by Peter Malcomson

September 2022

Gabriela Dabrowski is an enthusiastic supporter of doubles and is an outspoken advocate for the pro game.

Gaby Dabrowski has more Grand Slam titles than any Canadian tennis player apart from Daniel Nestor. In fact, as well as her two Mixed Doubles victories, at the French Open in 2017, with partner Rohan Bopanna and the 2018 Australian Open with partner Mate Pavić, the Ottawa native has also been in 3 other Grand Slam doubles finals (2 women’s, 1 mixed), won 11 WTA women’s doubles titles (including Canada’s own National Bank Open in 2021), represented Team Canada 17 times, including 12 times in doubles, at the Billie Jean King Cup (formerly Fed Cup), represented Canada in women’s doubles at the 2016 Olympic Games and won 2 doubles medals (women’s gold with Carol Zhao and mixed silver with Philip Bester) in the 2015 Pan Am games.

Dabrowski, 30, has been a fixture on the pro circuit for over 10 years, turning pro in 2011. She was not a bad junior player either; winning the prestigious Les Petits As, a tournament in France for the world’s best Under 14-year-olds in 2006 and the Junior Orange Bowl in 2009.

So, how come we never get to see her on TV? That is a question Dabrowski herself has been asking lately as well!

“It is a constant uphill battle because for all of tennis history, doubles has fallen under the radar. Tournaments, broadcasters, tennis federations, and the tours don’t promote doubles.”

Like every other promising young tennis player, Dabrowski’s dream growing up was to play professional tennis, singles that is, on the world’s biggest stages. She certainly did well in singles as a junior, with doubles often an afterthought, or non-existent in most junior events. The funny thing is, if you ever go to a high-level junior tournament and watch the kids play doubles, you will often see how much more fun they are having, compared to when they are grinding it out in singles play. There is not as much on the line, they are part of a team, they can show off their shot-making skills and, win or lose, they come off the court smiling and patting their opponents’ backs.

Once Dabrowski graduated from junior provincial, national and international competition, it was time to give the pro game a shot. She played her first pro-level ITF tournament in 2006 and eventually won 2 ITF singles tournaments and 12 ITF doubles titles. She got to her highest WTA singles ranking of 164 in 2014 but by 2017 she had dropped below 300. At the same time, her doubles results were getting better to the point that, by the end of that year, she was in the top 20 for doubles and has been in the top 10 since 2018. Concentrating on doubles was, clearly, a great career decision.

If you follow Dabrowski on Twitter or Instagram, you might have noticed her sporting a T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan Watch More Doubles #WATCHMOREDOUBLES. She recently lent her support to Tennis Tribe @thetennistribe and shared in the creation of the T-shirts. Tennis Tribe, founded by Will Boucek in 2016, started as a small tennis blog and newsletter about doubles strategy and is now home to The Doubles Only Tennis Podcast. The platform is a strong advocate for the advancement of the pro doubles game. The Watch More Doubles T-shirts are available at shop.thetennistribe.com with all the profits from the sale of the shirts go towards growing and supporting pro doubles.

Andrea Rabzak with Gabriela
Andrea Rabzak with Gabriela

“The Tennis Tribe is a tennis podcast with a focus on doubles. Will Boucek, the founder, reached out to me with the idea of putting “WATCH MORE DOUBLES” on a t-shirt and wearing it (particularly around the grounds of very doubles-friendly tournaments like Indian Wells) and see if that helps the doubles game gain some exposure. I thought it was a great idea and a way to get more doubles players and fans engaged and united.”

In between tournament stops, Dabrowski recently came home for a visit and participated in a skills and drills session with her part-time coach/friend Andrea Rabzak and 20 women who are members of the Ontario Racquet Club. As well as giving the women doubles tips and drilling with them, she used the event to highlight doubles and lobby for more exposure for pro doubles on tour through her social media platforms.

“I lobby a lot for greater exposure for the doubles game. It is a constant uphill battle because for all of tennis history, doubles has fallen under the radar. Tournaments, broadcasters, tennis federations, and the tours don’t promote doubles. That said, I understand why. Top singles players have always been at the forefront of tennis marketing, and while I agree that they absolutely should be, I still think there is room for more doubles exposure. At the recreational level, almost all tennis players play doubles, so I think we are not tapping into a huge chunk of the tennis market.”

Dabrowski is an enthusiastic supporter of doubles and is an outspoken advocate for the pro game. She is on the WTA Player Council as the 21+ and doubles only specialist representative. During Covid her goal through her council work was to ensure that all lower-ranked players in singles and doubles earn enough money to be able to sustain a pro career.

