Ottawa teen Dabrowski courting success

LYNNE BERMEL

, Last Updated: 1:48 PM ET

Canadian tennis player Sonya Jeyaseelan had it right.

Months ago, she told Yurek Dabrowski not to worry about his daughter.

"Gaby is like a present waiting to open. She'll come out of the box."

Well, Yurek, the package arrived just before Christmas.

On Dec. 14, Gabriela Dabrowski, 17, won the Orange Bowl, the junior version of a grand slam on the International Tennis Federation circuit. She became the first Canadian to capture the title since Carling Bassett in 1982.

That Dabrowski, who grew up in Ottawa's south end, went ranked 63rd is one thing. How she did it is another.

The 5-foot-9 Dabrowski played aggressive from the start, surprising the world No. 1, Kristina Mladenovic of France, with powerful backhands and drawing her into mistakes for a 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 win.

Dabrowski went in without any expectations.

"But within the last month or so, my attitude has changed a lot more on the court. I've become more positive," she e-mailed from Mexico City, where she's competing in the Casablanca Copa Junior Open. "I used to get down on myself a lot, but now I seem to be able to regroup after a bad point."

Yurek said he thinks the turning point for his daughter was overhearing British star Heather Watson talk about how she'd upped her game.

"Gaby heard Heather saying that she stopped wishing for her opponent to miss a shot. She was just going to go for it," he said.

"Gaby changed after that. She started stopped worrying about what she couldn't control."

Yurek Dabrowski has been working with his daughter since the then-seven-year-old was discovered hitting a tennis ball in Blossom Park.

"Some people noticed her and told Gabriela's mother, Wanda, 'Hey, your daughter is pretty good. You should get her into the game.'

"We signed her up in lessons that year. At $75 an hour, lessons started to get expensive, so Wanda and I decided that I should try to learn the game to help her out. I must have watched 250 tapes and read every book on tennis I could find."

When Dabrowski turned 14, her parents signed her up at the famed Saddlebrook Tennis Academy near Tampa. She took her Ottawa schooling online, while Yurek took a leave from his job as head carpenter at an area hotel to work with his daughter in Florida.

Gabriela moved to the National Training Centre in Montreal this past fall.

"Saddlebrook was great for Gabby. It was as much for the instruction as the opportunity of being surrounded by some of the world's top tennis players," said Yurek, referring to Martina Hingis, Jelena Jankovic, James Blake and doubles champs Bob and Mike Bryan.

WHO IS THAT WITH HINGIS?

"Playing with Martina Hingis, in particular, was special for Gabby," he added.

"They were only supposed to play for an hour, but Martina asked to continue and they ended up hitting for close to three hours. People were pointing to Gabby and asking: 'Who is that pro playing with Martina Hingis?'

"That's my daughter, I said."

Gabriela credits her father for her rise up the ranks.

"My dad has been supporting me in tennis ever since I started to play," she said. "He's really good at seeing what's missing from my game."

Gabriela turns 18 in April, eligible for the pro ranks.

"My target for 2010 is to be in the top 250 (of the) World Tennis Association and to have won one of the junior Grand Slams," she said.

Not much of a stretch after the year she's had.

LYNNEBERMEL@ROGERS.COM


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