My Sportsman: Rafael Nadal
In this time of global economic meltdown, the whole "embarrassment of riches" concept doesn't get bandied about much. But consider the landscape in men's tennis. For four years fans were treated to the
For 2008 Sportsman of the Year, I hereby put forth the candidacy of Spanish swashbuckler,
What's that you say? In 2008 a prerequisite for the Sportsman of the Year consideration ought to be an Olympic gold medal? We almost forgot: Nadal won one of those too, taking the men's tennis event in Beijing.
Now the subjective: Nadal, 22, singlehandedly shatters the tired perception of the tennis player as a pampered, elitist pinhead. With a body that belongs in an NFL backfield (if not a UFC Octagon) he is all muscle, both bulk and fast-twitch, and, accordingly, his game is a devastating mix of power and speed. He doesn't stroke the ball so much as he pummels it, unfurling a lefty game that simply has no precedent. Yet his real strength is the mental variety. Nadal is that rare athlete whose game moves in lockstep to the stakes. In the fifth set of that episodic Wimbledon final, as darkness enveloped the court, it was Nadal who hit the biggest shots.
Just as important, Nadal, drawing on Federer's example, is good people. He competes honestly. He treats his colleagues with respect and humility. His next on-court tantrum will be his first. When he's off the tennis caravan he lives on the island of Mallorca with his folks and tools around in a Kia. In Beijing, while Federer lodged at a luxury hotel, Nadal stayed in the Olympic Village and was spotted lugging his dirty clothes to the laundry facility. "I don't think of myself as any better than anyone else," he said. "Why should I, because I can hit a tennis ball over a net well?"
For all of his populist sensibilities, Nadal, my SOY for 2008, still managed to inhabit rarefied air.