'Gaby Dabrowski Day': Ottawa tennis champ served up honour from the city

An Ottawa tennis champion returned home to a special honour from her hometown.

In a ceremony Thursday at Ottawa City Hall, Mayor Jim Watson officially declared Sept.16 as "Gaby Dabrowski Day" in the capital.

Gabriela (Gaby) Dabrowski, 29, grew up in the city’s south end and has become one of Canada’s most successful female tennis players. She was the first Canadian female to win a Grand Slam title, and represented Canada at both the Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo Games. In August, she and her partner Luisa Stefani of Brazil captured the doubles title at the National Bank Open in Montreal.

Dabrowski hasn’t been able to return home since November 2019 due to the pandemic and her competitive schedule.

"It is so special to come back here and see people I haven’t seen in a really long time," said Dabrowski.

Dabrowski credits much of her success to having access to free and public tennis courts growing up in Ottawa. She began playing at the courts at Russell Boyd Park in the Blossom Park neighbourhood. They have since been renamed in her honour.

On Thursday, Dabrowski returned to the court to play a match with a long-time friend.

"Coming back and seeing where it all began is very humbling," said Dabrowski. "It is a really nice moment to know that people are going to enjoy those courts for many more years, and who knows if there is another Canadian star that grows up there."

Dabrowski says, "Kids may say, 'Oh wow, look at this big result,' but it is all about where you start and how do you get there."

On hand for the ceremony at City Hall were Dabrowski’s parents, Wanda and Yurek.

Her mother Wanda says, "It is a lovely moment and wonderful for the city to honour her in this way and have so many people who have been a part of her journey to be here and for Gaby to be able to thank them for their contribution to her success, it really is lovely."

Her father Yurek, who built a homemade ball-feeder in their garage so their daughter could practise, says she has always had a love for sports. "What was fun was we didn’t introduce her to tennis or sports, it was coming from her, it was easy for us to offer support… we had to learn how to play tennis!"

Dabrowski is part of a wave of Canadian tennis sensations. "I am so lucky to be part of that group. Leylah (Fernandez) and Felix (Auger-Aliassime) are amazing people,  they are so kind, so hard-working."

Dabroski says it is an honour to have a day named after her, but she hopes she can encourage other people to pick up a racket and dream big.

"It is all about getting a little bit better every day. I think that is a good message for anyone picking up a racket or try to get better at anything… it is just step-by-step."