EDMONTON – It was Monday morning and Daniel Nestor had finished packing his bags. For another flight, another event, another opportunity to compete on the world stage in tennis. It’s about all he’s known, as an amateur and professional, for more than three decades.
But this week, before heading off to a Davis Cup event in Edmonton, leaving home was more difficult than usual. Knowing he was bound for the airport, Nestor’s eight-year-old daughter Tiana grabbed her father extra tight and told him, “I’m going to be looking up at the sky missing you.”
By the end of next summer, his absences will be few and far between.
In a lengthy interview with Sportsnet, the 45-year-old Nestor revealed that 2018 will be his last season on the professional tennis tour. His plan is to play a remarkable 30th Rogers Cup in August – fittingly in his hometown of Toronto – and perhaps the U.S. Open, and then retire. Tiana, and her younger sister, four-year-old Bianca, will have dad to take them to school every day.
“It will be nice to be home full-time and help out, and not have to deal with saying goodbye to them all the time,” Nestor said. “Help the kids grow and mature into hopefully successful adults.”
Nestor’s career has been as fine as any tennis player in the history of this country. He has eight men’s doubles grand slam trophies on his resume, all of which came after he and Sebastien Lareau won an Olympic gold medal for Canada in doubles at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney. On four different occasions, he was crowned a mixed doubles champion at a major. And in 2009, he became the first player ever – in singles or doubles – to win a title at all four slams and all nine ATP Masters 1000 events.
“He’s been so successful, he’s achieved everything he ever wanted to and more,” Roger Federer told Sportsnet in 2014.
Brad Gilbert, a tennis analyst at ESPN, said that same year: “He’ll go down as one of the top-five doubles players of all time.”
Mahesh Bhupathi, once a partner of Nestor’s in the circuit and now India’s Davis Cup captain, took it a step further.
“In my mind, he’s the best doubles player in the world,” Bhupathi said Tuesday, unaware of Nestor’s intentions to step away from the sport. “The fact that Daniel has won with many different partners at the highest ranks in the world is testament to that.”
Nestor admitted Tuesday that retiring has been in the back of his mind for quite a while. He always wanted to play as long as he could, but then came this rough 2017 campaign. The Canadian is now ranked No. 43 in doubles and has only won 16 of the 41 matches he’s played this season. Admittedly, playing with different partners and the losses have caught up with him. So, too, has Father Time, still undefeated.
“Not having the results I’m accustomed to is not that much fun either,” Nestor said. “I’m still very professional and will do the best I can until next summer, but after that, I think it probably makes sense to call it.”
When he does, he’ll do so with a resume that beyond his tennis titles includes an appointment to the Order of Canada, a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame, an honourary doctorate from York University and a regional tennis development centre in suburban Halifax named after him. And Nestor continues to answer the bell for his country – he has competed in a national record 51 Davis Cup ties and represented Canada at six Olympic Games.
“We call him ‘The Chief,’ and he has meant everything to our program,” said Martin Laurendeau, Nestor’s former doubles partner and now captain of the Canadian Davis Cup team. “It’s hard to imagine coming to one of these (events) and him not being here.”
Exiting after next year’s Rogers Cup has significant meaning to Nestor because of the 30th milestone. His first Canadian Open was in 1989, as a 16-year-old. Had he won his first-round singles match that summer, his next opponent would have been John McEnroe. Nestor hasn’t missed a Rogers Cup since.
In January of 2016 he became the first player in the history of the ATP tour to record 1,000 career doubles victories. It happened in Australia. His family was there. He didn’t want them to miss that milestone.
By next fall, he’ll share more with his daughters and wife, Natasha.
“I think they’re going to be sick of me,” laughed Nestor. “But I’m going to get them out on the (tennis) court as much as I can, make sure their homework is done on time and that iPad is as far away from them as possible during the school week.”
Nestor paused, and shook his head. Not reflecting on the world-class opponents he’s faced in his career, but the newest obstacle in his way.
“Bianca, my second daughter, is very defiant,” he said with a grin, “but it’s part of the challenges in life, just like on the court. Off the court is all the same.”
He’ll learn that first-hand next fall.