The Associated Press recently named their Male Athlete of the Year award and it went to Lebron James. Peyton Manning came in 2nd and Jimmy Johnson came in 3rd.
Where was Rafael Nadal?
Sure, what Lebron did this past year was amazing. Lebron is a freak of an athlete at the top of his game. He won regular season MVP honors. His team, the Miami Heat won the 2nd of back-to-back championships and Lebron was named Finals MVP. Everyone remembers that clutch 3 Ray Allen hit in game 6 against the Spurs. Without it, the Heat would’ve lost the series. But do you remember who shot a 3 AND missed? Lebron James. Who rebounded that missed shot and passed it out to Ray? Lebron James? Nope. It was Chris Bosh. No rebound, no 3 pointer. No 3 pointer, no Championship. No championship, no MVP for Lebron.
I’m not here to make a case against Lebron. Well, I kind of am. But I’m here to make a case for Rafael Nadal as a legitimate candidate for Male Athlete of the Year. Why wasn’t he even in the top 3? Is it because he’s a tennis player? Did you know that the last male tennis player to win Athlete of the Year was 32 years ago to John McEnroe? And before that? You’ll have to go back 43 more years to 1938 when it went to Don Budge. But I digress, let’s talk Rafa.
Coming off his knee injury and having his lowest ranking in quite some time at 5, Rafa started off his 2013 season AFTER the Australian Open. So he’s already handicapped due to the fact that he didn’t participate in 1 of the 4 Major events. Then he went on to win 4 of the next 5 events. And even in the one event in which he didn’t win, he made it to the final.
The first true test for him was at Indian Wells, at the BNP Paribas Open. The fast, hard court surface was not something Rafa is known to excel in. So what happens? He goes and wins the title. Even with a draw that featured the worlds best; including Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
During the clay season, or Rafa Season, as it is known in some circles, he won 4 more events including his 8th Roland Garros title.
Then there was Wimbledon. Ok, moving on.
Back to North America, where more hard court events waited for him. On his least favorite surface, Rafael Nadal went undefeated! Winning in Montreal, Cincinnati and at the US Open.
So to summarize, all Rafael Nadal did in 2013 was:
– Voted by his fellow Spaniards as the greatest Spanish athlete of all time
– Take back the #1 ranking
– Win 2 of the 3 majors he played in
– Win 5 Masters 1000 events
– Take home a total of 10 titles
– Only missing the finals 3 times
– Rake in $14.5 million in prize money
– Have a 91.4% winning percentage (75-7)
– All while coming back from serious knee injury
Critics and naysayers might ask, “But why Rafa and why this year?” There certainly have been better seasons, even recently. Federer in 2006 and 2007 or Novak Djokovic’s ridiculous season in 2011. And I would agree, Federer and Novak deserved some love and consideration during those years. But that shouldn’t diminish what Nadal has done this year.
And I just want to mention the person who came in 2nd. Peyton Manning. Full disclosure: I love Peyton Manning. I think he is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. But Peyton over Rafa? Not only did Peyton Manning NOT win the Superbowl, he came in 2nd in MVP voting. If the case for Peyton is one of comeback from injury, then why not Rafael Nadal?
So should Rafael Nadal have won Athlete of the Year? Unfortunately, I don’t have a vote. But I think there’s a real good case for it.
What do you think?