Canadian phenom Abanda prepares for the big time
Teen talks about facing older, stronger women in adult ranks
Earlier this month, in front of her hometown crowd, Montreal’s Francoise Abanda won the biggest match of her young tennis career when she defeated Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu, ranked No. 33 in the world, in three sets during Canada’s Fed Cup tie.
For Abanda, currently ranked No. 270, it was her first win against a top-40 player and also her first win for Canada at a Fed Cup event.
From Charlottesville, Va. where she’s playing in an ITF ($50K) tournament, Abanda took some time to speak about her Fed Cup win, what’s next for her and playing against idols Serena and Venus Williams.
Q: What else do you have on your schedule coming up? A: After this one in Charlottesville, I’m thinking of playing Indian Harbour, which is in Florida. It’s another professional tournament, a (ITF) 50K. After that pretty much everything is in Europe so I’ll have to figure out whether I’ll play Europe. If I can get into the French Open, it’s still to see.
Q: I’d like to talk a little bit about Fed Cup. Obviously it was disappointing for Canada to lose the tie. But you managed to have some good individual results. How big was that win over No. 33 Begu? A: It was such a big win. It meant so much to me to play for Canada at 18 and get my first win in Montreal. Fed Cup was an event that I used to watch on TV like two-three years ago so for me to go and win a match is really special.
Q: And it was in front of your hometown. I know you’ve played Fed Cup in Quebec City before but was it special to be in front of that crowd? A: Yeah — exactly. Quebec City is still in Quebec, but like you say, Montreal is very familiar for me. It was just a great experience and unfortunately I lost my second match against Alexandra Dulgheru. I think it was another good match and I think I’ll learn from it. I mean it was a big challenge for me to win two big matches in two days. I really believe I gave it my all and I’m pleased I could do that.
Q: After your loss to Dulgheru you spoke about feeling fatigued. Is match fitness something you’re working on? A: No. I think it’s just a matter that I just came from juniors. Last year was a transition year and I’m still transitioning. I think for me to win the two biggest matches of my life in two days, it was kind of a lot. I don’t think it was a matter of being fit or not, I just think that win was overwhelming a bit for me, and the event as well, Fed Cup, is one of the biggest events in tennis, teamwise. I just think it was a big event, it’s a big deal and I’m still young and I’ve never experienced that.
Q: So it was more of an emotional thing? A: Exactly. It was very emotional.
Q: After you’ve played some of the top players in women’s tennis are there any parts of your game that you’re looking to improve? A: Coming from juniors, it’s a different game. I’m playing against bigger girls; the level is different. I think for me, the serve is like a big part of the game in women’s tennis and I definitely think it’s something I could really improve in my game that I think would help me a lot. I think it’s physical; it’s mental.
Q: Your career-high ranking was No. 175 in October 2014. Currently you’re ranked No. 270. How would you say your year is going so far in terms of achieving your goals? A: I think I had a really bad start to the year. I wasn’t really able to have a lot of wins this year. I think winning my match at Fed Cup was a good confidence boost for me.
Q: Do you have any set goals you’re still aiming for? A: I was trying to get into the top 100 this year so that’s what I’m aiming for. Try to get close to 200, then hopefully top 100 by the end of the year. That was my goal, but I think overall it’s just keep training and improving.
Q: Does it put pressure on you when people say you and Eugenie Bouchard are the future of Canadian women’s tennis? A: No. I feel like I believe in myself. I think whatever people are saying is just a plus, is just a bonus. I think it can motivate you. I think a lot of people have their own opinions, but most important for me is just to focus on me. Yes I’m aware that I have an opportunity to do great in WTA and go far, but I’m just trying to live it day by day and whatever happens happens, and I’m just trying to reach my full potential.
Q: As a young athlete, how do you approach social media? A: I like social media. It kind of just promotes you and it’s fun to kind of know what people think and their feedback. I’m on Instagram and Twitter. It’s something fun to do outside of playing tennis. I don’t think it’s anything negative. Of course you get messages sometimes, but it hasn’t affected me right now.
Q I was looking at your Twitter feed and I saw a while back you took a selfie with Serena Williams. So what is it like being on tour and playing against people you were inspired by? A: I grew up watching the Williams (sisters), so for me to play Venus in Quebec City was a good experience. I started playing and I watched them so for me to play (her) it was an achievement. This interview has been edited and condensed.