy) as fast as possible but sadly these things take some time," she said. "But I'm feeling very confident for 2024."
Auger-Aliassime is the highest-ranked Canadian in singles at No. 29 on the ATP Tour. Shapovalov has tumbled to No. 109, some 30 positions ahead of Gabriel Diallo, a six-foot-eight youngster who appears primed to break out next season.
Fernandez is currently No. 35 on the WTA Tour list while Andreescu has slid to No. 95.
In wheelchair tennis, ninth-ranked Rob Shaw is the lone Canadian in the top 10. He won silver in the men's quad category at the Parapan Am Games.
Dabrowski, meanwhile, returned to top form after struggling with back pain and some doubles partner changes early in the season.
Currently ranked eighth in the world, she played a few tournaments with Routliffe — who grew up outside of Toronto — before they won the final Grand Slam of the season.
"I'm just really proud of how we've come together — our coaches call it unconditional support for one another — so I feel really grateful," Dabrowski said in a recent interview.
Routliffe, a dual citizen, was born in New Zealand and moved to Canada as a young girl. She represents the Kiwis at the international level but has strong Canadian roots, taking up the sport while living in Caledon, Ont., and training at the National Tennis Centre in Montreal.
Seeded 16th in New York, the duo edged Fernandez and American Taylor Townsend in the quarterfinals — winning 10-8 in a match tiebreak — en route to the title.
"I think having that open line of communication enabled us to really play our best under some of the most pressure moments that I've ever experienced on a tennis court," Dabrowski said.
They added another title a month later in Zhengzhou, China and plan to play a full season together in 2024.
"Hopefully it's the beginning for us," Routliffe said.
Off the court, Tennis Canada chief executive officer Michael Downey is retiring at the end of the year. Gavin Ziv, who has served as the organization's senior vice-president and chief tournaments officer, will take over the position.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 24, 2023.
-- With files from Canadian Press sports reporter Donna Spencer.
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