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Friday, October 6, 2000
Golden win hits home

Daniel Nestor is excited about winning Olympic gold, honest!


 Despite what Daniel Nestor says about his Olympic gold victory being the highlight of his career, it's difficult to be convinced how excited he is about it; especially when he is so characteristically nonchalant.
Gold Medallist Daniel Nestor arrives at Pearson airport. Nestor & his girlfriend Vanessa Rae ham it up for the camera as she bites his gold medal. (Toronto Sun photo by Ken Kerr)

 Although known for his minimalist expression, many Canadians were surprised to see the 28-year-old dry-eyed and near emotionless after he and partner Sebastien Lareau won the doubles tennis title in Sydney. It marked the first time Canadians have won a tennis medal at the Olympics.

 "It was obviously a great moment," Nestor says with a slight grin, casually pulling his medal from his track pants' pocket. "People make fun of me for showing little emotion, but it's not like I'm holding back or anything. It's just the way I am."

 If he was video-taped acting out winning the gold medal during tennis practice, he'd "put on a great show, maybe even be like the American relay team," he said.

 So Nestor is excited and proud to win a gold medal for Canada, we just don't get to see it. We will just have to take his word for it that it supersedes what he's best known for: beating world No. 1 Stefan Enberg at the Davis Cup back in '92 when he was ranked only No. 238. on the ATP race. (Nestor is now No. 124.)

 "That's just a memory," says the Willowdale, Ont. native. "It's a great memory, but it doesn't feel like a real mark on my achievements like a gold medal."

 Nestor and Lareau won the gold medal match by defeating the No. 1 seeded Aussie-tandem of Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6(2). Settling a nerve-wracked Lareau, Nestor held the team together and took control with his powerful serves, in playing the best match of his professional eight-year career. The Canadians played an aggressive style and achieved 77 per cent on their first serves and 85 and 92 per cent in the last two sets.

 Not bad for a duo that left their previous doubles partners Mark Knowles and Alex O'Brien earlier this year to join forces in a bid for Olympic gold. Nestor and Lareau were confident heading into Sydney. The duo made a historical performance in Toronto in August, becoming the first all-Canadian team to capture the Tennis Masters Series-Canada tournament since Glenn Michibata and Grant Connell in 1990-'91. From there the duo advanced to the quarter-finals at the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, the French Open and TMS-Cincinnati. Their gold medal win in Sydney rose them to No. 10 for doubles in the ATP race.

 In comparison, the 'Woodies' are considered the best doubles team in the world; having set records for Grand Slam and ATP tournament title wins, and being the former gold medal champions from Atlanta in 1996. Their loss to the Canadians was their first of the year, and a great disappointment for a rowdy partisan crowd expecting a gold medal repeat for Woodforde's farewell match before he retired.

  "We weren't thinking about the occasion at all, it was just about beating them," said Nestor, who was looking to improve on his first Olympic doubles performance in Atlanta, when he and then partner Grant Connell failed to advance after Nestor became ill.

 Surprisingly, Nestor admits that the gold medal victory wasn't as rewarding as he would have liked: "It's hard to go crazy when the other team gives it to you a bit, with one double fault, then two on match point. It would have been a lot better if we won a rally."

 It was Nestor's singles feat - ousting the No. 13 ranked Aussie Patrick Rafter in the second round of singles - that had the greatest impact on him, at least at first.

 "You could probably tell by my reaction that I was a bit more excited when I beat Rafter than when we won the doubles," admitted Nestor, who threw up his arms up in triumph after beating the Aussie for the first time in three years.

 "I was up in the match, then I started to lose it, but I came back. Since I haven't had as much success in singles and don't get as many big match opportunities, it was a little more satisfying. Then I got the medal. Having the medal in your hand brings on a different reaction. I probably didn't really understand it until I came back to Canada."

 Nestor now plans to join Lareau in focussing on singles play, despite leaving Sydney on a high note as doubles champions.

 "We've both always had the same goals," said Nestor.

 Nestor and Lareau intend to continue playing doubles in Grand Slams and TMS competitions, like the upcoming TMS-Stuttgart and TMS-Paris. While Lareau may not be willing to sacrifice his singles game to play doubles in smaller Grand Prix tournaments, Nestor will play both singles and doubles. Nestor says there is no plan for them to split up and rejoin with Knowles or O'Brien.
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