April 9, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

MIAMI, Fla. – A lot water has flowed under the bridge since Gabriela Dabrowski won the Miami Open in 2017, in her first-ever tournament with now former partner Xu Yifan of China.

There wasn’t even any video of the match – it’s possible Open Court had the only clips of this major moment in Dabrowski’s career.

Fast forward seven years, and the Ottawa-area native – who turns 32 Monday – has won two Grand Slam titles in mixed doubles, two more WTA 1000s AND a Grand Slam title in women’s doubles, with Canadian Kiwi Erin Routliffe.

The two, who have been together only since last summer, also struck gold early. They won the US Open last September, in only their fourth outing as a team. And on the basis of basically two months of great results, they qualified for the year-end finals in Cancun.

On Sunday, they’ll aim for their first WTA 1000 tournament title together in Miami, as they face Americans Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Sofia Kenin.

Here’s what they said after their semifinal win Friday.

The Americans were an alternate team; they squeezed into the draw when fellow Americans Madison Keys and Peyton Stearns withdrew. And they took that opportunity all the way to the final.

Drama in the dubs

Dabrowski and Routliffe have had a sweet draw, in the sense that they can win the title without even having to face a seeded team. They’ve had good opponents, but two of the four duos in the leadup to Sunday had little experience together – ironically, those were the two matches that went to a match tiebreak.

But Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula, who were in their quarter, went out in the first round. So did No. 6 seeds Beatriz Haddad Maia and Taylor Townsend in their half; Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Ellen Perez, also in their half, bowed out in the second round.

That didn’t mean it wasn’t a complicated road – notably their semifinal Friday against the unseeded Asia Muhammad and Alycia Parks.

Muhammad and Parks couldn’t have more opposite personalities. And Parks’s dour side was on full display through the tournament – even as they kept winning.

It was tense enough that we even spotted Routliffe and Dabrowski, who are good pals with Muhammad, out lending moral support at several of their matches.

Parks is lovely. But on the court, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player who appears to absolutely despise tennis more than she does.

She put her coach Sascha Bajin (who has worked with Naomi Osaka and Karolina Pliskova, among others and was a hitting partner to players like Serena Williams for many years) through the absolute wringer.

The two are just getting acquainted; their first tournament together appears to have been Indian Wells. But Bajin got a pretty good crash course.

So did the ball kids.

During their win over Haddad Maia and Townsend – a splendid match overall – Parks was dropping four-letter words on him, yelling at him, constantly giving him the death stare when she missed a shot.

(And, let’s not forget, this is DOUBLES, which is far from Parks’s main focus).

It was uncomfortable for everyone, most notably the affable Muhammad. She had to focus on her own game, try to use what Parks has to offer on a doubles court to its best advantage, and try not to fry herself mentally.

In that, she did a terrific job through four matches. But she sort of hit the wall Friday.

Down a set and a break

The semifinal featured more tension. And it certainly got to Routliffe and Dabrowski to some extent.

They were down a set and a break and efforting hard to keep their composure when things began to fall apart on the other side of the net.

And as that was happening, the Cana-Kiwis also began to play better, finding their groove. They changed up some of their tactics, and they started to give Parks more of what she doesn’t like – i.e. slower-paced balls and higher-trajectory shots.

Parks also began missing her first serve a lot more – with glares over to Bajin between the first and second serves, just to keep things lively.

The Cana-Kiwis ended up winning it 6-7 (4), 6-4, [10-4] to move onto the final.

Injured opponent makes Cana-Kiwis the faves

Mattek-Sands, who turned 39 last week, has played a full schedule in 2024. But she hasn’t had a regular partner.

Still, she made the final in Auckland (with Bouzkova) and won the WTA 500 in Abu Dhabi (with Kenin).

But in the second game of their semifinal late Friday night against the Italian team of Jasmine Paolini and Sara Errani, she injured herself.

It appeared to be in the ankle/Achilles area. And there was certainly doubt at that time that she would even continue.

But she did. And even though she could barely move, she and Kenin found a way to beat the Italians.

On the plus side, they had an off-day Saturday to do what they could to get her in playing shape for the final.

But you have to consider Dabrowski and Routliffe major favorites in this one.

It’s at 12:30 p.m., before the men’s singles final.

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