During the ATP World Tour Finals, I purposefully neglected to discuss a Federer news item at that time as it wasn’t directly related to the tournament. However, I thought it was important enough to garner its own separate blog post so I waited till now. The topic is none other than the 2 awards Roger Federer won at the end of the tennis year. Novak of course carried off the year’s most coveted prize of ATP World Tour No. 1, as well as the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year Award for his contributions through the Novak Djokovic Foundation, his role as a UNICEF ambassador and other individual ventures. However, Roger also received two awards, the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award and the ATPWorldTour.com Fans’ Favourite award.
This post could have ended right here, but I think given the maestro’s history with these awards, a few more words are certainly needed.
This is Roger’s 8th Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award in 9 years. He received it from 2004 to 2009 with Rafa breaking the streak in 2010 before Roger receiving it again in 2011 and 2012. The recipient of Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award is defined as ‘The player who, throughout the year, conducted himself at the highest level of professionalism and integrity, who competed with his fellow players with the utmost spirit of fairness and who promoted the game through his off-court activities.’ The award is voted for by the other players of the ATP circuit. Considering the generations of players than have come and gone in the past 9 years and given that Roger was ranked #1 for a majority of those years one might have thought that would create resentment amongst the players or that Roger could’ve become more aloof and arrogant. But of course, as we know, neither has happened. We often see Federer being mentioned as classy both on and off the courts and these statements can be backed up by his fellow players voting for him time and time again. Edberg had won the award 5 times, leading it to be renamed after him; Roger is already on his 8th. The Swiss had this to say,
“Stefan Edberg was my idol growing up. He was a great inspiration for me. I always tried to play according to the rules and be respectful to my fellow competitors. A lot of other players totally deserve this award; it’s a great pleasure to win it.”
Roger also won the ATPWorldTour.com Fans’ Favourite award for the 10th year running. This award was first given in 2000 to Gustavo Kuerten. The fiery Marat Safin received it the next 2 years. Since 2003 however, it has been an absolute Fed-opoly. 2003 was the year Roger won his first grand slam, his first Wimbledon. And with it, he won over the fans’ hearts. As the decade went on Federer’s performances and rankings from year to year might have changed but his fans remained fiercely loyal and faithfully by his side; and 10 years on, unbelievably, the legion is still growing. This year Roger alone won a whopping 57% of the votes, Andy came in 2nd followed closely by Novak and Rafa.
A manifestation of the Swiss’ popularity is his 11,883,882 followers (and counting) on facebook, the highest amongst any tennis player, male or female. It is perhaps fitting that the only other tennis player who comes close is Rafa with 11,358,560. Novak and Andy have 2,475,274 and 883,358 respectively. The maestro is not on twitter however, unlike his fellow top 4 but no doubt his numbers would rank up there if he ever opened an account. Obviously facebook is not the only indication of popularity, but then you all you need to do is look at the diversity of crowds who attend his matches in RF gear, men, women, girls and boys who chant his name regardless of language or nationality, or the throngs who stand for hours for an autograph; you realize then that it doesn’t matter if the Swiss is ranked 1 or 3, he is always number 1 with the fans. When presented with the award this year Federer commented,
“It’s incredible. I got this award for the first time in 2003, the year I won Wimbledon, and every year since. It keeps me motivated and inspires me. It makes traveling so much easier. I hope I’ll see you supporting tennis and me in the future. I couldn’t thank you enough.”
From 2004 to 2007 and again in 2009 he won the trio of the Player of the year, now named the ATP World Tour No. 1, The Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award and the Fans’ Favorite award every year which no tennis player has ever done even once. Only Rafa came close by winning the ATP World Tour No. 1 and the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award in 2010; Roger still kept the Fan Favorite that year too. FedEx’s best year was 2006 when he won all three plus the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian of the Year award for his work with the Roger Federer Foundation and his work as a UNICEF ambassador.
Roger Federer’s popularity has propelled tennis to the forefront in the world of sports. His storied rivalry with Rafa added even more fuel. His attitude on court, his approachability off court, his multilingual prowess, his fashion and his lifestyle free from controversy has given the tennis universe its biggest ambassador. At this point, Roger isn’t playing for the money, he’s playing for sheer love of the sport, and that love encompasses life on tour, the sponsor and media obligations and the relentless travel. He loves it all and tennis loves him right back; the multiple awards over the past decade are just one manifestation of that adulation. I’ll end this post with a Federer quote when he achieved a record setting 300 weeks at #1 earlier this year.
“Sometimes you’re just happy playing. Some people, some media unfortunately don’t understand that it’s okay just to play tennis and enjoy it. They always think you have to win everything; it always needs to be a success story, and if it’s not obviously what is the point. Maybe you have to go back and think, ‘Why have I started playing tennis? Because I just like it.’ It’s actually sort of a dream hobby that became somewhat of a job. Some people just don’t get that ever.”
Well we do Roger, we get it. And we get that we’re privileged to watch you weave your magic on court. We hope you keep on playing for as long as you love the sport, of which you are its king, forever and always.