He has been No. 1 in the world in his specialty, men’s doubles, for more than 100 weeks. He has 79 career doubles titles and a Golden Slam – champion of the four major tournaments (Wimbledon, French, U.S. and Australian Opens) that define tennis at the highest level, plus Olympic gold. That came in 2000 and he did it in Australia, partnered with fellow Canadian Sebastien Lareau, against arguably the greatest doubles team in history – the Woodies, Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge, the heavy hometown favourites.
His career earnings exceed $10-million, and although he was never ranked above No. 58 in the world in men’s singles (in 1999, when he was still a relative pup), Daniel Nestor has career singles wins over five players who were ranked No. 1 in the world at one time – Stefan Edberg, Thomas Muster, Patrick Rafter, Gustavo Kuerten and Marcelo Rios.
The victory against Edberg came in a Davis Cup match in Vancouver when Nestor was 19; his win over Rios in a Davis Cup match in Calgary occurred more than a decade later, long after he’d become a doubles specialist. Indeed, that was all Rios could talk about after the loss. Offered any number of excuses – the altitude, his level of fitness, the dark building, the lightning-fast court – all Rios could mumble, over and over again, was some variation of “but I lost to a doubles player.”
That observation by Rios may explain why Nestor – who was born in Belgrade and now lives in Bahamas – hasn’t received wider recognition as one of the greatest athletes ever produced in Canada, where he was raised after emigrating with his parents at the age of three. Nestor has been so consistent for so long, but doubles – despite its popularity among recreational players – remains the poor stepchild of professional tennis. As a result, matches are banished to the side courts for most tournaments, even if the level of athleticism can make for a lot of “wow” moments.
Nestor received the Order of Canada in 2010, and this month received an honorary degree from York University, where he has been playing in the Rogers Cup (née Canadian Open) for the better part of two decades.
But remarkably, Nestor’s 40th birthday is just around the corner, on Sept. 4, and he and partner Max Mirnyi of Belarus are currently co-ranked No. 1 in the world. Nestor played doubles with fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil at this summer’s Olympics, but he will be back playing with Mirnyi at the U.S. Open, which begins Monday at Flushing Meadow, N.Y.
When Nestor and Mirnyi won their opening-round doubles match at the Rogers Cup this month, they became the first team to qualify for the Barclays ATP World Tour finals, the year-end tournament that brings together that season’s top players in London and represents the de facto world championship of tennis. Nestor has won the event in each of the past two years, once with Mirnyi, the other with Nenad Zimonjic, his previous partner.
“Daniel Nestor is a legend,” said Bob Bryan, half of the iconic American doubles team, the twin Bryan brothers, who have been Nestor’s top rivals for close to a decade. “He’s shown us all that’s it’s possible to play until you’re 40. Ten years ago I think the oldest guy in the top 10 was 32, and we couldn’t believe he was still playing.
“He’s an incredible athlete. He’s flexible. He’s limber. He’s still playing like he’s 20. That serve that he has is timeless. That serve will probably carry him until he’s 50.”
The Bryans are the reigning Olympic champions, winners of the Masters 1000 in Toronto, and the most visible doubles team of their generation. But every great rivalry requires a foil and Bob Bryan says that’s been Nestor.
“We’ve been knocking heads for the last 14 years,” Bryan said. “Every time you step on the court with Danny you almost feel less pressure, because you know if you don’t play your best tennis you’re going to lose. It frees you up to go for your shots.