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Thursday, September 28, 2000

Pair bids golden farewell

  SYDNEY -- These are Cathy Freeman's Games, the Olympics of reconciliation between Australia's two peoples, the Aboriginals and the European settlers who civilized the poor sods by killing them.

 So now that the doubles tennis team of Daniel Nestor and Quebecer Sebastien Lareau have won Canada's second gold medal, it would be boffo to report a sporting reconciliation between Canada's second and third founding nations. You know, sort of a We Are The World, kids from the former city of North York and Boucherville Que., why-can't-we-just-get-along kind of thing. Maybe one of them could grab a microphone at the medal presentation and tearfully scream to the world, "I love you, man."

 After all, the duo had just beaten the No. 1 seeds and home-town favourites Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6.

 It was a great win, accomplished in front of a howling, though well-behaved, mob of medal-drunk Aussies.

 Mais non.

 "I don't think its a political issue, whether he speaks French or English," Lareau said. "I don't think there's a message to be sent out from this situation."

 In fact, to borrow from American political scientist Neil Sedaka -- "thanks for coming out and please, drive home safely" -- the best lesson imparted by Daniel Nestor and Sebastien Lareau is the following: Shana-shana-dow-dooby-doo-down-down, breaking up is smart to do.

 Lareau separated from partner Alex O'Brien after the two had won the 1999 U.S. Open. He took up with Nestor, who had until now always been just a friend and who himself was paired up with Bahamian Mark Knowles.

 Kathy Lee stays with Frank after he cheats on tape. Sebastien and Alex break up. Go figure.

 Friends in the tennis world were stunned -- both teams seemed so good together.

 Lareau has always been up front about his motivation to win an Olympic medal, but he understood Nestor's shock.

 "I had won the U.S. Open with the other partner," Lareau said, "and for me to dump him was a surprise for (Nestor)."

 There were obvious upsides.

 Lareau and Nestor had known each other for more than 15 years. They came up through the same development program and had dabbled very successfully in doubles. They get along fine. Lareau is a right-handed return specialist. Nestor hits from the left, serves asteroids and has a lovely volley.

 But there were entanglements.

 "I had a good relationship with my previous partner," Nestor said. "We were teammates, but off the court we were really good friends."

 It is, both men agree, like breaking up with a girlfriend. You use the same phrases -- a need to move on in public, dumped in private. There is just one major difference.

 "It's a little different with a girlfriend, because you don't really want to see her any more," Nestor said.

 They are different people, Lareau and Nestor. Both are introverts, but Nestor relaxes when he is under stress while Lareau coils tighter.

 Nestor, at least at these Games, was the sharper player. He held serve on every occasion after the first set. Lareau had trouble, even in the last.

 "Obviously, I struggled in the first set," he said. "But I settled down after that."

 Lareau may have appreciated his medal more, but Nestor loved the setting and circumstance, beating the top doubles team in tennis history -- in their own country.

 The Woodies also are due to split up at season's end.

 "It's nice to send them off with a loss, especially in front of their home crowd," Nestor said.

 But like the Woodies, the tandem of Lareau and Nestor is not long for the tennis world.

 Lareau wants to concentrate more on singles and play smaller satellite tournaments to boost his game and his ranking.

 "My goal right now is to be a top-50 player," he said.

 It will be an amicable separation and while the notion won't fly elsewhere, let us remember the two have already agreed on a joint currency: Olympic gold.