Sportsman of the year; moment of the decade

2008 Wimbledon (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

Yeah, there’s a post where we’ve been collecting a lot of these year/decade end things, but I’m especially fond of these two, so they get their own post.

The Flink Awards 2009


The way I define it, a bona fide sportsman is someone who wins with grace and style, and an individual who loses with dignity and without self pity. Champions make or break their reputations on how they handle the two extremes. They don’t allow their egos to get too inflated in victory, and refuse to let losses ruin their self esteem or cut too deeply into their pride. They learn how to balance the scales, find equanimity, and display character under either set of circumstances.

For me, the choice for this award was not difficult. This man was the dominant force in the game across the first five months of 2009, winning five tournaments, residing indisputably at No. 1 in the world, recording one important triumph after another. He got injured during the French Open, lost at Roland Garros for the first time, and could not defend his crown at Wimbledon. When he returned over the summer, his world was an altered place, his confidence diminished, his game never as commanding or imposing.

For the rest of the year, Rafael Nadal did not win another tournament, reaching only one final in his last seven events, struggling mightily against the other leading players. Although Nadal concluded an arduous season on a high note by helping lead Spain past the Czech Republic to win the Davis Cup, it was apparent that he had lost some crucial ground during his time away from the sport. After his comeback, he was beaten three times by Novak Djokovic without winning a set. He was crushed twice by Juan Martin Del Potro, twice by Nikolay Davydenko, and once each by Robin Soderling and Marin Cilic. Those were all straight set setbacks as well.

And yet, Nadal was remarkably gracious in defeat. He made few alibis, gave his opponents full marks, tried to play down his lingering physical problems. To me, the moment he sealed the Sportsman of the Year award was just after he had been blasted comprehensively off the court 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 by a top of the line Del Potro in the semifinals of the U.S. Open. It must have been humiliating to lose that overwhelmingly at the only Grand Slam event he has not yet captured.

Yet Nadal responded admirably. He waved to the crowd as he walked off the court, and stopped for a brief television interview with Pam Shriver. That was the day he affirmed once and for all what a towering sportsman he is. Nadal was humiliated in many ways by the thunderous ground game and excellent serving delivered by Del Potro, but he enlarged himself and his reputation with his post-match response.

Rafael Nadal, Sportsman of the Year. Was there really any other choice?

You’ll get no argument from me, Mr. Flink.

Rafael Nadal’s 2008 Wimbledon victory voted sporting moment of the decade – by Mike Norrish

Much like the final itself, the readers’ poll was a close-run thing. Taking 17 per cent of the votes, Nadal/Federer edged Liverpool’s ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ (15 per cent) into second place, with Arsenal’s ‘Invincible’ season of 2003-04 coming third with 13 per cent. England’s Rugby World Cup victory in 2003 came fourth, with 11 per cent of the vote.

Read that again – in England, a tennis match against a Spaniard and a Swiss beat out football and rugby played by the locals. That ain’t too shabby.

15 Responses

  1. aRafaelite says:

    You’re spot on there Miri – for a tennis match to beat football and rugby in the UK is one hell of an achievement – even if it WAS the Wimbledon final! And no, there really isn’t any other choice!

  2. Necitas says:

    Congatulations Rafa!!! There is no other choice, no one else deserves the award, but you. You have displayed dignity in defeat and dignity in victory, beautiful inside and out!!!Only great men achieve great things. This will eventually silence your critiques. It’s not all about winning or lossing, it’s always more about the man and you have been EXTRAORDINARY, as a person and as a talent. I feel so proud to be your fan. All the best Rafa! You are most deserving.

    • Karen says:

      What wonderful news to start the New Year.Let’s sincerely hope Rafa keeps healthly and happy for the whole year and plays wonderful tennis. And best of all he’s playing today, can’t wait!!!

  3. Atch2 says:

    I’m flabbergasted. Rafa-Fed’s Wimby final beat out England winning the Rugby World Cup in 2003? The Rugby World Cup that they won against the Wallabies, in Sydney, in the final minute of the game with a drop goal fm the person who looks like he’s praying before every kick-Jonny Wilkinson? I am truly amazed, esp when the England team look pretty bad now and are unlikely to win this Cup again. But all I can say is that I agree with the readers. And I’m happy someone else gives Rafa credit for being a good person off and on the court.

  4. patzin says:

    I of course loved Flink’s declaration that Rafa was Sportman of the Year. Nice to see a balanced approach and appreciation for our favorite Spaniard. Few other athletes can compare to the Man in accepting triumph and disaster in equal measure. How lucky are we!

    • aRafaelite says:

      *If* ever there was a young man to live up to Kipling’s words… it is surely our sweet Mowgli! Let’s hope he grabs the tiger by the tail in 2010!

  5. tiemyshoe says:

    So f’ing great, both of these things. It’s easy to be gracious when winning, but Rafa’s doing it during a rough patch speaks volumes about him. No tantrums, passive-aggressive pressers. No diverging from what he always says. In ’09, there was both the AO award ceremony and the crash at RG, and he was the same person at both. Oh oh oh my heart explodes.

    Also, I forget sometimes that it wasn’t just Rafa fans who loved Wimby ’08. It was, like, the world!

  6. Rafafan says:

    Yes unbelievable – but Rafa if there is anyone, he is the man to treat triumph and disaster these two imposters in equal measure just the same.

    I have to say the Liverpool match was very close with the Wimby final so for a tennis match to outdo a football match is more than unbelievable. (I do also feel the Fed Rafa AO semi comes into that category)and RAfa as the incredible athelete/sportsman of the year having to play both AO semi and AO final = 9.5hrs!

  7. Rafafan says:

    Sorry I meant the Verdasco v Rafa match AO semi! how could I have said Fed (sorry Nando)

  8. Isabelle says:

    So great to see Rafa acknowledged for his integrity and generosity of spirit, he is such a fantasitic role model!

  9. Rafafan says:

    I agree with all you say about our Rafa. It’s diffcult with the matches to pick out one and I know Wimby ’08 was the obvious choice (but A0 ’09 semi against Ferdasco should be up there).

    I have just watched the DVD last night Rome masters 2005 final between RAfa and Coria (Argentinia) which lasted over 5 hours and for pure excitement, drama, atsmosphere, heroics, magical shots and long bludgening out rallies, this I have to say in the fifth set excited me more than anything I have seen – both playing well at the same time. Rafa was 3 – 0 down in the fifth and a point for 4 – 0 down and clawed his way back. Went to a tie break in 5th and he was something like 4 – 1 up. Coria clawed back and Rafa won it 8 – 6. The crowd were just nuts – it felt more than the Spanish Davis cup or a footy match. If anyone has the chance to get it or watch on DVD it is a treat and I class this as one of the definining moments for Rafa to go on to become a great player

    • Rafafan says:

      PS: They talk about Rafa running every ball down. This was exactly what he did in this. Aparantely the previous day he play Ferrer and that was a marathon so they were dubious about his ability to stay the course! For sheer determination I have never seen Rafa since like that – even at Wimby with all the emotion. If you get the chance check it out on utube

  10. annabelle says:

    A wonderful award for a wonderful and truly deserving young man!