EDMONTON — Canadian teenage tennis wunderkind Denis Shapovalov remembers growing up watching doubles legend Daniel Nestor play — but the ageless Nestor says it was Shapovalov who left the unforgettable impression.
“I practised with Denis years ago, and he was already beating me,” Nestor said alongside Shapovalov on Tuesday at a news conference in advance of this weekend’s Davis Cup tie against India.
“I was frustrated at that — but not so much anymore because he’s beating everyone.”
Nestor, 45, is the holder of Canada‘s Davis Cup record for wins at 47 to go with a legendary resume of Olympic and Grand Slam titles.
Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., is the celebrated, tousle-haired rising star of world tennis.
At the Rogers Cup in Montreal last month, he pulled off one of the greatest wins in Canadian tennis history, defeating top-seed Rafael Nadal before bowing out in the semifinals.
He followed that up with an outstanding play at the U.S. Open, lasting until the fourth round, and is now 51st on ATP singles rankings.
“Being from Toronto, the big guy there was always Daniel Nestor,” said Shapovalov.
He said he remembers Nestor watching at the national program.
“Daniel would come and watch all of us play,” said the teen. “For me it was so motivating to see Danny over there.”
The two will join veteran Vasek Pospisil and newcomer Brayden Schnur in a best-of-five Davis Cup playoff against India beginning Friday at Northlands Coliseum.
Eleventh-ranked Milos Raonic is unavailable for Canada due to a wrist injury.
Canada’s Davis Cup captain Martin Laurendeau said Nestor brings a lot on and off the court.
“He’s a professional so he’s going to do everything to get us that point on Saturday,” said Laurendeau, who is also Shapavalov’s coach.
“In the meantime he’s providing great leadership as a veteran and a mentor to the rest of the team.”
At stake is membership in the elite group of 16. Canada is there and India looks to move up after toiling for the last six years in the regional zone level.
“The Indians are a very strong team. They’ve got good hands and they like to play aggressive,” said Laurendeau.
“They’re very hungry. They want to make the world group. We remember that feeling when we were eight years trying to get through that barrier.”
This is Shapovalov’s third time at the Davis Cup but the first time since accidentally drilling a ball at the chair umpire and shattering his eye socket.
That led to a disqualification and a 3-2 loss to Britain in Ottawa in February.
Shapovalov has apologized and been fined for the incident. On Tuesday, he cut short questions about it.
“It was a long time ago. I’ve matured a lot from that time and I’m ready to compete for my country again,” he said.
“Obviously some reporters, like now, are still bringing it up, but for me it’s in the past.”
He said he is becoming accustomed to life in the spotlight.
“It’s quite a change, just going around the streets, having a lot of people take pictures of you in airports,” he said.
“For me it’s pretty cool. The best feeling is when you have little kids come up to you and ask you for a picture.
“I was one of these kids not too long ago asking guys like Roger (Federer) and Rafa (Nadal) for autographs.”