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Wanda Dabrowski reflects on the Blossom Park beginnings of daughter’s tennis career | CBC News

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Wanda Dabrowski remembers countless hours spent at the public tennis courts in Russell Boyd Park.

She wasn’t the one playing — she was there to support her daughter Gaby Dabrowski as she sharpened her skills in the sport.

“It took 100 per cent commitment from all of us,” Wanda said. “For my husband and I and her, it was a life devoted to the development in the sport.”

Before she became a professional tennis player, Gaby grew up in Blossom Park. She and her parents lived only two blocks away from the courts that have since been named in her honour.

These days, the tennis star lives and trains in Tampa, Fla. She’s now a three-time Grand Slam doubles champion and a two-time Olympian.

Despite how far she’s come, Wanda still credits her daughter’s growth as a tennis player with the resources available in her hometown.

“It can be very inspiring to people about what is possible from a little local community,” she said. 

Where it all began

It all began in 1999. Wanda remembers her daughter first picking up a tennis racket when she was just seven years old.

The family was hosting a friend visiting from France with her son. One day that summer, the kids took a trip down to the public courts.

Young Gaby’s raw talent didn’t go unnoticed.

“When Gaby came home from playing that day, she said to her dad, ‘Dad, there was a man that asked me at the tennis court where I take lessons,'” Wanda recalled.

In fact, Gaby didn’t take lessons. The man, impressed, told her she should pursue the sport.

Wanda and her husband Yurek Dabrowski enrolled the young athlete in tennis lessons at the now shuttered Ottawa Athletic Club. Despite the formal training, Dabrowski continued to frequent the neighbourhood courts.

Dabrowski remembers the hours her daughter spent practising at the public courts with her father, Yurek Dabrowski. (Jodie Applewaithe/CBC)

Last year, Dabrowski told CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning how much the community resource helped her grow as a player.

“I am incredibly grateful to the public courts in Blossom Park and also around Canada,” Dabrowski said. “They make a huge difference to making tennis more accessible to the community.”

Wanda said her daughter would often spend hours with her father, Yurek Dabrowski, at the courts.

“He just became the architect of her tennis development,” she said.

Yurek, who was not an avid tennis player himself, “immersed himself as a student” of the sport. 

He designed a machine that would feed Dabrowski tennis balls in the family basement when they couldn’t make their way to the courts. Eventually, they needed a machine at the courts too.

“It quickly became evident within a few years that she was outhitting him,” Wanda said. 

A young Gaby Dabrowski holds a racket, ready to hit strokes at the yellow tennis balls approaching her from a tube like machine to the right of the frame.
Gaby Dabrowski’s father designed a machine that would feed her tennis balls to hit in their home basement. (Submitted by Wanda Dabrowski)

By the time Dabrowski was in middle school, she was beginning to play at an international level. Balancing school and a burgeoning tennis career was a challenge, but Wanda said educators at nearby Sawmill Creek Elementary School provided support when Dabrowski’s training and travel conflicted with classroom time.

As a bonus, the school was within walking distance of the public courts, making it easy to fit in some extra practice.

“It was really instrumental to have them so close by and available for her development,” Wanda said.

Success on and off the court

In 2018, the City of Ottawa officially named the Russell Boyd Park facility the Gabriela Dabrowski Tennis Courts.

Wanda said it was “a great honour” to see her daughter’s career acknowledged where it all began.

A rock with a City of Ottawa plaque displays the public courts' official name.
The City of Ottawa officially named the public courts in honour of Gabriela Dabrowski in 2018. (Jodie Applewaithe/CBC)

Dabrowski has gone on to win 22 titles on the professional tennis circuit, including her most recent Grand Slam victory at last year’s U.S. Open in New York City. There she became the first Canadian woman in history to win a Grand Slam doubles title at the tournament.

She’s also a Special Olympics Ambassador and representative of High Impact Athletes, a non-profit organization that connects athletes with charities that target global health and poverty, animal welfare and climate change.

This year, Dabrowski was named a Top Women of Influence by Women of Influence+. She thanked the organization for “recognizing the importance of contributing to initiatives that give back as well as the efforts made to master my craft.”

“When I see her success, I’m very proud of her both as a woman now on and off the court,” Wanda said.

All in a Day7:19Wanda Dabrowski reflects on the Blossom Park beginnings of daughter’s tennis career

Gaby Dabrowski’s mother looks back on the neighbourhood tennis courts that helped her daughter develop into the professional player she is today.

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