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Sports ITF makes a doubles fault by rejecting Nestor, Knowles

It takes a lot of work not to select Daniel Nestor of Toronto and his partner, Mark Knowles of the Bahamas, as this year's best doubles team.

But somehow the International Tennis Federation managed it last week, selecting American twins Bob and Mike Bryan as doubles world champions.

"I'm stunned this has happened," said no less credible an authority than Todd Woodbridge of Australia, the three-time defending (with Jonas Bjorkman) and nine-time overall (six more with Mark Woodforde) Wimbledon champion. "Dan and Mark won a Grand Slam [U.S. Open]and Masters Series events [Cincinnati and Madrid]and were by far the most consistent team of the year."

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The ITF's other winners, also chosen using its own special computer program, were (no-brainer) Roger Federer in men's singles, (debatable) Anastasia Myskina in women's singles and (no-brainers) Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez in women's doubles. All will receive their awards at the annual world champions dinner during the French Open in May.

Last month, at the Tennis Masters Cup in Houston, Nestor and Knowles were presented with Waterford Crystal "No. 1" trophies for finishing co-No. 1s in the ATP (individual) doubles ranking. The Bryans were co-No. 3 behind No. 2 Bjorkman.

Nestor and Knowles also finished atop the team standings with 961 points, compared with 885 for the No. 2 Bryans.

Number crunching Nestor-Knowles versus the Bryans begins with their winning the U.S. Open and having an overall 16-3 record at the Grand Slam events. The Bryans, Australian Open runners-up, did not win a Grand Slam and were 13-4.

Nestor-Knowles won two of the nine ATP Masters Series events and had an overall 21-7 record in them. The Bryans were 14-8, had no Masters Series titles, but did win the prestigious year-ending Masters Cup.

The Bryans won seven titles to five for Nestor and Knowles, but, except for the Masters Cup, all were smaller events -- Adelaide, Memphis, Acapulco, London (Queen's Club), Los Angeles and Basel. In fact, each of those six offered less prize money (a good indicator of an event's stature) than all but one (Marseilles) of Nestor and Knowles's 2004 victories.

The case for Nestor and Knowles is overwhelming. But there is a catch -- the ITF runs the Davis Cup. It claims its "objective [selection]system . . . also gives weight to performances in the Olympic Games, Davis Cup and Fed Cup."

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Since they all involve national teams, Nestor, a Canadian, and Knowles, from the Bahamas, are not able to play together. Meanwhile, the Bryans played four rounds of 2004 Davis Cup, as the United States finished as the runner-up to Spain.

Nestor won both his Davis Cup doubles competitions (in losing efforts in the Netherlands and Romania) with Fréderic Niemeyer of Deauville, Que., while Knowles did not play in 2004.

Disappointed by the ITF selection, Nestor and Knowles were not naive about how it happened. "We think a lot of the decision has to do with Davis Cup," Nestor said. "The ITF is heavily involved in it, the States made it to the final and the Bryans won all their matches. But the calibre of the teams they beat isn't as high as you'll find in the Grand Slams or Masters Series. Also, in Davis Cup, Mark and I play with partners who aren't competing at the highest-level tournaments. So it's unfair comparing us with the Bryans."

Nestor added: "It's upsetting, because we had a good year and felt we deserved our ranking. At the end of the year, we got a nice trophy from the ATP and kind of a slap in the face from the ITF."

Woodbridge concurred. "The Bryans [real showmen]are terrific for the game," he said, "but the fact they didn't win a Slam or Masters Series title throughout the year only strengthens Knowles and Nestor's claim to No. 1."

The bias of the ITF's computer program was also evident in the choice of Myskina. She represented Russia at the Olympics and in Fed Cup and was chosen over Maria Sharapova. And guess what? Sharapova played in neither event.

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Tennis Canada, a member of the ITF, should send a letter protesting the misguided selection and the resulting injustice to Nestor and Knowles. Hopefully, the response won't come as a computer printout.

ttebbutt@globeandmail.ca

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