VANCOUVER – Canada’s Davis Cup team was nearly without its most experienced player for Saturday’s doubles match against the Italians.
World No. 6 doubles player Daniel Nestor nearly had to withdraw from the event, with an injury to his right calf that he suffered last month in Miami.
The 40-year-old was ginger in practice throughout this week at the University of British Columbia. As late as Friday, Nestor was concerned he would be unable to play with Vasek Pospisil with the World Group quarter-final knotted at one-all.
“I’m worried,” Nestor told Sportsnet.ca. “I’m worried about re-aggravating it. You see me moving slowly out there (on the court). Now you know why.”
"He had a limp," said Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau. "It wasn't just bothering him with his tennis. It was affecting his walking."
The five-time Olympian, who continues to answer the call for Canada at the Davis Cup, said he practiced at about an 80 per cent level throughout the week.
“How my body will hold up in a (best) three-out-of-five (set match), I just don’t know,” he admitted.
Laurendeau said he was worried until Friday about the state of Canada's tennis patriarch. The captain was encouraged by Nestor's daily improvement throughout the week, noticing as the pain diminished daily, his mobility got a bit better.
"He feels like he's competitive and can do enough things out there,"
Nestor said he felt his calf strain on the first serve of the opening doubles match at the ATP World Tour Miami Masters. He felt he could play through it, but the pain remained.
At 4-4 in the first set, against France’s Richard Gasquet and Eduardo Roger-Vasselin, it was a different story.
“I felt it pop,” said Nestor. “I thought it tore.”
The Canadian called for a trainer, who told him he could play through it. An MRI after the match “showed something, but no tear,” said Nestor.
Nestor, and his now former doubles partner, Mahesh Bhupathi, actually won the match, 7-6 (3), 6-3.
“I don’t know how,” he said. “By the time the second match rolled around, I couldn’t move.”
And Nestor did not play again for seven full days until he arrived in Vancouver, where he began training with Pospisil and Jesse Levine, in preparation for today’s doubles match.
A victory for Canada would put them in the driver's seat going into Sunday’s showdown between Milos Raonic and Andreas Seppi.
"You want to play it safe with injuries. You don't want to take anyone out for several months," said Laurendeau. "It's a balancing act."
As Nestor ages, his body is beginning to show wear.
He missed Canada’s Davis Cup tie in Mexico in March, 2011 with an Achilles injury. At the London Olympics, he was bothered by a left wrist issue and in February, against Spain, the Canadian doubles team blew a two-sets-to-one advantage when Nestor, admittedly, hit a wall with fatigue.
The longest-serving Davis Cup player in our country’s history has not won a Davis Cup match since Sept. 2011 in Tel Aviv.
“I don’t feel like I’m playing poorly,” said Nestor, who parted ways on tour with Bhupathi and is now teamed with Sweden’s Robert Lindstedt. “But I know I have to play better at Davis Cup.”
Nestor’s future in the game continues to come up at major tournaments.
He has won every Grand Slam doubles crown, including the French Open a staggering four times and Wimbledon twice. He and Sébastien Lareau teamed to win gold for Canada at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
But now that he has become a father for the second time – his wife, Natasha, gave birth to their second daughter in March – and is north of 40-years-of-age, the thought of retirement begins to creep into his psyche.
“It’s always in the back of my head,” said Nestor, who hopes to “squeeze” one more year out of his career. “Once my (second) daughter starts moving around, it’ll be stressful to not be around the family. If I’m not (playing) well, it would make retirement easier.”
Nestor has a 15-14 record on tour since last September. He's 7-7 in the 2013 season.
For now, Canada is relying on its most decorated tennis player ever to deliver one more time -– Saturday against the Italians.
Bad calf, and all.