Jon nominates Rafael Nadal for Sports Illustrated's prestigious honor.
For 2008 Sportsman of the Year, I hereby put forth the candidacy of Spanish swashbuckler, Rafael Nadal. First the cold, rational facts: In 2008 Nadal became the first man since Björn Borg to win on both the clay of the French Open and the grass of Wimbledon, an extraordinary feat of versatility. Nadal beat his rival Federer each of the four times they played this year -- including their positively spellbinding Wimbledon final -- wresting away the No. 1 ranking in the process. He won titles on every surface and clinched Spain's spot in this weekend's Davis Cup final by beating Andy Roddick of the defending champion U.S. squad in September. To date he has won 82 matches this year against just 11 defeats, a Federerian winning percentage of .822.
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. ¿Como se dice: refuse to lose?
It's a valid argument. And a tennis player hasn't received the award since 1992 when Arthur Ashe won for dying. Nadal would be the first non-native American to win in 10 years when Sam Sosa shared the award with Mark McGwire.
Rafa will be tennis' easy pick for Player of the Year, but something tells me Michael Phelps has no competition for the Sports Illustrated cover.