Wimbledon: Ageless Nestor not done with Wimbledon just yet

Friday, July 5, 2013

A competitor on the famed grass since ‘94, veteran leftie still alive in mixed this year.

Nineteen trips to the All England Club for this annual celebration of tennis and Daniel Nestor isn’t finished yet.

It doesn’t matter to the ageless one that 2013, so far, has been one rather dry season, at least by the Canadian great’s standards.

“I’m sure people who don’t watch me play or know what’s going on are wondering, ‘Why is he still playing when the results aren’t there?’ They’re probably thinking I’ve slowed down, which is a reasonable thought. I am 40,” Nestor mused on Thursday.

“But I’m not planning on this being my last Wimbledon. Unless I get injured. I want to play again.”

This is, amazingly, also Nestor’s 75th Grand Slam tournament, easily the most for any Canadian ever, just as he is the most decorated Davis Cup player in his country’s history.

Twelve years after his last singles victory at Wimbledon – against Milos Raonic’s former coach Galo Blanco, of all people – Nestor is still competitive on the grass, although his switch in doubles partners from Max Mirnyi, first to Mahesh Bhupathi and then to Robert Lindstedt in mid-April, hasn’t turned out particularly well.

He and Lindstedt were knocked out in the quarter-finals here, but Nestor remains alive.

With a partner, France’s Katrina Mladenovic, exactly half his age, Nestor has reached the mixed doubles semifinals, facing his old doubles partner Nenad Zimonjic on Friday.

Once Nestor all but sneered at the mixed game, clearly the least coveted of the Grand Slam titles, but now he has found encouragement in his results, both in reaching the French Open final with Mladenovic and now with the duo’s success here.

“I’m satisfied with how I’m playing. I’ve figured out a few things what I’ve been doing wrong, on serve and moving forward,” said Nestor, who has two Australian Open mixed titles to go with 80 career titles in men’s doubles. “(Mladenovic) has great positive energy. She’s young and kind of fearless. I think in a few years I’ll be telling people I played with this girl because I think she’s going to be a top singles player.”

Nestor’s form, of course, matters to Canadian tennis quite a bit these days as the country heads towards what would have once been unimaginable, a historic semifinal collision in Davis Cup competition against Serbia in September.

Here at Wimbledon, the all-Canadian tandem of Vasek Pospisil and Jesse Levine played some good tennis and might be the country’s doubles squad of the future.

For now, however, Nestor and Pospisil are still the go-to tandem, and the only way one can even imagine a victory against Novak Djokovic and the Serbs in Belgrade would be to take the doubles.

“It’s a very tough match for us and we’re not the favourites by any means,” said Nestor. “It’s a huge opportunity, obviously, and we have to make the most of it because we don’t know when we’ll be back in the same situation again.”

They’ll play on indoor clay in Belgrade, which is also Nestor’s place of birth, although he downplays his attachment to his homeland.

“I don’t have many ties to (Serbia). I’m not like one of those people, like a lot of Serbian-Canadians, who maintain their heritage and that’s all they talk about, think about. I’m not like that. I’m Canadian,” he said. “I respect the fact that I’m Serbian (born) but I don’t speak Serbian. I’m not paying attention to what’s going on there.

“There’s a lot of Serbian people around the world, and you see it on Facebook, that’s all they’re thinking about, when’s the next Serbian event. People who have never been to Serbia and that’s all they talk about. There’s hatred towards Croatians and they never had anything to do with the war or whatever. I don’t get that when I’m in Serbia. I get that when I’m in Canada or Australia.”

For the next two months, Nestor’s focus will be on replicating the success with Lindstedt that he once enjoyed with Mirnyi, Zimonjic and Mark Knowles.

Lindstedt, a six-foot-four Swede with a booming serve, switched from the ad court to the deuce side to play with Nestor, and at times it’s seemed as though neither player knows which side of the court they’re supposed to be on.

Nestor regrets splitting with Mirnyi, who initially planned not to play a full schedule this year, and seems uncertain about whether he and Lindstedt can find the necessary chemistry.

“I think we’re going in the right direction and we need to build on it,” he said. “If we start going backwards again, well, I don’t know. Might have to start looking around again.”

For now, it’s the mixed game where Nestor is finding success, which probably isn’t his preferred script.

Then again, if this Wimbledon gathering that has seen so many stars sent packing early proves anything, it’s that winning of any kind is never, ever to be taken for granted.

Toronto Star - Damian Cox, Sports Reporter

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