Caledon tennis star Erin Routliffe and partner Gabriela Dabrowski aim for second straight Grand Slam title

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Published January 12, 2024 at 10:35 am

Erin Routliffe tennis canada caledon
Gabriela Dabrowski, right, and her partner Erin Routliffe take part in a tennis clinic at the Ontario Racquet Club in Mississauga, Ont., on Friday, Dec. 8, 2023. Dabrowski felt a connection "right away" when she started playing doubles with fellow Canadian Routliffe last season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Tennis player Gabriela Dabrowski felt a connection “right away” when she started playing doubles with fellow Canadian and Caledon’s Erin Routliffe last season.

Results quickly followed as the Canadian duo won the U.S. Open in just their fourth tournament together, and their strong form continued through the fall and has both players feeling excited ahead of the Australian Open and 2024 season.

“I’m really proud of how (we) have come together to be able to achieve something so great but doing it in a way where we’re really on each other’s side,” Dabrowski said. “That’s really unique I think.”

Routliffe, who was born in New Zealand and first picked up the sport as a youngster in Caledon, trained at the National Training Centre in Montreal and is ranked ninth in the world in women’s doubles. Dabrowski, an Ottawa native, is seventh.

“I always say I wish I could play with both of the flags but obviously that’s not a thing in tennis or really any sport,” Routliffe said. “I’m super proud to be Canadian. There’s nowhere else I would have rather grown up. I’m so grateful.”

“If you can trust your partner and feel like they’re beside you no matter what, then I think it’s a recipe for success,” she said.

Canada has only two singles players ranked in the top 100 entering the season’s first Grand Slam. Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime is ranked 27th on the ATP Tour and Leylah Fernandez of Laval, Que., is 36th on the WTA Tour.

Main draw play begins Sunday (Saturday evening in Canada) at Melbourne Park. Auger-Aliassime will open against Dominic Thiem of Austria while Fernandez has drawn a qualifier for her first-round match.

Joining them in the singles draws are Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill and Milos Raonic of Thornhill, who are both using their protected ranking.

Dabrowski endured some challenges in the first half of the 2023 season. She missed over a month with a back injury last winter and had middling results with four different partners from January through early August.

“Some of (the partner changes) were my decision and some of them not,” she said in a recent interview. “That was really difficult. It’s kind of like a relationship. It’s hard to be broken up with.

“It’s hard to hear that someone doesn’t want to partner with you anymore even in a professional and business sense. So I think that was very difficult to manage.”

However, the changes created new opportunity. Routliffe and Dabrowski made their debut together as a duo at the National Bank Open.

“I was able to take something that was really hard and actually turn it into a really good learning experience,” Dabrowski said. “I got the chance to partner with someone who was completely new, someone I’ve known for a really long time but I’ve never actually played with on the pro circuit.”

The pair lost in the round of 16 at Montreal and fell in the second round at Cincinnati a week later. Dabrowski and Routliffe reached the semifinal at the next tour stop in Cleveland but dropped a match tiebreak.

Things really started to click, Dabrowski said, after some “really good conversations” following that tough defeat.

“We learned a lot from each other about how we like to be supported on the court,” she said. “It’s not easy to know the love language, the support language, of another person. You can’t read minds.

“So Erin told me how she likes to be supported in difficult moments or when she’s nervous and vice versa.”

They were in strong form at Flushing Meadows, reeling off six wins in a row to become the first-ever Canadian Grand Slam women’s doubles champions.

Dabrowski and Routliffe reached the final at Guadalajara last fall and won at Zhengzhou, China in October. The duo reached the semifinals at the WTA Finals before Dabrowski helped Canada win its first-ever Billie Jean King Cup title.

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