My choice for top athlete of the decade is the legendary and classy Roger Federer.
Talk about dominating in sports -- all of Federer's fifteen major titles were won between 2003-2009 and he finished the decade claiming his first French Open title, giving him a career Grand Slam, and then a month later, won his sixth Wimbledon title for a total of 15 Grand Slam championships, earning more Grand Slam titles than any other male player in history. And he closed out the year ranked number one in the world -- again!
For the entire decade, Federer was known for winning tennis tournaments, being a nice guy, and giving back to fans. Being the top ranked player for most of the decade never distanced him from being 'one of the guys.' Players on the Tour will tell you how much they like and respect Roger Federer. And throughout his career, he has connected with the fans and makes himself available for media interviews. He is truly one of the nicest athletes on the planet and conducts himself with grace on and off the court.
A short review of his record 15 Grand Slam Championships are in order.
His first major title came at Wimbledon in 2003 where he lost only one set throughout the entire two weeks and beat Andy Roddick in the semis and then Mark Philippoussis to win his first of six championships on the grass at Wimbledon.
His second major title was won at the Australian Open in 2004 with a straight set win over Marat Safin. He beat Andy Roddick in the Wimbledon final that year and grabbed his first US Open championship with a win over Lleyton Hewitt. In 2005, Federer 'repeated' with Championships at both Wimbledon and the US Open, and in 2006 and 2007, the Swiss maestro won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
The 2008 Wimbledon final turned out to be the tennis match of the decade and one of the greatest matches in history. Through two rain delays, wind, and darkness, the two top players in the game dazzled with spectacular shots. Federer was only two points away from victory but Nadal was able to prevail, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7 in a 4-hour, 48-minute marathon. Federer described the loss as his most devastating. A month later, