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Nestor Reflects On 800 Wins

Q & A

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Shortly after winning his 800th doubles match, Daniel Nestor spoke with about the achievement, his career, family life and the future.

Your 800th win comes at one of the biggest events of the season. Was it extra special to clinch the milestone at such an important tournament, an event where you’ve been successful in the past?
To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about it. I was reminded back in the locker room but it’s not something I was thinking about during the match. It’s just nice to get a win; Max and I kind of struggled the last couple weeks and we played a tough team today in tough conditions, so it feels good to get a win.

The milestone you’ve reached is uncharted territory in men’s doubles. How does it feel to be the one setting the standard?
It’s a great feeling. I’ve obviously had a lot of help over the years, playing with great partners, like Knowles, Zimonjic and Mirnyi now, and before that with Lareau, so I owe a lot to them. When you play a long time and you’ve been successful in your sport, it’s a great feeling, because you put in hard work and it pays off. At the same time, if I keep playing for a few more years, I’ll probably have the record for most losses if I’m not already there. When you play as long as I have, you get some good recognition and some not so good too.

…so kind of like Brett Favre with most touchdown passes and interceptions thrown?

Do you remember your first doubles victory on the ATP World Tour, and if so, what memories do you have from the match?
I don’t remember. What it was… can you tell me?

It came at Auckland in 1993.
If that was our first match, it’s actually pretty funny. Sebastien [Lareau] and I went to Auckland just to prepare for the Australian Open, as I was playing the singles qualifying. I remember our first-round match coming up and wondering what are our goals here… did we come here to do well in doubles or are we here to play a match to get ready for the Australian Open singles? With the match, we were probably more relaxed because we were thinking we didn’t need this match, we’re not here to play doubles. Funnily enough, when you have that feeling of not caring too much, you end up playing better, so that’s why we were able to do well that week.

Some fans may not be aware that you made your mark in singles, defeating No. 1 Edberg in a Davis Cup tie in 1992, and have five wins over Former World No. 1s. Do you feel your singles results are overlooked and are there any regrets in cutting out singles to focus on doubles?
There are always some regrets when I was playing singles… I wish I had done a couple things differently. I was the kind of player that didn’t have a big game, with big strokes, so I went for my shots. If I was playing well and was hot, I could compete with the best players in the world. Unfortunately when I did have those wins, I wasn’t able to do it on a regular basis, as I was a bit inconsistent and didn’t have enough of a backup plan. Also physically, I wasn’t strong enough at times, as my body would break down. The year I did my best in singles, 1999, I had to have shoulder surgery as I was playing a lot of singles and doubles matches, and it was tough to come back after that surgery. In 2001, I started having elbow problems. Focusing on doubles was just a decision I made. I was always doing better in doubles and the way I played singles, serving and volleying, was a good transition into playing doubles full time. It was a tough decision at the time, but I think it was a smart one. I was already close to 30 years old and it was time.

You’ve been an integral part of Canada’s Davis Cup and Olympic teams your entire professional career. What pride do you take in representing your country at the highest of levels?
I’ve always enjoyed playing for Canada. Some of my best wins have come in Davis Cup play, beating Guga. Edberg and Marcelo Rios in singles. With the Sydney Olympics, I beat Rafter, which was special. And then I’ve had some pretty good wins in Canada at the Canadian Open. It’s great representing your country, especially in Davis Cup, as you’re getting attention, a week of good coaching, so that always make you play your best, and there’s extra motivation playing for your country. Now, though it’s towards the end of my career, we have the best team we’ve had in a long time with Milos Raonic playing. He’s a player we’ve never had in Canadian tennis and in singles, he can pretty much win two matches against almost any country if we’re playing in the right conditions. Then if we have strong doubles, it gives us a chance to beat a lot of good teams, so it’s something I look forward to.

What shot in your repertoire has been most significant in your doubles wins?
It’s hard to say. I don’t think I’m the best at any one shot. I’ve always served pretty well but everyone is serving huge now, with guys being bigger and stronger. I don’t think it’s a big weapon any more but I still do it pretty well and I think my volleys have always been solid. There’s guys like Bob Bryan, Nenad Zimonjic, Michael Llodra who are all better servers… there’s guys like Bhupathi who are the best at returning and then a player like Leander Paes who is the best at volleying. The reason why I’ve done well is I do everything pretty well.

If you can’t pinpoint one defining shot, can you talk about which area of your game has evolved the most since playing your first doubles match?
I’ve gotten a lot better at understanding positioning, the angles you need and the shots in doubles you need to hit that are different than playing singles. Angling off the ball in doubles is key, especially when you’re playing two guys on the baseline that can really rip the ball hard at you, so you have to try to end the points as quickly as you can when at the net, needing to be creative. When you have those high balls or dipping shots, you need to be able to hit the drop volleys or angled volleys to get your opponents off the court. You learn this when you just play doubles… When singles was my priority and I was playing doubles, I was doing well in doubles because I played serve and volley in both, so I transitioned pretty well. But I became a much better doubles player when I started focusing on just doubles.

