As Canada’s Davis Cup team hosts Chile in this weekend’s playoff-tie in Halifax, they’ll have a familiar face cheering them on courtside: 44-year-old Daniel Nestor.
In tennis years, Nestor is a senior citizen, but instead of collecting a pension, he’s collecting more air miles. He didn’t have to fly he and his family from Toronto to Halifax. He could have stayed home, put his injured leg up on the couch and watched his Pittsburgh Steelers as he tinkered with his fantasy football team. But he didn’t. He made the trip. Because for 24 years, the Davis Cup has been a constant in Nestor’s life and vice versa. One without the other wouldn’t feel right.
“I always enjoy the week,” Nestor tells me in a sitdown interview in Halifax. “We have a great opportunity [to win]. We have great camaraderie. I wanted to come and support.”
Over the years, Nestor has naturally taken on a mentorship role on the team. He’s the clear veteran:
“He’s been on the tour for, I don’t even know how long anymore—for forever,” the 17-year-old Shapovalov states matter of factly. “He has so much experience. But he’s so much fun. He’s so energetic, always cracking jokes. I’m happy he got to fly in and cheer the team on ’cause without him, it’s a little bit… empty. He’s a great guy.”
On court, Nestor has always been a quiet presence. He’s soft-spoken and shies away from attention. But for those who know him best, he’s the opposite.
“Honestly, he’s two completely different people,” says Pospisil, his Olympic doubles partner. “Outside the court—on the practice court—he’s a completely different guy. He’s hilarious. He’s a funny guy, a character. But in a match, he’s right down to business.”
PROGRAMMING ALERT Canada plays Chile in Davis Cup action starting Friday at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 360.
And Nestor’s moxie made a rare appearance at the Rio Olympics. Down a set in the semifinals against Spain, serving at 40-30 to send the second set to a tiebreak, Nestor’s volley was called out. As the replay clearly showed, the ball was in. But there was no Hawk-Eye on the court, so the Canadians couldn’t challenge.
“Can I just go to the other side, please?” Nestor pleaded with the chair umpire at the net. He wanted to show Joseph Emmanuel the ball mark proving that it was in. But his request was denied. The Canadians lost the point, but ended up winning the game.
Then, in the second-set tiebreak, Rafael Nadal’s backhand down-the-line was questionably called in, giving Spain match point. Nestor was livid and two points later, the Canadians lost both the match and their chance to play for Gold.
“I’ve known Daniel for a long time, I’ve never seen him that upset on the court,” Pospisil explains, wide-eyed.
“I hadn’t seen officiating like that in one of my matches ever,” Nestor admits. “I was pretty vocal. I felt quite upset after and wanted a review, and that didn’t happen.”
And even though it’s been a month since the “incident,” Nestor still feels slightly cheated.
“I don’t think about it that much, but it seems like a lot of people saw it and then they remind me and I get upset again,” he says with a half smile.
That was my cue to change the subject.
And while there won’t be any more Olympic Games in Nestor’s career, he has no imminent retirement plans. He’ll continue playing in 2017 and hopes that Pospisil will partner with him once more at next year’s U.S. Open.
But whenever Nestor does decide to hang up his racquet and call it a career, he still hopes to be part of Canada’s Davis Cup team in some capacity. Maybe as a coach?
“Unfortunately, they don’t listen to me too much. I think they forget I even played singles,” Nestor jokes.
We’ll see if they listen to him this weekend.