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Sunday, July 2, 2000

Feeling good about being Canadian
WIMBLEDON -- It was Canada Day yesterday and three Canadian tennis players were thinking about the thrill of representing our country.

Not only here at the staid All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, but also in the Olympic Games in Sydney next September.

The trio -- Sonya Jeyaseelan, Sebastien Lareau and Daniel Nestor -- come from different ethnic backgrounds, but all three are proud Canadians. Jeyaseelan was born in New Westminster, B.C., of an Indian father and Sri Lankan mother. Sebastien, from Boucherville, Que., is a French Canadian, and Daniel was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.

However, all three are unanimous in their desire to wear a maple leaf and march in the opening parade behind the Canadian flagbearer into the Olympic Stadium.

"I know I'll be able to play in the ladies doubles, but I hope I can also qualify for the singles as a wild card," Jeyaseelan said. "My wish is to be able to remain in Sydney for the two weeks, representing Canada.

"In order to be well prepared, I'll return from here to Florida for four weeks to train with my coach in preparation for the U.S. Open and Sydney. My ultimate goal is to be No. 1 in Canada and in the top 50 in the world. Right now, I think I'm No. 79."

Lareau was even more emphatic about wanting to represent Canada in the Olympics. His eyes lit up when I asked him about his hopes for Sydney.

"It was I who convinced Danny (Nestor) to split up with his partner Mark Knowles, while I split with my partner Alex O'Brien, in order to play with Danny in the Olympics," said Lareau. "It won't be easy, but we've had success in the past."

Indeed, he and Nestor won tournaments in Sydney and Shanghai and made it to the quarter-finals at the French Open and semifinals in this year's Queen's Club tournament here in London.

"We didn't do well in the last Olympics at Atlanta in 1996, but we're hopeful to come away with a medal of some colour from the Sydney Games." figured Lareau. " It's a special feeling to represent Canada in the Olympics. I think all athletes should feel the same way. It's an honour to represent one's country."

Nestor was just as enthusiastic about playing in the Olympics with Lareau.

"I'm looking forward to Sydney," he said. "It's a rare feeling to be able to represent your country. Sebastien and I have a reasonably good chance for a medal, but we have to play some matches between now and Sydney. We can't rely on past successes.

"In the Atlanta Olympics, I played with Grant Connell and I got sick. I should have pulled out, but I guess I was too selfish and eager to play in the Games. Hopefully, this time Sebastien and I will do better."

I certainly felt better hearing three young Canadians speaking so proudly about wanting to represent their country. It made me feel particularly good on Canada Day.