NEW YORK – The timing couldn’t be much worse for Canadian doubles icon Daniel Nestor’s recurring calf injury show its unwelcome self.
Not only did the 43-year-old have to retire after just four games of his rain-delayed first-round men’s doubles match with Davis Cup partner Vasek Pospisil Thursday at the US Open, but his participation in Canada’s World Group playoff tie in Halifax in two weeks has to be in question.
Nestor, who turns 44 Sunday, was practicing in Florida last week to help adjust to the heat and humidity he knew awaited him in New York, when he felt a bit of a pull in his left calf.
“I didn’t think that much of it, kept playing through it the last few days. Saw a doctor initially when I got on site. They didn’t see much on the scan. And then, kept playing through it. Went to the hospital because there was still pain. Saw a specialist and he saw a little bit of a tear. He treated it, but I knew going in there’s a chance to reinjure it and make it worse. And that’s what happened,” Nestor said.
“When I went into the match I could serve pretty much pain-free. I knew I couldn’t move that well. But the first break point we had the guy caught me by surprise with a bigger second serve. I lunged for it, and I felt it go again,” he said.
Nestor and Pospisil did break in that game on a double fault. But as Nestor tried to serve the next game and consolidate the break, it was pretty clear he was not going to last long. He was serving half-speed and barely hobbling a few steps towards the net.
Once he lost his serve, Nestor called for the trainer. But it really was a formality. After a long wait and a rather brief discussion Nestor stood up and went over to shake the hands of Tommy Paul and his partner Taylor Fritz, whose combined ages (37) don’t even come close to his own.
Fritz was telling someone after the match that he knew something was up when he found himself able to return Nestor’s lefty delivery – something that tied him in double knots when he and another American teen, Reilly Opelka, played Nestor and Edouard Roger-Vasselin at the ATP Tour event in Washington, D.C. about six weeks ago.
Nestor has had this injury before; generally it has taken 10-14 days to get it better. But he’s not getting any younger – immimently – and that’s about as much time as he has before Canada faces Chile in Halifax Sept. 16-18.
He said the tie was a “possibility”, through he admitted it definitely wasn’t a certainty.
This first round should have been a cupcake for the accomplished Canadians, whose doubles skills figured to handle the inexperienced Americans pretty handily.
Meanwhile, Ivan Dodig and Marcelo, the No. 2 seeds and the highest-ranked team in their half of the draw, went out in the first round as did another tough team in their half, No. 11 seeds Roger-Vasselin and Julien Benneteau of France.
“It’s a big disappointment. We’ve been playing well. I feel like I’ve been playing well. Our draw had opened up. We made semis the last three tournaments beating good teams,” he said. “With a favourable draw, I thought it was a good opportunity. But that’s how it is, unfortunately.”
On the bright side, Nestor has been here before with regards to Davis Cup.
Three years ago against Italy in Vancouver, as a kid of 40, Nestor nearly had to withdraw after suffering a similar strain – to the right calf on this occasion – during the first round of the Miami Open a few weeks before. He wasn’t just hobbling on the practice court; he was limping even when he was just walking around.
The scenario was similar: he felt it right at the beginning of his match, played through it, and then felt something pop after a few games.
The MRI then showed something, Nestor said, but not definitively a tear.
He stayed off the court for a week, didn’t practice at full intensity and until the day before the doubles rubber, was questionable.
Nestor ended up playing. He and Pospisil pulled out a four-hour, 37-minute marathon against Fabio Fognini and Daniele Bracciali in which they won the first two sets, dropped the next two, and won 15-13 in the fifth set. It gave Canada a 2-1 lead; Milos Raonic sewed up the tie the next day and Canada was off to the semi-finals in the World Group.
This time, the opponent is a lesser one in Chile. But if Canada doesn’t win, it will be relegated to the zonal competition the players thought they’d left behind for good years ago.
After his second-round loss Thursday and the cramping he suffered, Raonic also isn’t exactly in tip-top shape. So what appeared to be a slam-dunk for the Canadians may turn out to be a two-point jumper from much further out.
NOTE: To complete a pretty dire 48 hours for the Canadians at the US Open, Gloucester, Ont.’s Gabriela Dabrowski and Spanish partner Maria José Martínez Sanchez dropped their first-round doubles match 6-1, 6-4 to the young doubles pair of Daria Gavrilova and Daria Kasatkina.
Dabrowski, 24, remains the only Canadian hope because she’s still alive in mixed doubles with Rohan Bopanna.
In a sense, the lengthy stoppage because of some serious rain activity might have been a blessing in disguise after all of the bad Canadian karma. Dabrowski couldn’t lose the match; it was postponed to Friday.