Nestor's pain is our gain

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

Daniel Nestor has a sore shoulder and a damaged elbow and a repaired wrist and enough ice packs to fill a condominium -- and this is just another day on the tennis tour.

"What hurts?" Nestor is asked after losing a rare singles match at the Rogers Cup.

"What doesn't hurt?" he answers with a crooked smile.

"I survive on anti-inflammatories," said the only Canadian male tennis player worth paying attention to for the past decade. "I've had a good career, I'm not going to complain."

So, we'll do it for him. He's had chronic elbow problems. "If you look at my serve in slow motion, it's death on my elbow."

He's had chronic shoulder problems. Tough on a guy with a huge serve. "Never gets any better," he said.

He's had major wrist problems. "Once, I saw him play four or five games at the French Open where he couldn't even grip the racket," said his doubles partner, Mark Knowles. "Anybody else would have quit. Daniel just kept on going.

"I've seen him play with broken ribs. I've seen him play when he couldn't raise his arm above his shoulders. I've seen a lot you couldn't believe. That's Daniel."

Knowles has a way of describing his partner. "He's like a broken down car. Something's always in need of repair. I don't know too many people who've had to deal with so many injuries and who have worked so hard to get through them. He puts in hours just getting himself ready to play. He does detailed training just to be able to play. I don't know too many players like that."

Daniel Nestor is a Canadian treasure we haven't spent enough time discovering. He is Ryan Smyth in shorts, a tennis version of Captain Canada, who bleeds red and white in between his surgeries.

Three times he went to the Olympics for Canada, once coming home golden. He has played 51 Davis Cup matches, in almost all of them coming up larger than his skinny frame. No matter what anyone seems to ask of Nestor, he always gives a little more.

Like yesterday. In a loss to a Tomas Berdych, who statistically should bury him, Nestor played shot for shot with Berdych. He lost, as expected -- he doesn't really play singles anywhere but in Canada anymore -- but there were moments, actual moments, when a win seemed possible.

SURPRISING

Even when some pro-Croatian fans, maybe confusing Berdych (he's a Czech), attempted to distract Nestor on his home court.

"Hey Daniel, your mom's here," they yelled. "Time to go home." That was before he double faulted on the final point of the match.

"It's a little bit surprising when you're playing on your home court in Canada and they're against you," Nestor said. "I'm always a little surprised when people are that patriotic in another country. They came to Canada to live here. My first choice, when I'm cheering for sports, is Canada.

"I'm Canadian, even though I was born in another country. Sort of disturbing when you see guys that are that into their native land when they're living in Canada, you know. But that's life."

Once upon a time, Nestor wouldn't have said that much, or anything that interesting. Once upon a time, he was shy and skinny and unemotional and soft spoken and would rather someone else get the attention. At 34 years of age, closer to the end than the beginning, he has grown into himself. He shoulders are wider, his voice is stronger, the pencil thin kid is no longer pencil thin -- and no longer a kid.

If only the pain would go away.

"I don't know why, I don't have a great body for sports," the 15-year professional athlete said. "I live with tendinitis. Once you're warmed up, you're okay. But after every match, you feel it. That's when the pain sets in. I always feel like I'm breaking down."

Until it's time to play. Then it's Daniel Nestor time. For how much longer, we don't know.


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