Nestor remains on top of tennis world as big 4-0 approaches

Canada's Vasek Pospisil (L) and Daniel Nestor celebrate after winning their men's doubles tennis...

Canada's Vasek Pospisil (L) and Daniel Nestor celebrate after winning their men's doubles tennis match against Romania's Horia Tecau and Adrian Ungur at the All England Lawn Tennis Club during the London 2012 Olympics Games last month. (REUTERS)

DAVE POLLARD, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:44 PM ET

Daniel Nestor is a sports anomaly.

Really, there's no other way to effectively describe him. Calling him a freak of nature could be construed as disrespectful, maybe even nasty, even though others have worn that tag with the same chest-out pride that Superman wore his cape.

So we'll stick with anomaly, which one dictionary partially defines as a deviation from the common rule.

Yep, that's Daniel Nestor alright.

What he'd done at a time when his career should be winding down is just not, well, normal. So, yes, clearly, he's a deviation from the common rule.

As he inches towards his 40th birthday on Sept. 4, Nestor is still at the top of his game, one-half -- and some would suggest the better half -- of the world's No. 1 ranked men's doubles team.

The best in the world ... and then some.

"Daniel Nestor is a legend," American Bob Bryan, who along with his brother Mike has had a storied rivalry with Nestor for more than a decade, said during the Rogers Cup earlier this month. "He's shown us all that it's possible to play until you're 40. He is an incredible athlete. He's still playing like he's 20 years old. That serve he has is timeless. That serve will probably carry him until he's 50.

"He's given us a lot of bitter defeats and we've clipped him in a couple of big ones as well. There is a lot of mutual respect between us and him."

For some athletes, 30 candles on the birthday cake signifies the start of a downward spiral towards inevitable retirement. So it's natural in his unnatural way, of course, that Nestor, against all the odds, had the best decade of his career in his 30s and hasn't showed any signs of slowing down even though he'll celebrate the big 4-0 during the second week of the U.S. Open.

Heading into the final Grand Slam of the year, Nestor and Max Mirnyi, his Belarusian partner, are the top seeds and one of the favourites to win the doubles championship. Not bad for the old man on the ATP Tour, huh?

Need more proof that the Belgrade-born, Toronto-raised star has somehow defied the aging process? Chew on this.

Nestor and Mirnyi, who's nearly five years his junior, have already won four ATP tournaments, including the French Open for a fourth time, this year. They were the first team to qualify for the ATP's World Tour Final Nov. 5-12 in London, something they accomplished by making it to the third round of the Rogers Cup.

A U.S. Open win in September would be the second of Nestor's career and his ninth Grand Slam championship, all of which came after his 29th birthday. All told, Nestor has won 79 tournaments, fashioned a match record of 870-332 (yes, 870) and banked more than $10 million in winnings.

In the past two years, Nestor has also been appointed to the Order of Canada and given a star on Canada's Walk of Fame, something that doesn't happen to one-hit wonders.

A legend, indeed, but one with a healthy dose of humble.

"I think people respect me for playing through ups and downs, sticking at it and hopefully for being a down-to-earth kind of guy," Nestor told QMI Agency. "But if I was a tennis fan, I'd probably be sick and tired of watching me play. I'd be happy to have people like Milos (Raonic) and Vasek (Pospisil) coming up.

"Right now I'm still enjoying it so I can¹t put an end to it, or a stop date. Right now we're still doing well, we're ranked No. 1. I'll go year by year and see how it goes.

"It's all about learning. That's one reason why I've played as long as I have, I enjoy learning. I'm still learning and getting better. With Max, the last year we've been quite consistent and

that's made it more fun. I really enjoy playing with Max, he's the most easy-going of my partners so that's made it really fun."

Even if the fun -- and his career -- ended right now, Nestor has done enough to be considered one of the game's greats in doubles. A strong case can be made that he is the best tennis player this country has ever produced.

You'd get no argument from Canadian Tennis Hall of Famer Grant Connell, who met Nestor when he was 17 and later captained him in the Davis Cup in 2003.

"In his prime, and even when I was Davis Cup captain, he was really the captain," said Connell, now a Vancouver-based realtor with Sotheby's International. "I used to say I handed out bananas and water on the bench. It was Nestor's team. People really respected him. I have nothing but respect for Nestor and what he's done. It's an accomplishment in itself to be able to do what he's doing. He's a doubles legend."

There's that "legend" word again. Seems to be commonplace when talk turns to Nestor.

But, quite frankly, Daniel Nestor might be the most anonymous sports legend in Canada, now or at any other time. He certainly doesn't have the profile of, say, Raonic, who's broken into the top 20 this year.

Maybe it's a function of playing doubles, which Connell jokingly referred to as "the red-headed stepchild" of tennis. Or maybe it's simply that Nestor doesn't seek the spotlight. But he's quite comfortable, thank you very much, with how things have worked out.

"I'm not upset or anything," he said. "I've had some nice awards, the Walk of Fame and Order of Canada, so by no means do I feel like things have gone unnoticed. I'm not one that likes the attention anyway. I just go about my thing and try to be the best I can be. That's enough.

"Doubles takes a back seat; tennis even takes a back seat, a little bit. That's how it's been the last 20 years, I understand that."

A win in Flushing Meadows, though, will yank away Nestor's cloak of invisibility, at least temporarily. Winning a Grand Slam, even in doubles, tends to get you noticed even by a Canadian media that largely ignores the sport.

But there's no ignoring Nestor's achievements. Tough to do when everyone, it seems, is calling him a legend.

Even if he is, really, a freak. In the good way.


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