January 29, 2023

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU EVER NEEDED

Françoise Abanda planning a return in 2023

Abanda at the 2017 Australian Open

It’s been many, many months since Françoise Abanda, briefly the No. 1-ranked Canadian woman a few years back, has been on the match court.

While she’s been spotted occasionally working out at the national centre in Montreal, Abanda hasn’t been on the match court since early May, when she lost in the quarterfinals of a $25K ITF in Daytona Beach, Fla.

But it appears the Montreal native, who will turn 26 (!!!!!) in February and is currently ranked No. 775, will be back next season.

Abanda has entered several ITF tournaments in Florida to start 2023.

(We’ll attempt to try to get an interview with her. But throughout her career that’s always been a … tough slog).

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A decade ago, just 15, Abanda was a couple of games away from making it an all-Montreal junior girls’ final at Wimbledon.

She was up in the third set against the far more experienced Elina Svitolina, who was an experienced pro in a brief comeback to the junior ranks and who ended up pulling it out – only to get routed by 18-year-old Eugenie Bouchard in the final.

But her pro career – punctuated by impressive performances at the Montreal WTA event and representing her country in Fed Cup – has been mostly a matter of what could have been.

A chronic shoulder injury didn’t help. But the common criticism of her – fairly or unfairly – was that she wasn’t willing and prepared for the grind getting to the top of women’s tennis required.

Stroking groundies was always something that looked to come easily to her. And her movement, at its best, is effortless.

Her career high so far was No. 111, back in Oct. 2017.

Abanda and Bianca Andreescu on the practice court at Wimbledon in 2017, after both had qualified for the main draw.

Not much tennis in the 00s

In recent years, she has played very little.

Abanda didn’t come back at all in 2020, after the pandemic stoppage. And she’d started that season off well – qualifying in four straight ITFs and making a semifinal and two quarterfinals. Among the players she defeated during that streak were Marie Bouzkova and Caty McNally.

She returned, briefly, early in 2021 at two ITFs in Florida.

And then she wasn’t seen again until she received wild cards in Montreal and then in Chicago (which was played with a tournament license owned by Tennis Canada), and then a couple of ITFs after that leading up to a match at the Billie Jean King Cup finals.

And then, a couple of $25K ITFs in Mexico in February, 2022. A couple more in May. And that’s been it.

Abanda at the 2018 US Open qualifying, where she upset now top-20 player Beatriz Haddad Maia in the second round.

Very little international travel

Abanda travelled plenty as a junior, as most of the players at the national centre did.

But during her professional career, she has played astonishingly little outside Canada and the U.S. – with a few trips to Mexico.

In fact, over the last seven years or so (since late 2015), she has played eight events in Mexico, 17 in Canada and … 52 in the U.S.

Other than two trips to the Australian Open, and brief forays to Europe for the Roland Garros-Wimbledon tour in 2017 and 2018, she has remained resolutely close to home.

Part of that might well be financial. But even with a protected ranking, which will be well outside the top 400, she might find it difficult to find enough tournaments to play regularly in the U.S.

Hopefully, if she demonstrates early on that she’s serious about this, Tennis Canada will give her a helping hand. Despite having barely played, they still brought her as the fifth player for the Billie Jean King Cup tie in April in Vancouver. So clearly there’s hope.

Abanda didn’t see action there. And she played just one tournament after that.

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