“I’ve heard so much about India through Coach Sanjay Singh” – Tokyo Olympic Medalist Luisa Stefani

Luisa Stefani and Gabriela Dabrowski post match press conference after their Semifinal win in the Chennai Open WTA 250. 

Q) First of all, congratulations to the both of you, can you give an opinion on the match and how you both feel it turned out?

Gabriela Dabrowski: I think we got off to a little bit of a slow start in the first two games. But then after that I think we regrouped on Luisa’s serve very quickly. And then the momentum shifted back in our favour. And I think we finished the set very strong, even though we had a small dip in the beginning. 

Q) You won the Roland Garros with Rohan Bopanna and now you are in the finals in India. Do you think that the India connection has been something lucky for you?

Gabriela Dabrowski: Might be. I do think that India brings good luck. So I think you’re probably right about that. Yeah.

Q) Luisa, this was your first tournament back, when you were coming back, what were your expectations? Were you expecting to be in the final? Were you happy about your game and your form? What was your mindset before and your mindset now? 

Luisa Stefani: Before I came, I think I was just very anxious, I didn’t have expectations in terms of results. I was really curious about how I was going to feel. So my main focus was on how my body would feel. I didn’t know how my knee would react and how everything else would react. This is my first full match, like in the tournament. So there’s an emotional side, I think it was more emotional expectations than actually results. But I’m really happy with how I’ve been feeling on court and how I’ve been playing, even after a long time. So I’m just really pleased with how the week is going. And my expectations are still the same – I just want to keep playing pain free. And hopefully my body will keep responding well, so I can keep playing for many more weeks.

Q) You were playing in the side courts till today, This was the first doubles match on centre court. Did that play a role in a slow start?

Luisa Stefani: For sure. I think the whole match came towards the end of the first and the second set. And we’ve got a better feel of the court. It definitely plays a little bit different, a different environment. And it took some time to figure out how the court’s playing. It definitely played a role in our playing, but we got used to it. 

Gabriela Dabrowski: Yeah, I agree with that. The court, visually, obviously is very different to the outside courts. So that does play a role in the beginning when you’re just trying to get used to seeing the ball. Also, the court, we thought, played a little bit slower than the outside courts. And also the bounce was a little bit higher. So to find the timing on the strokes, I think it just took a couple of games as well.

Q) Can you talk about the crowd and atmosphere you had in centre court?  

Gabriela Dabrowski: It was great. Yeah, it was awesome. They were really enthusiastic. I mean, they’re even cheering sometimes like during the points because they thought the point was over, but I didn’t mind because I knew that they were excited to watch good tennis. So yeah, it was a really nice crowd to play in front of.

Luisa Stefani: Yeah, and I think we got a lot of support, especially from one corner over there. So that was fun. 

Q) Luisa, what are the challenges that you face coming from Brazil compared to someone like Gabi who comes from a bigger country like Canada? 

Luisa Stefani: That’s a cool question. I think we talk about it quite a lot in terms of our cultures and how they’re different. And I think, coming here to India, in some ways, I relate, you know, coming from Brazil, I think sports are a really big deal. It’s not as big of a deal as it should be. But it’s a big deal when things happen, because I know how much you can change a population and you unite the country and all the differences, socio-economic or just in general. In education, in sport and in work, in a country like this or like brazil, I think the discrepancy is a lot bigger and a lot more visible in our countries. So then, I think there’s a lot that we can take and learn from Canada. And also, it’s interesting to come and actually experience the culture here and see the similarities and things that I wish were different back home, or here. But things that are also very great about the cultures that we have, because of our backgrounds, or because we come from, you know, these differences or these challenges. 

