Nestor: Break, heat and best of 5 sets will suit younger players at US Open

WION Web Team
New Delhi, IndiaWritten By: Digvijay Singh DeoUpdated: Jun 08, 2020, 04:55 PM IST


Story highlights

Former Canadian tennis ace and a legend of the game with 12 Grand Slam Doubles titles, an Olympic Gold medal to his name, Daniel Nestor, in an exclusive interview with WION’s Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, spoke about life in lockdown, tennis calendar, merger between ATP and WTA, partnership with Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna, Bryan brothers, and much more…

Former Canadian tennis ace and a legend of the game with 12 Grand Slam Doubles titles, an Olympic Gold medal to his name, Daniel Nestor, in an exclusive interview with WION’s Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, spoke about life in lockdown, tennis calendar, merger between ATP and WTA, partnership with Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna, Bryan brothers, and much more…

Digvijay Singh Deo: Daniel Nestor,thank you for joining me, what have these last couple of months been like for you? Have you had a lot of restrictions to deal with?

Daniel Nestor: The restrictions here in Toronto haven't been quite as strict as the ones you see in India. There have been a few cases that have been reported, but now the situation is improving and things are slowly starting to open up. Hopefully we will continue to move in that direction and return to some sort of normalcy.

DSD: How have you been spending your time in these circumstances? Have you taken up a hobby or something?

Daniel Nestor: I have been trying to keep in shape, so I go for regular runs in the neighbourhood. Fortunately, we have some friends in our area so there is some amount of social interaction. Our dog also keeps us busy. Overall, our lifestyle has certainly changed in the last two months.

DSD: The number of coronavirus cases in Canada has risen to over 85,000 now, but importantly the death toll isn't that high in comparison to neighbours USA, what is it in your opinion that the health authorities have done well...

Daniel Nestor: We have been fortunate, but there has been a slight rise in cases after the relaxation of certain restrictions. It is too early right now to give a verdict on how Canada has handled the crisis, hopefully, we will be able to contain the virus to a considerable extent in the near future.

DSD: A lot of praise also coming for the Canadian government, for the economic support they have provided the citizens during the crisis.

Daniel Nestor: Yes, the government has provided some sort of stimulus to those who are in need. However, unemployment has increased  and a number of small businesses have suffered. Hopefully, those affected will be able to weather the storm and get their livelihoods back soon.

Daniel Nestor

DSD: You retired only a couple of years ago after a remarkably long career - 28 years, 91 titles, a ridiculous amount of travel. Are you happy to not have to think about all that anymore? Or do you miss it sometimes?

Daniel Nestor: During a crisis like this, I think I am fortunate to be with my family. Back when I was playing, I did enjoy the 'jet-setting' aspect of our profession. I appreciated the fact that we could travel the world while competing at the highest level. But other things, I did not enjoy as much, it was always difficult to say goodbye to the family and I was a bit of a nervous flyer as well. So I'm just grateful to be home right now. It hasn't been a huge adjustment for me during this lockdown period because I am a homebody. I'm glad I can spend some time with my kids, they have certainly enjoyed being at home and not going to school.

DSD: I mentioned the travel and globetrotting for a reason.we know that the tennis calendar for this season has been decimated by the virus pandemic...It's a massive loss for the sport, isn't it? From usually having tournaments every single week all over the world to none at all till at least august as things stand.

Daniel Nestor: Tennis is such a global sport, events take place all over the world during the season and that is precisely why I don't see the sport resuming anytime soon. With the prevailing circumstances and quarantine protocols, I don't see how international travel will be possible during the crisis. The NBA and NFL are in discussions to hold their seasons at just one venue, with all the teams staying in one city, but I don't see how that is going to be possible in tennis. I think the US Open organisers are also trying to figure out a solution for the event. New york city has been devastated by the crisis, so the tournament could be held at the national tennis centre in Orlando. It would be great for the game of tennis to have a major tournament, but I understand that there are a lot of other factors that need to be considered.

DSD: The Tours remain suspended, but we're beginning to get a sense of what tennis might look like as we continue to deal with the pandemic.there have been some exhibition events in Europe, in the US and a big one planned in Canada next week as well featuring Bianca Andreescu among others. This is with all social distancing rules in place. I'm curious to know if you have seen any of them and what did you make of it - both as a former pro and as a fan watching the sport you love.

