Daniel Nestor is on the verge of a major tennis milestone, poised to become the first doubles player to win 1,000 matches on the ATP World Tour.
Nestor can hit 1,000 at the Brisbane International, one of three tournaments that begin the ATP year on Sunday.
Three singles players have previously eclipsed 1,000: Jimmy Connors (who holds the record with 1,254 wins), Ivan Lendl, and Roger Federer (who reached the mark a year ago).
Nestor, 43, is beginning his 26th year as a pro. He'll be closely followed to the 1,000-win mark by Mike and Bob Bryan, the American twins who are both likely to reach 1,000 later this year. No other doubles player is close.
"It's not something I really thought about for the last 20 years, but as I got closer it's something I'd like to achieve," Nestor said in an interview. "It's a nice accolade, and something I can really cherish when I look back."
He then joked, in his usual wry way: "Right now I'm the first guy at 999."
Nestor, the most decorated Canadian player ever with eight Grand Slam titles and 88 tournament wins overall, begins 2016 in an uncertain position, with a new partner, Radek Stepanek from Czech Republic, and unclear prospects for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. It would be Nestor's sixth Olympics – with Sebastien Lareau, he won gold in doubles in 2000. At the 2012 Games in London, Nestor played with Vasek Pospisil.
In November, Pospisil decided to play doubles with Milos Raonic in Rio. Pospisil has had success playing with Nestor, but decided that he and Raonic, both 25, had a better shot together.
"Obviously I'm a little bit disappointed," Nestor said. "I understand that they feel like they have the best chance to win together."
Nestor needs to improve his No. 18 ranking (his potential Rio partner is Adil Shamasdin, ranked No. 69). To guarantee himself a place in Rio, he needs to get back to the top 10.
A year ago, Nestor was No. 4. The ranking was the result of a years-long partnership with Nenad Zimonjic, but they split at the end of 2014. Nestor then paired for three months with Rohan Bopanna, 35.
"When you get older and you get used to switching partners, it definitely becomes easier," Nestor said. "It's the nature of the business."
But, he added, "I probably didn't make the wise choice of splitting with Bopanna. We were doing relatively well."
After Bopanna, Nestor played with Leander Paes, but Nestor's ranking fell to No. 28 by early August, his lowest in 15 years.
The partnership with 42-year-old Paes foundered because two older players are at a disadvantage, Nestor said.
"I don't think the combination of two older guys, nowadays especially, really makes sense any more. It's not that we played bad. It was quite difficult for us to keep up with the younger guys. The game's more athletic than it's ever been. It just felt like, for us to win, we were working a lot harder than our opponents."
Nestor scored some success thereafter, in partnership with Édouard Roger-Vasselin, a 32-year-old Frenchman whose usual partner, 34-year-old Julien Benneteau, was injured. Nestor and Roger-Vasselin reached the Rogers Cup final, an ATP 1000 event, and won the ATP 1000 event in Cincinnati.
Now, Nestor partners with 37-year-old Stepanek, a fine player but one who he hasn't played with before.
"A lot depends on how we do in Australia," Nestor said. "I'm fairly confident we can do well."
Nestor's best shot to improve his ranking is to succeed at the Australian Open, where, last year, he and Bopanna were eliminated in the round of 32.
A run to the semis or finals would propel Nestor toward the top 10, and a win would be doubly helpful.
Nestor won in Australia once, in 2002 with Mark Knowles, and has been in the finals three times, the last in 2010 with Zimonjic. Nestor reached the semis of the Australian Open two years ago with Zimonjic, and four years ago with Max Mirnyi.
As Nestor nears the 1,000-wins milestone, he also nears his career's conclusion, and he has thought about life after the court. He will remain in the sport.
"I'm not sure in what capacity," Nestor said. "I can't really answer that right now until I know for sure. I'll stay involved in tennis for sure."