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Canada’s Daniel Nestor is described as ‘an incredible athlete. He’s flexible. He’s limber. That serve that he has is timeless.’ (DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press)
Canada’s Daniel Nestor is described as ‘an incredible athlete. He’s flexible. He’s limber. That serve that he has is timeless.’ (DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press)

Canada’s most decorated tennis player lives largely in anonymity Add to ...

“He’s given us a lot of bitter defeats, and we’ve clipped him in a couple of big ones as well. There is a lot of mutual respect between us and him.”

According to Mike Bryan, that respect extends from the court into the locker room.

“He’s a good guy on the court and a great guy off the court,” he said. “He’s beaten us in a lot of tough matches and never rubbed it in. I’m sure we have. We chest bumped in his face.

“But he’s one of the most well liked guys on tour. He jokes around in the locker room before tough matches, big matches. We’re all happy to still see him playing.”

In mid-August, 21-year-old Milos Raonic broke into the top 20 of ATP rankings for the first time in his career, and will be seeded in singles at the U.S. Open. Ultimately, Raonic may be known as the greatest Canadian player ever, if he meets some of his early promise.

But now? Few would argue that it’s Nestor, even if the bulk of his success came in doubles.

“I would say there’s a pretty good case to be made that he’s the greatest player ever to come out of this country,” said Hatem McDadi, Tennis Canada’s vice-president of player development and someone who played against Nestor at the start of his career.

“He’s won Grand Slam titles, an Olympic gold medal, and has been No. 1 in the world. Now, one may qualify it to say it wasn’t in singles, but if you look at it really, the collection of work that he’s had over the past 20 years, it’s pretty incredible, and he would be in the discussion of the greatest doubles players of all time.

“Just look at what he’s done with different partners,” McDadi added. “Zimonjic hasn’t won a Slam before or after he played with Nestor. [Mark] Knowles hasn’t won a Slam since leaving Nestor. Lareau won a gold with Nestor. Mirnyi definitely won Slams with [Jonas] Bjorkman and others, but if you look at what Danny’s done with different partners, the common factor is Daniel Nestor’s phenomenal play. He’s remarkable.”

So what keeps Nestor going, with so many miles on the odometer?

“I’m pretty competitive,” Nestor said. “I realize this is what I do best. I like playing the Grand Slams. I like to try and do well in the Grand Slams. I’m wondering why I haven’t done so well at Wimbledon [wins in 2008 and 2009], which is a better surface for me, or the U.S. Open last year.

“So that’s a goal of mine, to do better at the U.S. Open and just try and play my best in the big events and in the Grand Slams especially.

“I think maybe when I was younger, I didn’t play so well in some of finals that I got to early on, so I feel like I’m trying to make up for lost time, perhaps.”

Nestor has seen lots of changes in the game, but acknowledges that his longevity has something to do with being a doubles specialist.

“Obviously you have to work harder to play singles,” Nestor said. “It requires a lot more stamina. Doubles is pretty explosive, but the points are a lot shorter and more of a quick-reflexes, quick-thinking kind of thing.

“Over the last eight to 10 years, the game has definitely slowed down compared to the early 2000s and became much more physical. Whether it’s singles or doubles, guys are getting bigger and stronger, and hitting the ball harder.

“The balls are slower and the courts are slower, so you have to be ready to deal with longer rallies and more balls coming back than perhaps in the nineties. So for sure, fitness is something I focus on a little bit more in the last few years than actual tennis, I think.”

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