Djokovic follows Federer and Nadal to Sporting Oscar

Tennis world No1 Novak Djokovic is named the World Sportsman of the Year at the Laureus awards in London

novak djokovic
Novak Djokovic won the World Sportsman of the Year award Photo: Getty Images for Laureus

novak djokovic

The skies were grey as gunmetal, the air as chill as a razor blade, but the carpet was plush crimson and the star quotient was enough to stop London’s traffic.

This was the night that the world’s sporting elite descended on the capital, and the cameras flashed and the mobiles tweeted.

The 2012 Laureus World Sports Awards are regarded as the Oscars of sport. Not only are the shortlists compiled by the world’s sporting media but the winners are voted for by members of the Laureus Academy, the 47-strong group of Olympic and world champions who own between them 54 Olympic golds, 43 tennis Grand Slams, 32 Major golf championships, 20 world motorcycling championships, 11 Paralympic golds – the list goes on.

So the winners are men and women who cross the boundaries of discipline and nation in their achievements. Nowhere was this range more in evidence than in the Sportsman of the Year category, which boasted the world’s fastest athlete, Usain Bolt, Tour de France winner Cadel Evans, winner of football’s Ballon d’Or, Lionel Messi, and 11-time Formula 1 winner, Sebastian Vettel.

But which of them would walk away with the Oscar-style, Cartier-designed solid silver Laureus statuette?

Well the winning man was making a good job of stealing the show—and not just for his outstanding achievements on a tennis court in 2011. Dressed in Dolce and Gabbana, Novak Djokovic was tweeting like a kid in a sweet shop—from outside No10 ahead of cocktails with the PM and then about meeting his own sporting heroes.

Djokovic took the tennis world by storm in 2011, compiling one of the longest unbroken streaks—41 matches—and taking three Grand Slam and five Masters titles. It was a run that took him to No1 by the middle of the year, and there he has stayed, more than 3,000 points clear of two of the finest men ever to play the game.

Now, in 2012, Djokovic followed those same illustrious rivals down the red carpet to pick up the Laureus trophy. For last year’s winner was Rafael Nadal and the winner from 2005 through to 2008 was Roger Federer.

There is, it seems, something about tennis and the individual nature of its combat that makes it stand out from the crowd. This year’s awards featured three more tennis stars: wheelchair tennis champion Esther Vergeer, together with Na Li and Petra Kvitova. And previous Laureus winners have included Justine Henin, Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters, Martina Hingis, Amelie Mauresmo, Jennifer Capriati and Marat Safin.

Boris Becker, one of the founding members of the Laureus Academy, explained his sport’s popularity: “Tennis is a very international sport. It’s played in all continents, the matches can be long and involving. And players don’t wear masks or helmets, so it’s a very, very good TV sport where you can see the player’s eyes.”

It was fitting, then, for Becker to comment on Djokovic’s success.

“I congratulate Novak on a wonderful year—one of the best seasons I can ever remember from an individual. Just a couple of years ago, men’s tennis was all about Federer and Nadal and then suddenly we have a new kid on the block who seems to have taken over the sport. We should acknowledge what a fantastic achievement it has been from him.”

He added, with a wry smile, referring to Djokovic’s Australian Open performance: “I wonder sometimes how you do it. A five-hour match, then a six-hour match—I’m glad I played in the 80s!”

And what of the man himself? Djokovic’s comments expressed, with pitch-perfect articulacy, much about the journey he has travelled to reach such recognition.

“I dared to dream about becoming the world’s best tennis player and the best athlete, and here I stand before you with this very dear and special award, so I think everything’s possible. I would hope that each kid around the world will dare to dream, and that they will use their sport as the guiding star for the path they choose.”

That is, of course, a hope that chimes perfectly with the Laureus mission. The organisation has raised over €40m for projects which have helped to improve the lives of more than one-and-a-half million young people around the world through sport-related community projects.

But Djokovic was just as keen to express his admiration for the members of the Academy itself.

“What stands out for me in London is the experience of getting to know the legends of the sport, standing shoulder to shoulder with them, and practically absorbing every word they said during these two hours, all their personal stories.”

However, while he admitted that 2011 had been “the best experience of my life”, Djokovic’s hopes and expectations are already sharply focused on the challenge of 2012.

“Is it possible to win all four Grand Slams? Everything is possible. I have to stay optimistic, I have to believe in what I do, believe in my abilities, that I can win on all surfaces.

“And I’ve proven on many occasions, especially in the last few years, that I can really be one of the candidates to win every Grand Slam on every surface. I need to keep that up. Obviously Roland Garros is the one to win this year, and next the other Grand Slams and the Olympics are the top of my priorities.”

Should he achieve even some of his ambitions—and there are few who think he won’t—the best tennis player in the world could well be striding down that Laureus red carpet again next year.

Best of the rest

UK sport enjoyed multiple successes in the shape of two Northern Ireland golf stars. Darren Clarke, who recovered from a slump in form following the loss of his wife, received the World Comeback of the Year Award after winning the Open Championship at his 20th attempt, aged 42.

Rory McIlroy won the World Breakthrough of the Year Award after winning the US Open, his first Major Championship, at the age of 22.

Academy member, Sir Bobby Charlton, was given the special Lifetime Achievement Award though he was unable to receive it in person. He became unwell and returned to Manchester for minor surgery earlier in the day. In collecting the award, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said: “Sir Bobby is fine. He is very annoyed not to be here to receive this Award but I’ll be taking the statuette back to Old Trafford for him. He loves the work he does for Laureus and I know how delighted he is to have received this tribute.”

The coveted Laureus Sport for Good Award was given to former Brazilian footballer, now social justice campaigner, Raí Souza Vieira de Oliveira.

Sportswoman of the Year
Vivian Cheruiyot, Kenya, winner of both 5K and 10K gold medals at the World Athletics Championships

Team of the Year
FC Barcelona, Spain, winner of football’s Champions League and the Spanish league.

Action Sportsperson of the Year
Kelly Slater, USA, winner of a record 11th world surfing championship, aged 39, his fourth Laureus award.

Sportsperson with a Disability
Oscar Pistorius, South Africa, the first amputee to win a track medal in the non-disabled world athletics championships, silver in the 4x400m.

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