It is the time of year in pro tennis when doubles players start planning their dance cards for the next season, a sort of annual musical chairs of partners.
The big news out of Shanghai, site of the Masters 1000 event this week, is that the current world No. 2 team, Daniel Nestor of Toronto and Nenad Zimonjic of Serbia, will be ending their three-year partnership after the ATP World Tour Finals in London in late November.
After piling up five titles, including the French Open, in the first six months of 2010, Nestor, 38, and Zimonjic, 34, are winless at their past eight events and have not reached a final.
"I think it's a good move," Nestor said. "It came from him [Zimonjic]but it's something I've definitely thought about, too. Unfortunately, I never acted on it because I didn't see better options."
Both players, co-ranked No. 3 in the ATP's individual doubles rankings behind co-No. 1 Bob and Mike Bryan of the United States, have lined up new partners for 2011. Nestor will play with Max Mirnyi of Belarus while Zimonjic plans to team with Frenchman Michael Llodra, a left-hander like Nestor.
"Nenad wanted to play with Llodra for obvious reasons," Nestor said. "He's a very good player. He's a little bit younger and has a little more firepower and a big serve."
Nestor has earned 21 of his 69 career titles with Zimonjic, including Wimbledon in 2008 and 2009. The majority of his wins, 40, came with long-time partner Mark Knowles of the Bahamas.
The Nestor-Zimonjic pairing may have begun to unravel when, as two-time defending champions, they were upset 7-5, 5-7, 7-6 (4), 6-7 (3), 8-6 by big-serving British wild cards Chris Eaton and Dominic Inglot in the second round at Wimbledon.
"We've been battling some inconsistency this year," Nestor said. "In years past, we'd struggle to get through the first round, but when we did we'd start rolling. But for the last few tournaments it's been a different trend. We've gotten through but then lost the next matches."
Mirnyi, 33, has won four Grand Slam titles and, like Nestor, has been ranked No. 1 (2003) in the ATP's individual doubles rankings. Currently, he and partner Mahesh Bhupathi of India are No. 9 in the ATP team standings. Mirnyi is No. 14 in the individual rankings.
"It's not like there's a whole lot of guys sitting there waiting, guys you can win a Grand Slam with," said six-time Grand Slam champion Nestor about finding a new partner such as the 6-foot-5 Mirnyi. "Max has always been someone that I've thought about playing with. He's very level-headed. On the court he's got a good personality, nothing fazes him. Even if he's in the right and there's a bad call, you're not going to see him breaking racquets."
Mirnyi's size and power, similar to Zimonjic, was a major factor in Nestor's choice. "It's not necessarily always doubles [skills]the way the game is played these days," he said. "It's more about who hits harder and who serves bigger."
Nestor and Zimonjic will play out the rest of 2010 season at events in Shanghai, Vienna, Basel, Switzerland, Paris and London.
They will hope to get a jolt from the pending end of their partnership. In 2007, a month after Nestor initiated an acrimonious split with Knowles, they won the French Open.
Special to The Globe and Mail