Daniel Nestor: From a player's perspective, it is definitely going to be strange playing in an empty stadium. Even practising social distancing at the venue and locker rooms is going to be hard, given the number of people present at a venue during a tournament. The fans at home will still be able to enjoy the game on tv, so at least they will get to see some action. Obviously the atmosphere will not be the same in an empty stadium, but that I think is the new norm for every sport. Watching the German Bundesliga has been a strange experience because we are not used to watching athletes compete without spectators. Hopefully, this will change soon and sport as we know it will return.

DSD: Roger Federer said earlier this week that he is really not keen on playing events if at least one-third to half of the stadium is not full. Players like Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have said that they are often driven by the atmosphere that is created at the arenas, we know that tennis stars play training matches against each other quite often - but would it be a huge difference to have to do it in a tournament setting?

Daniel Nestor: I feel these are compromises that the sport will have to make. I know Leander Paes feeds off the crowd and he does like to mix things up during a match. He might have to get under the skin of his opponent to get motivated. I'm sure Leander, being a veteran, will find a way to keep himself going. Every sport has to adapt. Players have different approaches to the game and this change is probably going to affect some more so than others. I think the top players will make the necessary changes and find a way to maintain their levels, adaptability is the key.

Daniel Nestor

DSD: How do you think this break in tennis will impact the sport once it much practice do you think the players will need before returning for a proper tournament - let us say the French Open which is on the cards in September-October... And especially the men, who have to play best-of-five sets...

Daniel Nestor: It's hard to imagine that a grand slam - the US Open-  will be the first tournament after the coronavirus break. If that is the case then the scoring format would have to be modified. It is almost cruel to expect men's players to play the best of a five-set match without some preparation. There is the heat factor as well, temperatures are going to be soaring in new york city and even in Orlando, which is the alternative venue. Ideally, there should be a couple of tournaments before the US Open, but if it is the first tournament to be held after the break, then scoring changes will have to be made. I think there should an at least a month's notice for the players on the dates of these tournaments. I feel it is inevitable that there will be a lot of injuries when tennis resumes, but we have to try and limit that as much as possible.

DSD: Who do you expect to be able to handle this break better and hit the ground running? Is it the younger stars who are probably fitter and raring to go all the time - or the seasoned pros who have a lot of experience to fall back on and presumably a better understanding of their own bodies...

Daniel Nestor: You would expect the younger guys to be better equipped, but I'm not sure if that will be the case. Tennis has become more physically demanding over the years and the fitness levels of players have improved, you would hence expect the younger and fitter athletes to dominate the sport, but that obviously hasn't happened. I think the experienced players will be better prepared mentally, while the younger players will be in better physical shape, so it's going to be very interesting to see what happens when the sport resumes. If the US Open is the first tournament to be held and it is the best of a five-sets affair, then I believe the youngsters will have an edge. It is going to be very challenging to play long matches in those boiling conditions.

DSD: And just to follow up from that - there has been a lot of discussion about what this gap might mean for greats like Serena Williams or Roger Federer - who as we know are not getting any younger. Do you think an added year makes it tougher for them to win a slam title again - or the opposite - that they might actually benefit from a long period of rest and come back hungry and full of energy once tennis resumes.

Daniel Nestor: I'm not really sure how it is going to affect their respective careers, but it is definitely going to be a major challenge for them once things get up and running. I think both of them will find it tough at the US Open if it is the first tournament after the hiatus. Players, especially the older ones, need a few tournaments under their belt before the majors.

Daniel Nestor

DSD: Now, the big-three are all gunning for that grand slam titles record. Novak Djokovic, who just turned 33 recently, threw down the gauntlet this week - saying that he was confident that he would pass Federer and also break the record for the longest number 1 streak in singles history... With any other player, you might think - wait a minute, that's a big, bold prediction, but with how dominant Djokovic has shown he can be - it is hard to bet against him, isn't it?

Daniel Nestor: It is incredible what he's accomplished over the last decade. His record against Nadal and Federer is also remarkable. Djokovic is also the youngest and fittest of the big three, which will work to his advantage. Nadal used to be incredibly fit, but his knees have given him some problems recently. So you can't really doubt Djokovic's claims here.  A lot also depends on Nadal's health, if he is able to keep fit then he could be able to win a couple of more french open titles. The Wimbledon cancellation was a huge setback for Federer, he is coming close to the age of 40 and there will come a time when he will need to make a decision on his career. I think it will take time for Djokovic to find the same level of form that he was showing earlier in the year, so it will be a challenge for him once the tour resumes.

