Novak Djokovic: My Sportsman of the Year

I was thrilled when James LaRosa of Tennis Channel informed his Twitter followers back in May that Novak Djokovic would appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Djokovic was in the midst of a remarkable 37-0 run and was on top of the tennis world.

What would the cover photo be? Perhaps it would be a beaming Djokovic, pointing to the skies after his emphatic victory over Andy Murray at the Australian Open. Or maybe a snapshot of his primal screams during one of his four wins over Rafael Nadal at Masters 1000 finals.

But it wasn’t to be. A tennis fan can only dream.

When LaRosa tweeted a picture of the cover I thought I had clicked on the wrong link. “This can’t be right,” I told myself, “I don’t see Djokovic anywhere!” It was only upon further inspection that I saw the tiny photo, accompanied with the tagline, “Novak Djokovic is the most dominant athlete in the world right now.”

Djokovic continued to dominate and finished the season as the No. 1 player in the world with an astounding 70-6 win-loss record. Djokovic performed his best when the stakes were the highest, winning the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Tennis.com has recently named Djokovic’s 2011 season as the No. 3 best men’s tennis season ever.

While tennis is a niche sport in the United States and Sports Illustrated caters to an American audience, Djokovic deserved to win Sportsman of the Year.

In addition to his on-court talents, the charismatic Serb has reached rock star status in his home country and has become the face of the once war-torn nation.

Brad Gilbert, former coach of Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray, is not a man of few words. When Sports Illustrated named college basketball coaches Pat Summitt of Tennessee and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski as the Sportswoman and Sportsman of 2011, Gilbert took to Twitter to voice his displeasure. 

He also points out that the mighty Roger Federer, who has 16 Grand Slam titles, has never been named Sportsman of the Year either. In fact, no tennis player has won since Chris Evert did in 1976.

While foreign athletes with weird last names may be a hard sell to American sports fans, Djokovic’s historic season should have been honored. Maybe tennis is not ready for the spotlight. But when it is, I hope to see Novak Djokovic on the cover – front and center.