Daniel Nestor’s career can be summed up in a series of numbers, mostly the number “1.” First doubles player on the men’s tour to reach 1,000 wins. The first in doubles to hold a sweep of all of the Grand Slams, Masters Series events and Olympic gold. At the top in age among active players — tied with India’s Leander Paes at 45 — in the doubles game.
And after Wednesday’s loss with American Bradley Klahn to brothers Christian and Ryan Harrison, 6-3, 6-3, in the first round of the US Open, Nestor is also focused on that number with a wholly different meaning: one more match to go.
Those who crowded around Court 6 saw what Nestor says is his last US Open match with just a scheduled Davis Cup tie with the Netherlands next month remaining before Nestor, a doubles legend, retires.
Nestor has spent his life in the sport and primarily on the doubles court, turning pro at 19. Nestor’s status in the doubles game is firmly among the greats, with Paes and the Bryan brothers. He once reached No. 58 in the world in singles, but excelled at doubles, winning a 2004 US Open title as well as titles at Roland Garros (2007, 2010, 2011, 2012), Wimbledon (2008, 2009) and the Australian Open (2002). In all, he has 91 career titles and more than 1,000 tour victories. Not to mention a healthy career approaching $13 million in prize money.
In an interview with Klahn sitting alongside, Nestor wasn’t quite ready to reflect just yet. He said simply that his performance — his ranking has slipped below 100 — means it’s time to move on from the tour.
“It’s mixed feelings, but you know when it’s your time,” he said. “And it makes sense — the results over the last year. The game is another level and I don’t feel like I can keep up with these guys on a day-to-day basis, so it’s definitely time.”
On the way into the interview, someone joked with Nestor about the celebration around Novak Djokovic, who was the first to collect the “Career Golden Masters,” winning all nine of the Masters 1000 ATP tour events in singles. Nestor, in fact, was the first to take that title, albeit in a different competition.
“It’s only doubles,” he said with a smile.
Nestor said that he and others hoped when the ATP adopted new rules in 2006 for doubles meant to quicken the game — replacing the third set with a tiebreak and going to “no-ad” scoring — that more fans would be attracted to the doubles court and more of the game’s top players would want to play. And even though enthusiastic tennis fans often crowd to see the lightning-quick action of doubles, it hasn’t become as popular as Nestor hoped, with fans or consistently with the top single’s players.
“I think it’s lacking on networks showing tennis coverage; it doesn’t have to be a full match, but they can show some of the key moments … and fans will be able to know more about who they’re watching,” he said.
Klahn, a young American looking to establish his own singles career, said he was honored Nestor asked him to play doubles at the US Open. The pair decided to play together in Toronto and only had time to practice twice in the days before their match Wednesday.
“I love doubles,” Klahn told USOpen.org. “I have had to scale back a little bit since I came back on tour to take care of my body. It’s so exciting to watch. The points are quick but there’s a lot of action, sometimes fans can get into it even more. For me, it’s even important for my singles game. Doubles puts a premium on different aspects of the game that can really help me be a more well-rounded tennis player.”
Before the Rogers Cup in Nestor’s hometown of Toronto, players held a roast for the longtime tour staple. Fellow Canadian Vasek Pospisil said Nestor was in good form during the roast, dishing with his fellow tour mates.
“He's won everything,” Pospisil said. He also said the mindset of a champion makes it tough to think about anything but the next win. “I think it might take a while to kind of think like, ‘Oh, maybe it's time to retire.’”
American John Isner said the roast was fitting for Nestor. “We all love that guy,” Isner said. “We'll be sad to see him go. He's been a staple forever.”
At some point, Nestor said he’ll reflect more on what comes next. “Moving forward, you’re trying to make other people better in the sport that you’ve dedicated your life to,” he said, adding he wants to stay involved in keeping Canadian tennis going strong.
For now, Nestor said he is focused, as he has been for the last two decades, on the next step, the next match. He’s not quite ready to reflect on more than 20 years. “I’m still playing, playing Davis Cup in a couple weeks,” he said. “I don’t know I won’t be able to answer [questions about the future] until it’s actually happened.”