DSD: We are still waiting for word on whether the US Open will go ahead. There are many reasons why we hope that tournament goes ahead - among them is because it is to be a farewell for a doubles team that you fought many memorable battles with over your career - the Bryan brothers. A career like theirs deserves that sort of home slam farewell, doesn't it?

Daniel Nestor: Yes, it would definitely be a fitting farewell for them both. I won't be surprised if they come back for the tournament next year if this year's event is cancelled. I'm not sure if they will have enough fuel in the tank to come back, but there is no doubt that the Bryan brothers have had amazing careers and they deserve a home slam farewell.

DSD: What was your relationship like with the Bryans and some of the other top men's teams of your playing time...Were you a competitive person, keeping your distance from rival players in a sense - a bit like Maria Sharapova - or was it a case of everyone being mates in the locker room?

Daniel Nestor: When I was younger, I definitely saw them more as rivals and opponents. But as I became a more experienced player, I learned to appreciate all aspects of the sport, including my rivals. They have my respect and my relationship with them has been a positive one. I had a lot of battles against them in my career, 59 to be exact. They are up 30-29, so they'll always have that edge over me. Like the Bryan brothers, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi have also been great champions of the sport. It'll be great to see Leander have one more crack at a major tournament.

DSD: You are of course very well known to Indian audiences as well - having partnered both Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna over your career and almost Mahesh Bhupathi as well at one point. Leander had announced this season as his last on the Tour...Are you surprised that he's managed to outdo even you in terms of longevity?

Daniel Nestor: Leander is very athletic and he's managed to outlast me. I was slowing down quite a bit towards the end of my career and that is bound to happen with age, so it's incredible to see him still playing. He's such a great champion and charismatic figure for the sport. He has always been a very entertaining player to watch and the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 will be a fitting end to his career. Even though we didn't play together very long, I thoroughly enjoyed my partnership with him. We should have probably teamed up earlier in our careers. Similarly, I loved playing with Rohan Bopanna, he's a very dynamic player and great shot-maker. Unfortunately, Mahesh and I were both left-sided specialists, so my partnership with him didn't work out, but he's obviously a great champion. I can see a bunch of talented players coming up in India and the sport has a bright future in the country.

DSD: Another topic I want to pick your brains on is this suggestion of a merger between the ATP and WTA tours. Many players have welcomed the idea, some notably haven' is a very lucrative, quite global sport already as things stand - would such a merger down the road be beneficial to both sets of players?

Daniel Nestor: I think there is talk of a merger between the WTA and the ATP tours, which will be great for the cities that will host the events, but that means that a lot of venues on the tour will lose out on tournaments. It is also going to be very difficult for the players on the Challenger Tour because those events will lose funding in terms of sponsorship and revenue. It is undoubtedly going to be a very challenging time for tennis, but it is going to be the same for everyone else in the world. We have to look at things in perspective. I think there are people who are suffering more in the world than professional athletes right now. I understand that players are desperate to get back out there, but they will still have the opportunity to compete at some point and the best will rise to the top, as they always have. I think the need of the hour is patience and perseverance.

Daniel Nestor

DSD: One final question Daniel - the other day I saw all the top Canadian players get together for a group chat. Pospisil, Raonic, Shapovalov, Auger-Aliasime and the women too - Andreescu, Gabriella Dabrowski. You must be absolutely delighted with the depth of talent coming out of your country right now...

Daniel Nestor: Yes, it is definitely a great period for tennis in Canada. Who would have ever thought that we would be such a strong tennis nation, in both men's and women's events? I think Milos Raonic was a catalyst, his consistent singles performances on the ATP circuit instilled a sense of belief in youngsters across the country. Before Raonic, we never really had a top 20 or 30 player perform at that level. He and Vasek Pospisil kind of led the way for the younger generation. The younger crop of players, Shapovalov, Auger Aliassime and Andreescu have shown great promise and hopefully, they will continue to grow as professionals. They also have 10-15 years ahead of them and the sky is the limit.

The Canadian Tennis Federation also played a great role in their development .they hired international coaches, upgraded the facilities and provided players with whatever support they needed. However the federation is going through challenging times at the moment, they had to let some people go because of the coronavirus financial crisis and the rogers cup is not going to be held this year, so revenue generation might be a problem. Let's hope this crisis is overcome soon and then we can look ahead to a bright future.