Gabriela Dabrowski: I think I understand exactly what Luisa is saying. Canada is a very young country, we are extremely multicultural, which is to me, the best part about coming from Canada is that we’re accepting of everyone, no matter where you’re from, no matter what your socio economic background is. Everyone has a great quality of life there. But I think one thing that India or maybe even Brazil has that Canada probably doesn’t is a lot of that depth to the soul. Because they’re, you know, older cultures, older countries are a little bit more spiritual. And so that’s something that I found very different coming here, actually, the energy is very good with everyone. And I really like the sense of community that people have here. It’s not a selfish culture, everyone is helping everyone all the time. And I really appreciate and respect that coming from Canada. I mean, we have that as well, to a certain extent, but we’re quite a small population. But I spend a lot of time in the United States. And that’s where I actually feel the difference. It’s just been wonderful to spend time here for the first time and it’s just really great to see how genuinely lovely people are here. So thank you.

Q) How do you think tennis is perceived in Brazil? Is it a big deal? Is it popular with young people? 

Luisa Stefani: Yeah, I think it’s a huge deal, what Brazil in tennis is doing right now. I think we have a lot of momentum. I speak especially of women’s tennis. But I think in general, we’ve always had amazing doubles players. As we already had Maria Esther Bueno a while ago, she was a big inspiration for us. And after Guga, he was someone who brought tennis to the picture and everybody has a higher expectation, because you’re always compared to Guga. But right now, I think everybody’s doing a great job and doing things their way and like working towards a bigger picture in terms of bringing more kids to more generations of tennis. I think the Olympics medal did that as well to bring more interest to tennis and then make the kids believe that they can also play tennis. We have a lot of players who are improving in rankings. That brings more visibility, that brings more sponsors, more motivation to also invest in tennis and I think that’s how it grows. So I’m really glad that it seems like we’re on the right path, or at least in a great momentum, and I hope we can keep moving in that direction. Because I think a few years from now, or the next generation, will really benefit from all the work and all the good results that we’re having right now. 

Q) Yesterday, Podoroska spoke about how there aren’t as many tournaments happening in Argentina as there are in Europe or the US. What do you think about having more women’s tournaments in Brazil or South America in general? 

Luisa Stefani: Yeah, same. I think us doing well is hopefully bringing more investment to our country, so that we can have more tournaments, and that makes tennis more accessible. Because travelling around the world is not cheap. It’s an expensive sport, from anywhere. But I think coming from South America, if you don’t have tournaments, at home or near home, you have to fly all the way across cross-continentally. And then you play tough draws and you don’t get used to the level or you don’t see what the European level is like, or the American level. So you don’t really get the sense of what real tennis is like. So if you’ve managed to bring big tournaments, you can bring bigger players or better players to our home – South America, Argentina or Brazil. Then I think it’s also a way that we can push, give more opportunities for our players to play locally. And then from there we can go broader and achieve things phase by phase. I think it is definitely something that I wish we had more. And hopefully in the future, we can bring more tennis to those areas. And I think it’s just like India, right? We haven’t had a tournament here in a while. I’m sure it was very motivating for all the girls that were able to play here and for the kids who are watching tennis at home, that makes a huge difference. 

Q) Are you going to play the rest of the year as a team too, what is your schedule looking like? And Luisa, what were you expecting from India? You have an Indian coach Sanjay Singh, so you must have heard about India from him. Was it as per your expectations when you came here based on what you saw, the city and culture?

Gabriela Dabrowski: Well, coming here was sort of a last minute decision. I’m still partnered with Giuliana Olmos in Tokyo next week, and probably San Diego, Guadalajara with her and hopefully if we qualify for the year end finals because that’s our goal. So we’ve been fighting for that all year. And we’re very close. So we’ll keep pushing for that. And I mean, yeah, India has surpassed any expectations I had and as have the results in this tournament so everything’s just been really wonderful.

Luisa Stefani:

Yeah, for me I keep saying that I’m very appreciative of Gabi for coming here to play with me this week. It’s special since it’s my first time back. I’ve been cheering for her the whole year with GuGu. So I thank Giuliana as well for letting Gabi play, I mean, letting me borrow Gabi this week. I’ve heard so much about India through Sanjay obviously. It’s so nice to come here and actually witness and experience it myself. I love the food. He always cooked it at home and so now to come here and actually try the local food has been amazing. And the people, the energy, the culture in general has been a really fun time. 

Photos from the semis by Chenthil Mohan

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