“Prize money levels and distributions are just about back to normal now, but in 2020 and 2021 we adjusted them to support the lower ranked players because we felt that players who were going deep into the draws didn’t need as much financial benefit at the time. It was a priority to sustain tennis careers instead of heavily rewarding winners. How we did this was keep first and second round prize money the same as 2019 levels but decrease it as the draw progressed.”

2022 Italian Open Finalists Gabriela and Mexican partner Giuliana Olmos

At the highest level, doubles is a dynamic, exciting game to watch. It combines an individual player’s tennis skills, with the strategy and teamwork commonly seen in team sports. The action is quick, the angles and touch shots sublime, and the net game is to die for! In the early days of the Open Era and long before, all the top players played both singles and doubles at major tournaments around the world. In fact, Australian great Rod Laver won 11 Grand Slam singles titles AND 8 Grand Slam doubles titles (6 men’s doubles and 2 mixed doubles) between 1959 and 1971. He would have won many more had he not been banned from Majors between 1962 and 1968 because he turned pro. He won a total of 28 doubles titles.

Based on the popularity of doubles at the grassroots level, it is hard to understand why it is not covered more extensively on TV and by the media at the pro level. Most club players can identify with the doubles game; they play more doubles than singles. Most adult and junior leagues are doubles oriented and social events at clubs like round-robins and house leagues are doubles-based.

With the physicality of today’s game, many top players forego the doubles draw in favour of saving their energies for singles play. Most of the big-name singles players rarely, if ever, play doubles. A notable exception to this was during the 2022 Australian Open. Australian Nick Kyrgios, a superbly talented player with a mercurial personality, who is a threat to beat anyone in the world in singles, teamed with countryman Thanasi Kokkinakis and actually won the doubles title! Each one of their matches was played in front of a packed stadium and the atmosphere was electric. Between their brash shot-making and sometimes over-the-top histrionics, they had the fans eating out of their hands. The entertainment value was off the charts!

“If tennis fans want to watch more doubles on TV, I would encourage them to reach out to their local broadcasters to let them know to include more doubles matches in their programming.”

By contrast, Dabrowski recently played the women’s doubles final with partner Giuliana Olmos at the Italian Open, a 1000-Level tournament, in front of a handful of fans. For some reason, the match was scheduled on a smaller court at the same time the men’s singles final between Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas was taking place. When this was brought to Dabrowski’s attention via Twitter, her response was “Honestly was so disappointing.”

“Our Rome final was incredibly frustrating because we had good crowds for all our doubles matches prior to the finals. When I was told about the finals day schedule, I thought, surely that’s a mistake? How is a doubles match supposed to compete against an ATP men’s final? I inquired if we could have been scheduled earlier or even later in the day, but it was not an option. I can do as much doubles advocating as I want, but if the scheduling is detrimental to getting eyes on the matches, progress in this space will be even slower.”

Is TV the enemy of doubles?

When pro tennis tournaments are broadcast on television, especially in North America, it is almost always singles. Doubles is usually covered only when a singles match ends early or if a highly ranked player, like Kyrgios or Serena Williams for example, decide to play in the doubles competition. Doubles finals are usually played after the singles finals, as opposed to before them. This is in part due to TV scheduling. Many tournaments are broadcast world-wide and having a long doubles match encroach on the time when the singles is supposed to start could cause friction with the television networks. The problem is that when the doubles final is played after the singles, many fans go home. Playing the doubles final on a court other than Centre Court is even worse.

There is no doubt that getting more coverage for pro doubles is an uphill battle, but with support from players like Dabrowski and fans like you, it might be possible, especially as match streaming becomes more prevalent. If more people are exposed to high calibre doubles it would lead to more interest from sponsors, networks, and fans. This in turn, could lead to more prize money and fame for these deserving world class athletes!

Dabrowski pointed out that, “if tennis fans want to watch more doubles on TV, I would encourage them to reach out to their local broadcasters to let them know to include more doubles matches in their programming.”

What else can we fans do to support doubles? Well, why not start by going and watching some doubles matches at this year’s National Bank Open; especially our Canadian stars like Gaby Dabrowski… and possibly, wear your new Watch More Doubles T-shirt while you’re there!

Watch Gaby’s Tennis Canada video on her views on doubles here. Watch Gaby’s interview with host doubles champion Bettanie Mattek Sands on WTA’s Tennis United YouTube series here.

Peter Malcomson is the Marketing Manager for the Ontario Tennis Association. He is the editor of ONTENNIS Magazine and ONTENNIS.ca as well as an occasional contributor. He also hosts the ONTENNIS podcast and produces the OTA’s newsletter SPIN Weekly.