Daniel Nestor will be honoured with a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in Toronto on Oct. 1. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Pretty much the only person who might not think Daniel Nestor deserves to be on Canada’s Walk of Fame is the man himself. Nestor joins astronaut Dr. Roberta Bondar, music icon Burton Cummings, actress Sandra Oh, funny man Russell Peters, actor Ryan Reynolds (I loved Van Wilder) and literary great Mordecai Richler as this year’s honoured inductees. All incredibly gifted Canadians in their respective disciplines, Nestor is the only one who can add the popular acronym “GOAT” — Greatest Of All Time. There is no denying that the Yugoslavian-born yet immensely proud Canadian is the most successful tennis player this country has ever produced.
Just don’t ask Nestor.
I spent five great years working with “Chief”. After winning Wimbledon in 2008, I picked him up in my beat-up Saturn to take him on a Toronto media tour and, despite becoming just the fourth man in the Open Era to complete the career Golden Slam, ie. all four Grand Slam title and an Olympic gold medal, he honestly couldn’t understand why all the hype. Nestor was just going about his business — collecting trophies (73 and counting) and prize money (nearly $10 million in career earnings) and moving onto the next tournament.
It’s just what he does.
Nestor has never been one to enjoy the attention. After winning five ATP Masters 1000 events and his second straight Wimbledon crown in 2009, he asked me why we needed to do a media event. “It’s not like it’s hockey,” he said. “Nobody really cares.”
I beg to differ.
At Tennis Canada, we often spoke of the Mike Weir factor and our readiness for that defining moment, for the victory the country stops and celebrates. But we sometimes overlooked that we had benefitted from roughly 20 years of those moments, thanks to the consistent, world-class achievements of Daniel Nestor.
Yes, the infrastructure, programs and partnerships have flourished because of the strong leadership at the national sport federation. But the real reason why Canadian tennis has experienced tremendous growth in participation is partly related to the success enjoyed by Nestor, considered one of the greatest doubles players in the history of the sport.
Singles tennis may be sexier. But most of the 4.5 million Canadians who pick up a racquet do so with a partner.
Some argue that Carling Bassett-Seguso is deserving of Canada’s top tennis honour — she reached the Top 10 in women’s singles, after all — but Bassett-Seguso managed just three wins on tour. She and other Canadians — be it Grant Connell, Helen Kelesi, Lorne Main, Glenn Michibata, Andrew Sznajder, even Milos Raonic — will be remembered as terrific tennis talents.
But none compare to Nestor.
Plus, he shows no sign of slowing down. Nestor has won a Grand Slam doubles title in each of the past five year, including his third French Open this spring.
He has won an astonishing 73 ATP tournaments with six different partners, seven of them Grand Slams in men’s doubles and two more Slams in mixed doubles. Oh, and lest we forget, he teamed with Sebastian Lareau to win Olympic gold in 2000.
What people often forget is that Nestor was a solid singles player, too, and ranked as high as No. 58 until forced to undergo shoulder surgery. He missed the first four months of the 2000 season before returning to win what remains Canada’s lone Olympic medal in tennis.
In addition to his undeniable success on the ATP Tour is Nestor’s unwavering dedication to the national program. He has proudly worn Canadian colours for two decades.
At the age of 19, Nestor stepped on court and stunned world No. 1 Stefan Edberg of Sweden in a five-set Davis Cup debut that will never be forgotten — one of those defining moments in Canadian tennis. Now 39, Nestor remains steadfast in his commitment to Tennis Canada, whether it be a zonal relegation tie in Peru on the heels of a Grand Slam or partnering with budding star Vasek Pospisil to help propel Canada into the upcoming World Group playoff.
Nestor has always been there. He holds the national record for most Davis Cup ties (40), most wins (44), most doubles wins (29), most years played (20) and now oldest player (39). He also doubles as a coach, helping long-time captain Martin Laurendeau, and acts as a a mentor to Raonic, who was just eight months two days old when Nestor turned pro in July of 1992.
People are finally starting to come around and celebrate Nestor’s accomplishments. It is just too bad that it has taken this long. Last year, he received the Order of Canada for his exemplary athletic achievements and commendable charity work. This year, he is being enshrined on the Walk of Fame in Toronto, where he spent much of his youth.
Yet Nestor is still more recognizable across the pond than in his own backyard. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some of sport’s greatest athletes and I’ve never met someone more uncomfortable with celebrity than Daniel Nestor. How very Canadian.
Take a bow, “Chief”.