My Sportsman: Roger Federer
There were plenty of reasons for Roger Federer to decline as a tennis player
However, the seven-time Wimbledon champion had an incredible season
Federer is the same person each and every day, whether he wins or loses
Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 3. This year we asked a select group of people from outside the staff to offer nominations for that honor. Four-time World Cup winner Lindsey Vonn selected tennis player Roger Federer, and she explains why below as told to SI.com's Richard Deitsch. Please vote for your Inspiring Performer, Photo of The Year, and Moment of The Year on our Facebook page.
There were plenty of people who wrote off Roger Federer once he turned 30. He had his kids, he had gotten married, he was going downhill as a tennis player. But this year he came back and had an incredible year. He won his seventh Wimbledon title, he passed Pete Sampras to become the record-holder for the most weeks spent at No. 1, and he won a silver medal at the Olympics. The way he keeps fighting back to dominate his sport personally inspires me, and that's why I'm choosing Roger as my Sportsman of the Year. I think he's legitimately one of the greatest athletes of all time.
You know, I've met a lot of athletes over the years, and plenty of arrogant athletes who either don't care to meet you or have any interest in what you have to say. But of all the athletes I've ever met, Roger is the kindest and most genuine. He really cares about people and what he's done with his foundation and his humanitarian efforts has been incredible. He's hard-working and extremely humble, but the thing I respect most about him is he's the same person every day whether he wins or loses. You just don't find many people like that in sports. The truth is, the greatest athletes in the world are just not that nice. I really feel he's in a league of his own there. He cares about being a role model and that kids can look up to him. I consider him a hero because I want to be like him. I want to be a good role model for kids, too.
I'm a Youth Olympics Games ambassador so I was at Wimbledon this summer when he beat Juan Martin del Potro in that incredible Olympic semifinal match. I talked to Roger after that match and I remember how he was just so tired. But he was the same as he always is. He asked me how my skiing was going and I was like, 'Don't talk about my skiing. Let's talk about how awesome you are.' He just smiled and laughed.
I'm a decent tennis player -- not great by any means -- but I've never asked to hit with Roger because honestly I'd just freak out. I'd be so nervous that I think I would choke and hit all the balls either into the net or off the court. But I've gotten a chance to watch him practice and he's so fluid on the court. There are a lot of great athletes, but there's something special about an athlete who makes it looks that effortless.
We did an interview together for a Swiss paper at the French Open this year and they asked Roger if he had ever skied with me. He said he was going to wait until he was done with his tennis to do it, but I think his girls (he and his wife Mirka have 3-year-old twins, Myla Rose and Charlene Riva) are going to start skiing soon. He knows I'm there for him if they want lessons as long as my kids one day get tennis lessons from him. I'm very cool with that tradeoff.
Vonn, a four-time overall World Cup champion, will next compete on Dec. 1-2 in Beaver Creek, Colo.