'Prince' & 'Pride' Are Living Large
US Open 2008
by Paul Macpherson|
"They call him 'The Prince.' They treat him like royalty," Daniel Nestor says boisterously of how his doubles partner Nenad Zimonjic is received in Serbia, where tennis is now the national sport. After Zimonjic - who was nursing a broken wrist - helped Nestor claim the missing jewel in his Grand Slam crown at Wimbledon in July, 'The Pride of Canada' also has reason to pay his respects.
Nestor and Zimonjic have emerged as the hottest doubles team of 2008, but not before overcoming teething problems. Playing a full schedule together for the first time this year, the faith of Nestor and Zimonjic was severely tested in the first four months of the season, when they failed to win any of the 10 tournaments they entered, losing in the first round of their last three events during that period in Miami, Monte-Carlo and Barcelona.
Meanwhile, the longtime partner Nestor walked away from last year – Mark Knowles – had a blazing start to the season, winning two titles with Mahesh Bhupathi and coming within two points of taking the lead in the Stanford ATP Doubles Race after reaching the final of Masters Series Monte-Carlo.
Nestor says: "Figuring out our game style was important and I didn't start the year serving very well and Nenad probably wasn't returning as well as he is now. Win or lose, we have a certain way we are going to play. Live by it, die by it."
Come May, the duo began to live large. They made six consecutive finals: ATP Masters Series Rome (finalists), ATP Masters Series Hamburg (champions), Roland Garros (finalists), London/Queen's (champions), Wimbledon (champions) and ATP Masters Series Toronto (champions), where more than 7,000 fans cheered local hero Nestor and Zimonjic to victory over the Bryans brothers in a pulsating final. An imposing 16-match winning streak ended with a semifinal loss to Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram in the ATP Masters Series Cincinnati semifinals in early August.
"It was very frustrating for both of us but it was just a matter of being patient," Zimonjic says of their turnaround. "We're both serving big, one is a righty and one is a lefty, and we're coming in with a different speed and spin. It's very difficult for the opponents."
Adds Nestor: "It makes my volleys look a lot better when someone is hitting huge serves and balls are floating over the middle. We played matches at Wimbledon where we only lost a handful of points on serve in three of five-set matches. On returns, our game style is to be aggressive, hit with pace and take over the net. Our game style is to take chances and hit through our opponents."
Winning Wimbledon was without question the highlight of the dramatic run. For Zimonjic, it was his first men's doubles Grand Slam title. In his 14th appearance at SW19, Nestor claimed his first Wimbledon title, thus completing a career golden Grand Slam. And, at 35, Nestor reclaimed the individual World No. 1 doubles ranking.
"The Wimbledon title was enough, everything associated with it was icing on the cake," he says. "When people talk tennis they talk Wimbledon, and that was the title that had eluded me. I've played for 15 years and I owe a lot to the partners I've played with over the years, including Sebastian Lareau, who I won Olympic gold with, and Mark Knowles, who I won the other three Slams with and twice finished year-end No. 1.
"One of the reasons I wanted to play with Nenad was because I thought it would increase my chances of winning Wimbledon. Along with Bob Bryan, he's got the best serve in the doubles game. Fortunately it paid off."
But not before fate tried to intervene. In the semifinals against Lukas Dlouhy and Leander Paes, Nestor and Zimonjic led two sets to one, 2-3 40/0 when the Serbian fell heavily and fractured his left wrist. "I felt the radius crack and then there was sharp pain," Zimonjic says. "My first thought was that it was broken but I was hoping that somehow I could keep playing."
He could, but only for one point before play was suspended due to darkness at 3-3. Zimonjic had his wrist x-rayed the next morning before the match resumed. Although changing grips presented a problem, Zimonjic was able to continue with tape and a brace protecting the wrist, and his team gutted out an 8-6 fifth-set win.
Then began a nervous lead-in to the final against Jonas Bjorkman and Kevin Ullyett, with Zimonjic not knowing how the wrist would hold up. "At night it would swell up so I had to cut off the tape and ice it again, so I didn't get a great night's sleep the next three days. It was tough for Danny as well, not knowing what would happen. But we got there in the end. It's great to have that Wimbledon title."
Zimonjic still used a brace during recent Masters Series events in Toronto and Cincinnati, but competed at the Olympics with just tape on his wrist. He expects to play without tape at the US Open.
It's also been a banner year for the duo off the court, with Zimonjic marrying his wife Mina shortly before Roland Garros. The couple is expecting twins in December, at the same time that Nestor and his wife Natasha are expecting their first child, a daughter. Interestingly, Nestor was born in Zimonjic's home city of Belgrade but moved at age four to Canada.
The emergence of star Serbian trio Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic has been well documented, but outside Serbia the rise of Zimonjic has attracted less attention. It's a different story within Serbia, however, where Zimonjic's doubles matches from the Grand Slams are now shown live on TV. "Tennis is huge in Serbia," Zimonjic says. "I'm glad that I am part of this popularity back home because tennis is definitely the number one sport there now."
But it wasn't always that way. Zimonjic, 32, says of the famous story of Ivanovic practicing inside a drained swimming pool: "Those were good conditions. We played in a bubble. There were just two clubs with a total of five courts, so there was really no time when I could practice. I would practice at 11 o'clock at night when it was freezing cold because that was the only time we could get a court. And on top of that there were a lot of travel restrictions."
For Zimonjic, along with doubles success has come sacrifice – at the request of his partner. An accomplished singles player who has won four Challenger titles, Zimonjic was convinced to dedicate himself to the tandem game.
"Danny put a lot of pressure on me not to play," he says. "No, I'm joking. I wanted to play singles as much as I could, but it makes it difficult to find a steady partner for a year. Before Danny I'd only had two partners I had played a full year with, Leander and Fabrice [Santoro], and if I did well in doubles I wouldn't be able to make it to the next tournament to play qualies. So there wasn't enough consistency in playing singles matches. The goal is to be the best at what you do. With Danny, we have a good shot of finishing the year No. 1. That would be his third time."
It would also be a good shot for Zimonjic to claim the individual year-end World No. 1 doubles ranking at the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai because Nestor will lose the points he earned by winning last year's circuit finale with Knowles.
"He has the rankings figured out," Nestor says with a knowing smile. "He told me after we won the semis of Wimbledon that I was going to be No. 1. He also knows that I have points coming off for winning the Masters Cup last year and that if we finish the year as the No. 1 team then he'll have the individual No. 1 ranking."
"What I said is that I would love to be No. 1 at some point," Zimonjic responds.
With less than 40 points separating Nestor and Zimonjic from four-time year-end No. 1s Bob and Mike Bryan going into the US Open, the game's two premier teams are likely to wage an intense battle throughout the remainder of the year for top spot in the Stanford ATP Doubles Race.
But should Nestor and Zimonjic continue their stellar run of the past four months, The Pride of Canada and The Prince of Serbia will share a different title by year's end: Kings of the Doubles Court.
- Bryans Record Weeks At No 1
- Bryans Slam
- Nestor 800
- Nadal Masters 1000
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- Nadal Grand Slam
- Federer No1
- Federer 15 Quest
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