*** Francoise Abanda is currently ranked #5 [up from #8 at the time of the interview] in the ITF world junior rankings and #610 WTA. She is the youngest player ever ranked in the top 10 ITF. She is without a doubt Canada’s most promising female tennis player. We met with her at the Tevlin in Toronto. ***
ONcourt: Francoise, you are fifteen, you’ve gone from being a potential star to actually being a real great player. That’s pretty young. How do you see this unfolding in your mind?
Francoise Abanda: I just know about training and getting better, so the rest of it comes by itself. I was injured six months last year which didn’t help me but I’m really happy that I could play this year.
ONcourt: What was the injury?
FA: I was injured on my right shoulder.
ONcourt: And how is it now?
It’s fine, everything is fine now so that’s good.
ONcourt: Did you use the time to train physically or do anything else?
FA: Not really because I couldn’t do anything with my upper body, so running was the only option which I did but I couldn’t really get stronger.
ONcourt: I remember seeing you play when you were younger and you certainly had an attitude about how you played and so forth. Is that still the way you are?
FA: I respect my opponent. I don’t think I’m someone that really gets into peoples’ faces. I think I’m calmer. Maybe I changed.
ONcourt: You certainly look like you’ve changed because you’re smiling a lot more. Are you enjoying what you are doing with your tennis career?
FA: Yeah I am and I like the travelling and the tour. I have started playing the junior Grand Slam which is a good experience. You get to be at the Slams and see the actual matches so it’s good – it’s motivating.
ONcourt: You like the life of being on tour and travelling?
FA: Yeah, definitely.
ONcourt: Tell me, tennis is a family business. How is your sister doing?
FA: She’s good. She’s in university playing at Barry? It’s not University of Miami, it’s Barry. She’s liking it. It’s small so she says it’s more personal than at a big university. She says that she’s good there and she wants to stay. I think she’ll be playing pro tournaments during the summer.
ONcourt: So she hasn’t lost hope of playing pro as well?
FA: No. Definitely not.
ONcourt: Okay. So college is just a different option for her.
ONcourt: Tell me. You’ve had three years of juniors. How do you see yourself progressing into the women’s game? Do you see the difference between the junior game, ITF, and these types of entry-level professional events?
FA: The pro tournaments are quite different. Everybody can hit hard versus junior which is more – I would say pushing a bit – people are not as aggressive. You see it in challengers as well. You just hit harder but otherwise I think in challengers and in junior slams it’s kind of the same level. But there are only four slams, there’s definitely a difference.
ONcourt: Tell me how your game in the next three years is going to grow to get to the top 100, would that be the first step?
FA: Yeah. It’s going to be a big transition I think but it’s good that I’m starting this year to play some $25,000 and $50,000 tournaments here in Toronto. But we’ll see how it goes. Definitely I want to finish the year in the top 5 in juniors. Now I’m ranked 8th, but also to work my way up in challengers and pro tournaments.
ONcourt: That’s pretty amazing, 8th at your age that’s fantastic. When do you see yourself mostly playing the Junior grand slams or more pro events?
FA: Definitely more pro events and juniors, i want to continue playing, and, I’m not number one yet so why not? I still have seven spots to gain. I’m not quite sure about my schedule but I’m definitely going to play some more WTAs and challengers.
ONcourt: Two other questions: fitness, how much fitness do you do, how important is it to your development?
FA: It’s important and it’s helped me a lot with my shoulder injury. It was all about getting in the gym and building up my shoulders. This is still in my program; I have to really get stronger.
ONcourt: Who do you work with, Keirn?
FA: Keirn, in Montreal. At the [National Tennis Centre]. So I do 2 hours of fitness every day, and three hours and a half, or four hours of tennis.
ONcourt: So, now you’re travelling with Simon LaRose. What is it like with Simon?
FA: It’s good, it’s fun he’s really energetic. He has a lot of energy. He’s played on the tour so it’s good. It’s fun.
ONcourt: Good luck, and thank you very much. Merci beaucoup.
FA: Thank you. Merci.