For over 20 years, Daniel Nestor was the only name in Canadian tennis. The doubles legend carried the sport in the country until only a few years ago, when years of hard work and lots of money being shovelled into development finally paid off in the form of bankable stars like Milos Raonic, Genie Bouchard and Vasek Pospisil.
Five years after Raonic’s breakout, Raonic is an established top-ten player and major finalist, while Bouchard, despite some bad form of late, is a big name on the women’s tour. Canada is the top up-and-coming nation in tennis, led by a team of juniors who stole the show this year at the majors, highlighted by title runs at Wimbledon and the US Open by Denis Shapovalov and Félix Auger-Aliassime.
Despite not being able to play in this weekend's Davis Cup playoff due to an injury, Nestor made the trip with the team to Halifax, where he spoke about the state of the sport in Canada and how it has been expanding.
Expansion key to success
In an interview with CBC, Nestor spoke about how the game is being built in Canada quite literally. Nestor explained that "the popularity of the game's never been as high and having the great centres across the country … that definitely adds to that." Halifax, the city hosting this weekend’s Davis Cup tie, is set to have a state-of-the-art tennis centre built over the next couple of years.
Speaking about the new centre, Nestor said, “I actually saw the plans last night and the drawings look amazing. I think if it all goes through as planned, it'll be the biggest training centre that we have in the country for top players and for young players. I think that's amazing, to spread it across our big country.” Halifax is the 14th largest city in Canada, with a population around 390 000 people.
While Nestor was at his peak, winning majors and spending time at number one on the doubles tour, Canada struggled with development. The expansion of the National Tennis Centre in Montreal and hiring of experienced coaches led to a growth of the sport and improved development. The first fruits of the new program arrived in 2011 when Raonic burst onto the ATP World Tour.
The program has continued to expand and Canada now has a large group of up-and-coming juniors on the ITF tour, including three boys in the top 10 in the rankings (Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov and Benjamin Sigouin) and one girl in the top 10 (Bianca Andreescu, who reached the semifinals of the US Open). While Nestor, 44, may not have many years left of the ATP World Tour, he has overseen the growth of the sport and, if he ever retires, will be leaving it in a much better state than how he found it.