Nestor reflects on MVP season

STEVE SIMMONS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 3:45 PM ET

One year, Daniel Nestor and Mario Lemieux were both nominated and considered for the athlete of the year award in Canada.

Nestor, as is his custom, laughed at the athletic juxtaposition.

"Even I was saying, 'what am I doing with Mario Lemieux?' To be mentioned in the same sentence with him was something. I grew up watching Mario Lemieux," he said.

Nestor is 37 years old now and just about everybody in this country, no matter what their age, has grown up watching him grow up. For two decades, he has been the national tennis version of Cheers -- in Canada, everybody knows his name.

"It doesn't get old for me," he said of his place in this country. "It may get old for other people, but not for me."

But this year, with an interesting twist.

LEGITIMATE CANDIDATE

This year as a legitimate candidate for athlete of the year. Maybe even a legitimate candidate for Canadian athlete of the decade.

"That would mean a lot to me," said Nestor of the athlete of the year suggestion, doing yet another promotion for Tennis Canada yesterday, this time introducing National Bank Financial as a major sponsor.

And the fact it would mean a lot of him is about all Nestor would say about himself, which is who he is. If he was paid by the word, he never would have made a living. His whole career has been about outlasting the opposition.

"It is very odd," he said. "I have played through a few generations. I started with guys like (John) McEnroe, that was the beginning of my career, and then (Andre) Agassi, (Pete) Sampras, and now (Roger) Federer, (Rafael) Nadal. If Federer retires before me, then there is going to be a problem."

Nestor laughs. Sort of. He has never been the retiring type. He isn't going to be one of those Allen Iverson, I quit, I don't, I don't know what to do types. Nestor will hang in until they have to drag him from the court, or until he can't win a match, whichever comes first. Almost every year, Nestor is somewhere on the leader board when it comes to the annual voting for the Lou Marsh Trophy or The Canadian Press athlete of the year award. Just not close enough. But this year, he has a shot. This year he could end up as one of those compromise candidates, career achievement award types who will benefit from the fact there is no one obvious choice to win the big one.

He's coming off the best season of his career, with nine doubles titles and 13 weeks spent as the No. 1 ranked doubles player in the world. If not now for Nestor, when? There is no sure thing candidate from hockey, although it's certain Sidney Crosby will be considered. There are the usuals, Justin Morneau and Jason Bay, from baseball, but Morneau got hurt and Bay had very good but not superb numbers with the Red Sox. Steve Nash is forever a candidate because he's Steve Nash. Neither Mike Weir nor Stephen Ames had terrific seasons but at least didn't crash their SUVs. And there's nobody, really, from football who stands out.

Which leaves who? Maybe the skinny kid from Willowdale, who's not so skinny anymore and now lives in the Bahamas with his wife and baby daughter.

"It was an unbelievable season," said Nestor, talking of 2009. "The best I've ever had." The good news: Nine titles and a defence of his Wimbledon championship. The bad news: Eight first-round eliminations.

"We have to learn from that," he said of the defeats with his partner, Nenad Zimonjic (Mark Knowles was easier to spell). He also put to rest any talk of him and Zimonjic breaking up.

"Where do you get this stuff from?" The partners will remain together, sharing everything, but if Nestor somehow ends up as Canadian athlete of the year, that he'll take on his own. And almost certainly, that will leave him speechless.

STEVE.SIMMONS@SUNMEDIA.CA


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