Fedophiles of the world, consider this a mea culpa: You were never wrong.
Did Federer deserve the award more than those athletes who won in 2004 (when he won three Grand Slam titles and went 74-6), '05 (when he won two Slam titles and went 81-4), '06 (three, 92-5) or '07 (three, 68-9)? Who knows? The criteria for
In essence, of course, "Sportsman" is a wholly subjective award, its dimensions shaped by time and taste and, to some cynics, vaguely powerful market demands -- though if any pick in my 16 years at SI moved the needle on circulation or advertising, I never heard of it. Sometimes it seems to be (
That said, I still can't get past the idea that this year, 2009, will be Federer's last shot. He says he'll keep playing through the 2012 Olympics, and if he can pull off a calendar Grand Slam somewhere along the way to retirement, then he'll surely be back in play. But this was the year that Federer finally won a major on clay to complete the career Grand Slam, finally conquered the sport's most difficult task by winning the French-Wimbledon double, finally passed
Let's be clear, though: 2009 was hardly Federer's best year. He began it by bursting into tears after losing to arch-nemesis
Still, the fact that a year in which he reached four Grand Slam finals -- and won two -- can seem slightly disappointing says much about the sky-high standard that Federer has set during his genial reign. He won just four titles and went 59-10 in 2009, and his shocking collapse in the '09 U.S. Open final after being just two points away, in the fourth set, from beating upstart
If, indeed, Federer no longer has the gut-burning ambition that, for more than a decade, left him so often in tears, who can blame him? There has never been a player in tennis -- much less in any sport -- who combined Sampras' athleticism with
Because Federer could well have faded away then, secure with his millions, his new wife and kids, his place in the game. Many were already calling him the best ever, so why not -- like McEnroe, like
But he didn't. No, in 2009, Federer completed the task, fulfilled the challenge issued that day, long ago, when his rare talent first emerged. He finished the job. He became the greatest. He was down and then he rose, perhaps for the final time, and he beat back the field and walked into history on the Wimbledon grass. That's what "Sportsman of the Year" is all about. Isn't it?