Roger Federer, in a recent Twitter tweet, acknowledged that he has been “out of sight” lately. The comment is no doubt a reference to his ongoing knee rehabilitation, recovery efforts that have kept him out of competitive matches for a few months now. In the same November 10th tweet Federer stated that it was “nice to know” that he was “not out of mind,” a reference to the fact that the Swiss Maestro won the ATP’s Stefan Edberg Award, one that is awarded annually for sportsmanship on the ATP Tour.
Federer, who was actually coached by Stefan Edberg for a long time, is not even close to being a stranger to the award. The Swiss Maestro has won it every year but one since 2004. Rafael Nadal is the only other active player to have won the award, the Spaniard having won it in 2010. Otherwise, the most-recent non-Federer recipients of the award are long-retired players Paradorn Srichaphan and Patrick Rafter.
But if there was ever a year where Federer would not win the award 2016 seemed like a candidate. That doesn’t mean that his class act has changed, but he only played in 28 matches this “out of sight” season, a very low total for him. In awarding the award to Federer the players that voted for him made it clear that being a good sport is something that does not have to be demonstrated over the entire ATP campaign.
In looking back at the last 20 years there is no precedent for winning the sportsmanship award with so few matches played. For instance, when Federer has won it he has often played in 60+ matches. Rafter won the award in 2001 despite playing only 53 matches, a total that still nearly doubles the number that Federer played in for 2016. The player voters might be a little guilty here of letting Federer’s reputation precede their voting. I don’t think he deserved the award just based on his limited match total in 2016.
But the awards ceremony is history now, and Federer has what is his 12th sportsmanship award. Other players recognized for other awards actually had to labor the full season. Juan Martin del Potro won the Comeback Player of the Year Award following a season that included a title in Stockholm and a silver medal in Rio. Lucas Pouille received the Most Improved Player of the Year Award in no small part due to deep runs at both Wimbledon and Flushing Meadows. Marin Cilic won the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award for actions off the court.
The last award to be issued is one that couldn’t be handed out this week. The player of the year is not a nominated or voted on award. Rather the award is entirely rankings based, and it’s still up for grabs. Andy Murray, the current World No. 1, is likely to win the award. However, he still has some work to do in London next week in a race that is between him and Novak Djokovic.