ACES: Davis Cup 2018

Photos by Max Gao

Fall 2018

After a storied 27-year professional career, Daniel Nestor finally bid farewell to the world of professional tennis over the weekend in front of his home fans at the Coca-Coca Coliseum in Toronto.

Falling in four sets with Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil to the Netherlands’ Matwe Middelkoop and Jean-Julien Rojer, the 46-year-old finally turned the page on his legendary career, putting an end to a three-decade professional journey that saw him win an astounding 12 Grand Slam titles, 91 ATP doubles titles and spend 108 weeks at the top of the men’s doubles rankings.

After a difficult 2017 season, Nestor revealed in an exclusive interview with Sportsnet’s Arash Madani last year that 2018 would be his last season on the professional tour, which made every tournament he played feel more like a farewell tour than a competitive one.

In the final months of his career, Nestor received wild cards into big events he had won in the past, including the highly-anticipated Rogers Cup in Toronto, and was treated to two ceremonies organized by Tennis Canada that were not only made to honour his illustrious career, but also to induct him into the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame. Given his résumé, the board of this Hall of Fame unanimously decided to waive the three-year retirement rule for Nestor, thereby making him eligible to be inducted after his last match at the Davis Cup World Group play-off tie in Toronto this past weekend.

From the Rogers Cup to the Western & Southern Open to the Davis Cup tie in downtown Toronto—and everywhere in between—OTA writer and photographer Max Gao followed Nestor from event to event in the final weeks of his career as he bid an emotional farewell to countless fans who travelled from all over the world to watch him compete one last time.

On the Eve of the 2018 Rogers Cup presented by National Bank, local tennis fans had a unique opportunity to attend The Game. Set. Match. Daniel Nestor presented by Sandeep Lal and Tennis Fans like you gala fundraising event held downtown at the iconic Roy Thomson Hall, where Nestor got roasted by some of his closest friends on tour before being inducted into the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame.

Among those in attendance for the roast were now-14-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, Thornhill’s Milos Raonic, Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil and American John Isner.

An emotional Daniel Nestor addresses the crowd during his Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame induction. In a touching address, Nestor read most of his speech, stopping at times to regain his composure as he spoke about his career in great detail, as well as the many family and friends who have been a part of his incredible journey, from his parents, Ray and Anna, to his wife, Natasha.

“I think something’s wrong with me because I felt more comfortable being roasted than people saying nice things about me,” Nestor joked at the start of his speech, where he was already beginning to get emotional. After thanking numerous people towards the end of his speech, Nestor ended the night by thanking his wife, Natasha, “who deserves a gold medal for putting up with me. I really appreciate her. She's a great mom and a great wife and all of the above.”

Daniel Nestor poses for pictures with his wife, Natasha, and two daughters, Tiana and Bianca after his induction into the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame.

A few days after the roast, Nestor teamed up with good friend and compatriot Vasek Pospisil to play his 30th and final Rogers Cup in Toronto. After managing to edge out the opening set by the skin of their teeth against Feliciano and Marc Lopez of Spain, the Canadians just couldn’t seem to sustain a high enough level to oust the Spaniards, falling in three tough sets, 6-7(6), 6-2, 10-6.

Nestor and Pospisil pose for a picture after their final match as a team at this year’s Rogers Cup. As a team, they have made some incredible memories together, winning two epic five-set matches during Canada’s marvellous run to the Davis Cup semifinals in 2013, as well as a fourth-place finish at the Rio Olympics in 2016. The two would team up again in Nestor’s final match at Canada’s Davis Cup play-off tie this past weekend in Toronto.

A week after bidding farewell to the Rogers Cup, Nestor received a wild card into the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati—an event he had won twice in the past—with American Mackenzie McDonald.

Daniel Nestor in action during his first-round doubles match with Mackenzie against Americans Nicolas Monroe and Ryan Harrison McDonald at the 2018 Western & Southern Open. In their first match as a team, the Canadian-American team competed very well, recovering after dropping the first set in a tiebreak by taking the second set, 7-5.

With the match on their racquet, Nestor and McDonald just couldn’t find a way to close it out, falling 10-8 in the match tiebreak. Despite the heartbreaking loss, the two seemed to enjoy themselves, chatting on the court for quite a while after the match.

After receiving a wild card into the U.S. Open with American Bradley Klahn, a partnership that started and ended with a loss in the first round, Nestor returned to Toronto to prepare for Canada’s Davis Cup tie with the Netherlands. As expected, he was selected by new Davis Cup captain Frank Dancevic to play doubles with Pospisil.

Daniel Nestor and Milos Raonic chat while one of their Canadian teammates answers a question during their pre-event press conference.