You’ve played with quite a few different guys, both long and short-term. How does changing partners affect your strategy and what has worked well in making a smooth transition between pairings?
Everyone I’ve played with has been good, so it’s not a huge transition. You feel like they’re doing their half of the work, so I was fortunate that all the guys I’ve played with have been Top 5 players, No. 1 in the world. Everyone has different game styles, but they’re all fairly easy transitions when the guys you’re playing with are as good as they are… I don’t feel as if I had to do anything extra. It’s more getting used to how they play and making the necessary changes. These guys are capable players and more often than not, they were playing just as well, if not better than I was.

Results wise, you’ve basically won everything there is to win, holding a career golden slam, titles at every Masters 1000 event, mixed doubles titles and year-end championships. What’s driving you to keep playing and how long do you see yourself continuing on tour?
My main focus is the Grand Slams. Obviously now Davis Cup is something I’m focusing on more but the majors are the most important thing to me. I still don’t have a great record in Grand Slam finals… it would be nice to get closer to .500 in that, and win a couple more if I can. I’ve come a long way – in the past, I may not have played my best tennis in finals but I think now I’ve gotten to the point where I’m mentally tough and can play my best tennis when I need to, so that’s something I look forward to if I get the opportunity. I enjoy competing still and I’m in a new partnership, so I’m trying to make the most of that. It’s a good challenge, too.

… so do you not have a set time on when you want to stop playing… you just want to keep going as long as it’s enjoyable?
Yeah, for sure. My daughter is getting older and I need to spend more time with her. I have to have more of a responsibility in her life. She’s at an age now where a lot of people can help her, but when she gets older, I want to be more involved and really be there for her. Hopefully we’ll have another child in the near future. You can’t play forever – even if you can, it would be selfish to keep playing, even if I was doing well, as I have to come to a point where there are other priorities in life. I’m looking through the end of next year, as it’s an Olympic year, and will reassess at the end of 2012.

Speaking of your daughter, you became a father in late 2008. What impact has this had on you and what measures have you taken to balance both your career and family life?
It’s a huge impact and a big change. It’s an amazing feeling being a father and having a cute daughter with a good personality. She’s funny, she’s fun to be with at this age (she’s 2 ½ ), and every day is a different experience. It’s a change traveling with a child as it’s not the easiest thing, but you get used to it. My wife is the MVP… she’s the one that does 95 per cent of the work. It’s a non-stop job, harder than any job I can imagine, so full credit to her and all other mothers on tour that have a huge responsibility of taking care of a child or children.

You have doubles wins against tennis icons like Becker, Edberg, Sampras and Federer to name a few. Where do these results rank on your list of achievements?
It’s always nice beating the best players in the world, saying you beat them, but it would be a different story if these guys were playing doubles full time. I think some of them would be the best players in doubles. If Federer and Nadal focused on doubles, those two would be the best in doubles. I still think the top doubles players would be some of the top players in the world, even if the singles guys played full time. Certain singles players would be in the top, Roger and Rafa for sure. You have to put things into perspective; when you do beat them, they’re not at their best skills. It’s not something where I’m going to go tell all my friends as it’s not their main focus.

The way doubles is played has progressed tremendously since you first started playing professionally. What’s enabled you to maintain your standing as an elite player for so long?
The game has become more competitive – guys are hitter the ball bigger and the level of tennis is higher year after year, and doubles is no exception. I think there are more great teams now than there were in the past and the level is higher. Day in and day out every match is a struggle and it comes down to one or two points, especially with no-ad scoring, so it’s definitely a challenge. For me, I’ve always had a good balance of power and touch. When I played singles, my struggle was with footwork, but when you’re playing doubles, that’s not really an issue. If I have to rally with someone cross court, I don’t really mind. I like the pace, I like that the balls are coming back harder. You obviously have to stay in great shape in keeping up with the younger guys too.

A majority of the well-known doubles specialists have been on tour a while. Are there any players/teams in the younger generation that can make a name for themselves and lead the circuit when guys like you, the Bryans and Bhupathi-Paes are finished playing?
There are so many good singles guys playing doubles… those are the kind of guys you’re going to see at the top. Like Jurgen Melzer. He’s Top 10 in both and if he ever wants to stop playing singles, he’d do well. Isner-Querrey are having great success when they do play, so there are a lot of teams that would do well if they took it seriously. You look at players like that to take over in a couple years.

If you could pick one match from your 800 doubles wins to be remembered for, which match would it be and why?
(Laughter). It’s always nice playing your best in a big match, but I can’t pick one. There are four that come to mind.

In 2000, winning the gold medal in Australia, beating the Woodies, perhaps the greatest team of all time, was big. I played a great match. People who follow sports watch the Olympics and back home, it was huge, not for tennis, but for sports in Canada, as we didn’t do well at those Olympics.

Some of the more recent wins, the two Wimbledon titles in 2008 and 2009. I played very well in both and it was huge because it’s the biggest tournament. 

The match with Knowles, winning Roland Garros in 2007 was special for us. We were having the problems with splitting up, but we came together and really put everything together in that one event. It was a tough match; we were down and we really turned it around. It was one of those grueling matches with maybe not the best tennis, but it was so satisfying to win a match like that. It is something I’ll never forget, and I think so for him too. The way we came together showed a lot of character.

So it’s hard to pinpoint one, but those have more special meaning than the others.

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