Daniel Nestor

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WOLF KUTNAHORSKY FOR TIME

Nestor has pulled off some upsets in the past, and hopes to do that again in Athens

On the eve of a big match, Canadian tennis player Daniel Nestor can become so distracted that he can't sleep unless he takes a towel and blocks the light slipping in from under his door. "I put pressure on myself because I want to play well for my family and friends," he explains.

In Athens, all of Canada will be putting pressure on Nestor, 32. Thankfully, he thrives well in the spotlight, particularly when playing doubles. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he teamed with Sébastien Lareau to win gold in a stunner: defeating the legendary "Woodies," Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, on the opponents' home soil. Nestor, a self-described "neurotic," says he was "more relieved" than joyous over the win. You would think Nestor would be used to knocking off such giants. He has shocked three former world No. 1s while playing singles for Canada in the Davis Cup: Sweden's Stefan Edberg, Chile's Marcelo Rios and, last September, Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten.

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In Athens, he won't be the favorite. His new Olympics partner is Frederic Niemeyer, 28, of Deauville, Que., who has a dangerous serve but a low doubles ranking and no Olympic experience. Nestor thinks the underdog status might give the pair a psychological edge in the 32-team field, which includes the world's top doubles duo, brothers Bob and Mike Bryan of the U.S. The Canadian pair are familiar with each other: Nestor and Niemeyer have teamed up in Davis Cup play, where they are undefeated in four matches. "You focus more" playing for your country, says the Belgrade native, who moved to Toronto when he was four.

Nestor never wanted to be a doubles specialist. For one thing, it doesn't get adequate respect. "People call you a tennis player if you play singles," he says. "If you play doubles, they call you a doubles player." When the tall lefty arrived on the tour in 1991, his serve and volley game seemed at odds with where the game was going: players bashing the ball baseline to baseline. "I wish I had focused on the baseline early in my career to help my singles," he says. "I'm fast with my hands, slow with my feet."

But his explosive reflexes at net and tricky serve helped propel Nestor's singles ranking into the top 60 in 1999. That climb came at the expense of his doubles play. In the grueling pro circuit, where few top singles players even play doubles nowadays, Nestor had a terrible doubles season. But a bum shoulder, which required surgery, prompted him to recommit to the more forgiving doubles game. "I've matured as a player," says Nestor. "I'm happy with where my career has gone." At 32, he says his playing is far from over. "Being the neurotic kind of guy I am, I constantly challenge myself to achieve positive things." Like perhaps a second gold medal.

With reporting by Randi Druzin