Daniel Nestor in action during his 53rd and final Davis Cup tie. After two impressive singles victories from Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov on Friday night, the 46-year-old was hoping to close out the tie with partner Vasek Pospisil, which was the fairy-tale ending he had always hoped for. Coming into his final professional match, the 46-year-old was hoping to improve to 48-27 record overall in a competition he has played almost every year since 1992.

Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil strategize in between service points during their Davis Cup World Group play-off match against Matwe Middelkoop and Jean-Julien Rojer of the Netherlands. The Canadians would start extremely well, breaking to start the match and sustaining that advantage all the way through to take the first set, 6-4.

Proud to be Canadian: Having worn the Maple Leaf so proudly on his back for nearly three decades on the professional tour, Nestor had one last chance to represent Canada on home soil in one of the biggest competitions in all of tennis—the send-off he later said he had always asked and wished for.

Despite taking the first set, 6-4, Nestor and Pospisil let their nerves get the better of them, dropping a break in each of the next three sets and never being able to recover, falling to Middelkoop/Rojer in four tough sets. Before shaking hands with their opponents, Pospisil could be seen speaking with Nestor, most likely asking to see how he was doing as the reality of having played his last match began to really sink in.

Nestor and Pospisil shake hands with Rojer and Griekspoor after the match. In a very nice moment at the net, both Dutchmen took their time to congratulate Nestor on an absolutely extraordinary career. Rojer was equally complimentary in press, telling the media, “Daniel, an unbelievable career. People just say that, but it’s really unbelievable. His résumé is the longest on the court, and that comes with a lot of work, so you have to respect that. We have a lot of respect for him and what he’s been able to accomplish. In a way, we were happy we were his last match. He’s a close friend of ours."

Passing the torch: Daniel Nestor greets young teammates Denis Shapovalov and Félix Auger-Aliassime after playing his final professional match. With Nestor’s departure from the Davis Cup team, these two, along with Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil, will now complete the team if they all choose to play this competition going forward.

Daniel Nestor waves to the crowd while receiving a well-deserved standing ovation. Ever gracious in victory, the Dutch team also stayed after the match to show their admiration and give Nestor the standing ovation he so richly deserved.

Despite never having been a person who enjoyed being the centre of attention, Nestor took a moment after his final match to stand alone on the court and soak up the applause of everyone inside Coca-Cola Coliseum, who shouted things like, “We love you, Daniel!” “Let’s go, Nestor!”

Bowing down to the “Chief”: While Nestor was soaking up the applause of the crowd, his teammates Denis Shapovalov and Félix Auger-Aliassime and captain Frank Dancevic could be seen bowing down to the man they consider the “Chief” of their team in a nice, light-hearted moment.

A happy Daniel Nestor prepares for his final post-match on-court interview with Sportsnet’s Arash Madani.

An emotional Daniel Nestor speaks with Sportsnet’s Arash Madani after the match. When asked about what it means to play in Toronto, a city where it all started for him, Nestor got emotional before saying, “I was excited when it was announced we were playing in Toronto. It was a dream come true to finish here, as I said. It’s been amazing playing here for so many years.”

After completing the planned part of the interview with Madani, Nestor took the microphone and began to address the crowd. “Thanks to my team—amazing team. This is what I’m going to miss—the comradery in the locker room. I love you guys, and I love you fans. I love this city. I’m gonna miss this,” signed off the 12-time Grand Slam champion and former world number one.

Nestor and Pospisil share a warm embrace after Nestor’s final address to the fans. With Raonic looking on in the background, it would be wrong to not reflect on and acknowledge the kind of influence that the 46-year-old had on the careers of these two amazing players, and will undoubtedly continue to have even in retirement.

Less than 24 hours after playing his last match, Nestor was honoured in a special ceremony before the first singles match of the last day of the Davis Cup tie, where he was officially inducted into the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame.

Daniel Nestor smiles during the ceremony while listening to Arash Madani’s opening speech, which lightheartedly poked fun at his age and the timing of his retirement.

Nestor and Canadian Davis Cup captain Frank Dancevic listen to Robert Bettauer, the representative from the board that oversees the Canadian Tennis Hall of Fame who unanimously decided to waive the three-year retirement rule to induct Nestor at the end of his career.

Daniel Nestor receives his commemorative plaque from Robert Bettauer after his induction.

A quick rundown of Nestor’s accomplishments during his illustrious 27-year career: 12 Grand Slam doubles titles; 91 ATP doubles titles (with 11 different partners); 108 weeks at World No. 1; Olympic gold medallist at Sydney 2000; first doubles player in ATP history to reach 1000 wins; two-time ITF Doubles World Champion; 10-time winner of Tennis Canada’s Male Player of the Year award.

Congratulations on an incredible career, Daniel. Thank you for all that you have done not only for tennis in Canada, but also for tennis around the world. Enjoy your time with your beautiful family!