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Sports Nestor's 2003 masterpiece a matter of commitment

A masterpiece -- it's what people in many different fields strive for during their careers.

Daniel Nestor of Toronto created his masterpiece in tennis in 2003 when he beat Gustavo Kuerten 6-7 (9-7), 7-6 (7-0), 6-3, 6-7 (9-7), 7-5 in September in the second singles on the opening day of Davis Cup action between Canada and Brazil.

If he had lost, Canada would have fallen behind 0-2 in the best-of-five match playoff for a spot in the 2004 World Group competition. As it was, Nestor's victory in Calgary evened things at 1-1, setting the stage for his doubles win the next day with Frédéric Niemeyer of Deauville, Que. On the third day, Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., won a fifth and deciding match over Flavio Saretta.

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Josef Brabenec of Vancouver, a former Canadian national coach and Davis Cup captain (1979-84), described Nestor's win as "The best performance I've seen in Davis Cup by a Canadian in my 30 years here."

Nestor, 31, was superb. He refused to get discouraged when he failed to close out the match when he led 4-0 (and later had a match point) in the fourth-set tiebreaker.

Serving at 15-40, 3-3 in the fifth set, he dealt with two break points by slashing an ace down the middle and then hitting a sublime backhand half-volley cross-court winner off a nasty, low service return by Kuerten. It was an incredible shot under pressure, worthy of great serve-volley stylists such as John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg and Patrick Rafter.

Nestor's commitment never wavered. "I lost the momentum a couple times and I really had to stay focused and calm to get it back," he said. "A younger me, say seven years ago, might have packed it in or folded."

A much younger Nestor, at 19 in 1992, scored a huge Davis Cup upset of Edberg -- then the world's No. 1 player -- in Vancouver. But today, he concedes the Swede, jet-lagged after losing the Australian Open final to Jim Courier five days earlier, was not at his best.

While Kuerten may not be the player he was before hip surgery in February of 2002, the three-time French Open champion (1997, 2000 and 2001) and former No. 1 was still ranked No. 17 when he arrived in Calgary. A month later, he won the ATP's $1-million (U.S.) St. Petersburg Open in Russia.

Kuerten was certainly vulnerable on the slick Terraflex carpet surface. Although he's is at his best on clay, Guga did reach the quarter-finals on the game's fastest surface -- grass -- at Wimbledon in 1999.

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Asked about Brabenec's accolades and other praise he received for his effort against Kuerten, Nestor said: "It's an honour. It was unbelievable match, as far as how close it was."

A top-ranked doubles specialist, Nestor has been an infrequent singles competitor for several years, mainly because of a chronic elbow ailment. He was ranked No. 488 in singles when he beat Kuerten.

During his career, he has managed to defeat five former No. 1 players -- Kuerten, Edberg, Rafter, Thomas Muster and Marcelo Rios.

"I was just happy because it was televised and people got to see me play," Nestor said of his stellar display against Kuerten. "A lot of people I meet don't know I ever played singles. Sometimes they don't even say I'm a tennis player, they just say doubles. That's frustrating."

Nestor, who will leave on New Year's Day to play doubles in Qatar, says he will be available for at least one singles match on the indoor clay surface in Maastricht, the Netherlands, for Canada's 2004 Davis Cup opening round from Feb. 6 to 8. Unfortunately, should he reach the Australian Open doubles final, he would only have five days to get prepared.

"The match-ups aren't bad," Nestor said of the outlook against the Dutch. "Frankie [Dancevic]can do really well, and Simon [Larose]is a great athlete who can play on any surface."

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Whatever transpires, it will be hard for him to top the win over Kuerten.

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