It seems odd now to think of Daniel Nestor as anything but a Canadian sporting legend, icon and trailblazer. However, back in 1992, the Canadian was simply another teenager, ranked 200-something in the world, trying to make his mark on the ATP Tour.
Entering the year’s early Davis Cup World Group first round clash against Sweden in Vancouver, Nestor was Team Canada’s No. 2 singles player behind Saskatchewan’s Grant Connell, who was ranked No. 76 at the time. In fact, the 19-year-old had lost in the second round of the Canadian Nationals in Mississauga just a few months prior to this tie.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the net, the Europeans boasted a star-studded lineup that included No. 15 Magnus Gustafsson, who had been ranked in the Top 10 just a matter of months earlier, and World No. 1 Stefan Edberg – already a five-time Grand Slam champion.
No pressure then, boys…
Despite being heavy underdogs, however, Canada got off to an unexpected winning start. Connell, facing Gustafsson, won a tight first set tiebreak to take an early advantage before seeing out a straight-sets victory over the Swede 7-6(5), 6-4, 6-4.
That meant a win for Nestor over Edberg would see Canada take a commanding 2-0 lead after day one.
Could lightning really strike twice?
After the first set, it didn’t seem like it would. A 6-4 loss put Nestor on the backfoot and it looked, in all likelihood, that the 19-year-old would put up a good fight before ultimately falling short.
But Nestor had other ideas.
The youngster showed tremendous composure to fight back and take the next set 6-3. That clearly forced Edberg to spring into action as he confidently dismantled the young Canadian 6-1, meaning he needed to win just one more set to clinch the match.
Despite the odds being stacked against him, Nestor took the next set 6-3 to force a fifth which would decide the contest.
Fast forward to the start of the eighth game and the Canadian was serving for the match at 5-2. He began with a rocket of an ace but Edberg, using all the experience in his locker, battled back to manufacture a double break point. An errant forehand volley return from Nestor ensured the Swede won a break back.
However, there was a steely determination about Nestor’s game – a determination Canadian tennis fans would become very familiar with over the next 26 years of his glittering career.
In a tightly-fought tenth game, both players gave it their all before it went to deuce. A strong serve by Nestor was returned into the net by Edberg, handing the Canadian another opportunity to secure a famous victory.
This time, he wouldn’t be denied.
Nestor served to Edberg’s forehand and the Swede sent looping return to Nestor’s right. The Canadian, who was already halfway to the net, guided a deft backhand down the line and beyond his opponent’s reach to seal the sweetest of victories.
“There it is!” one commentator yelled.
“Unbelievable!” the other added. “Oh my gosh!”
The entire arena rose to its feet to shower the teenager with applause. The man himself made a beeline straight for the bench, where he was greeted by delighted coaches and teammates.
“It’s definitely a great feeling,” an exhausted Nestor said in his post-match on-court interview. “It’s a team effort. The guys were behind me and they made me believe I could win this match.”
Despite Canada going 2-0 up in the tie thanks to Nestor’s historic victory, the team would go on to lose 3-2 to Sweden. However, the young Canadian’s incredible performance will live long in the memories of Canadian tennis fans as one of the country’s great sporting upsets.
In a video tribute to Nestor on the 20th anniversary of the match, Edberg said: “You really took me by surprise, Daniel. Beating me in five sets – that was quite an achievement at the time. Sweden eventually won the [tie] 3-2 but it was the start of something big for you. Representing Canada for 20 years is something. Something you should be really proud of.”
(Feature photo: ITF/Jean Nichols)