Gabriela Dabrowski (left) and Luisa Stefani, winners of the 2021 National Bank Open in Montreal

Last summer, Luisa Stefani hit a hot streak in doubles with Gabriela Dabrowski and became the first Brazilian woman ranked in the Top 20 in singles or doubles since Maria Bueno, who won seven Grand Slam singles titles in the 1950s and 1960s. After winning Olympic bronze, Stefani went 16–2 with Dabrowski on North American hard courts, all the way to the US Open semifinals. While holding a slight lead over Coco Gauff and Caty McNally, Stefani took a routine step near the net, fell and left the court in a wheelchair.

In a sudden reversal of fortune, the Saddlebrook and Pepperdine University product was sidelined for a year with a torn ACL in her right knee. She hoped to return at the US Open last month, but she wasn’t ready.

Based on the results at the Chennai Open this week, Stefani made the right call. Entering on a protected ranking, she and Dabrowski, the top seeds, cruised to the title without dropping a set. (They lost just three games in defeating Anna Blinkova and Natela Dzalamidze in Sunday's final, 6-1, 6-2.)

Stefani took extra precaution after having surgery at Chicago’s Midwest Orthopedics at Rush. Stefani’s doctor estimated recovery to take nine months, but that would have meant returning on the slippery grass courts of the mid-summer season. She preferred to wait to play on hard courts.


The 25-year-old used the extra time wisely, and recreational players might want to consider her strategic approach to a patient recovery.

She didn’t hit a ball until April, seven months after the fall. Meanwhile, she studied matches on TV, both for her own improvement and to scout for a new doubles partner (Dabrowski played this season with fellow USC alum Giuliana Olmos, and they are No. 2 in the WTA tour race.) She also started going to a mental-performance coach, Carla di Perro.

Physically, Stefani worked on rebalancing her body after playing on the same side of the doubles court for a long time. “I worked on what I had lost. There was a big disequilibrium, and we fixed it,” she wrote on Instagram.

She put in hours in the pool, in the gym, and gingerly walking up stairs sideways to strengthen the knee. Running on an anti-gravity treadmill after nine months felt like “the moon.”

Stefani also considered the time off a chance for comprehensive recovery beyond the knee. Spending a full year away from the court gave her a chance to become stronger overall. She told the media she feels fitter than she did during last year’s Top 10 run, citing her serve as a specific improvement.

Though she has lived in the United States for the last decade, Stefani did her rehab in Brazil with Beatriz Haddad Maia’s team of physios. Since her Olympic success made her a household name in Brazil, Stefani attended events with kids and teenagers to promote the sport at home.

She isn't daunted by the larger number next to her name—a ranking of No. 718, down drastically from No. 9 last November. “I enjoyed the process and was able to come back better than I was,” she wrote on Instagram.