TORONTO — For 30-odd seasons, this was the time of year when Daniel Nestor would likely be on a plane or a tennis court preparing for the Australian Open.
Those days are over now and that’s just fine with the Canadian doubles legend, who’s enjoying retirement in his hometown of Toronto.
Nestor won a whopping 91 career doubles titles on the ATP Tour over his career and was a mainstay on the Canadian Davis Cup team. He’s had a first-hand look at the growth of the sport in this country.
"We’ve never had this many top players," Nestor said. "We did have depth in the late 80s and early 90s for a while there, but it’s great to see that we have all these players. Not only that they’re doing well but they’re probably inspiring the next generation to do well and that’s exciting for sure."
Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov are ranked in the top 30 on the ATP Tour and Felix Auger-Aliassime is a top NextGen talent. Eugenie Bouchard, Bianca Andreescu and doubles star Gabriela Dabrowski are the Canadian players to watch on the WTA Tour.
Nestor helped keep the Canadian light shining during some rather lean years on the domestic scene. His run of strong doubles play continued into his early 40s and he finally called it quits last September.
"I feel like I got everything I could out of me," he said.
Now 46, Nestor is enjoying the increase in quality family time at home. He stays in good shape, still plays exhibition matches and often helps out at domestic events.
Nestor usually gets on court a couple times a week and will often hit balls with his eldest daughter Tiana, who turned 11 last month.
"It’s father-daughter bonding. I’m a little bit of a disciplinarian so she probably doesn’t like that part of it," Nestor said with a laugh. "But she’s still showing up every time we book a court, so that’s good."
The upcoming season-opening Grand Slam brings back plenty of memories for Nestor, who won the Australian Open in 2002 with Mark Knowles.
Nestor was just 17 when he made his debut in Melbourne in 1990. He planned to play in the junior tournament but his ranking points allowed him to get into the men’s qualifier against American Michael Robertson.
"I played this guy and I was up 6-1, 5-2 in the first round of the Aussie Open qualifying and I ended up losing," Nestor said. "But I just remember the court was so hot that I could feel the heat through my shoes. My feet were actually kind of burning during the match. I’d never felt that before.
"But it didn’t really bother me then, I was a kid."
Nestor sprained his ankle a few days later in a warmup match for the junior draw.
"I remember getting wheeled in to the locker room and being embarrassed because I was this junior and all these top players were in there," he recalled. "It was the first time I’d ever really been exposed to that. So they treated me and then I had to fly home back to Canada on crutches."
Nestor managed to make it into the singles main draw two years later, falling in the first round to Italy’s Stefano Pescosolido.
"That was the first time I qualified for a Grand Slam," he said. "And then three weeks later I played Edberg."
That Stefan Edberg match put Nestor on the map. He stunned the then-world No. 1 from Sweden in a five-set Davis Cup thriller in Vancouver.
Nestor reached the Australian Open doubles quarterfinals two years later with Sebastien Lareau. They teamed up again in 2000 to win gold at the Sydney Olympics, knocking off Australian favourites Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde in the final.
The Canadian essentially became a full-time doubles player in 2002, winning six titles that season with Knowles. The longtime world No. 1 also teamed with Nenad Zimonjic and Max Mirnyi later in his career.
Nestor’s ranking began to fade in 2017. He struggled last season playing with different partners at almost every tournament.
"The last year I wasn’t winning as much," Nestor said. "I don’t miss that. The feeling of trying to win a match or two rather than trying to win a tournament, which I was more accustomed to earlier in my career."
The Canadian finished with an eye-popping 1,062 doubles wins on the ATP Tour. He capped his career last summer by representing Canada in Davis Cup play for the 53rd time.
Nestor was the first player — in singles or doubles — to win a title at all four Grand Slams and all nine Masters 1000 events. He won 12 Grand Slam doubles titles over his career, earned US$12.8 million in prize money and played in six Olympic Games.
He said he still exchanges the occasional text with some of the players and keeps an eye on how the Canadians are doing. But for the first time in a long while, Nestor is far removed from the Tour scene.
"I’m very happy staying in one spot," he said.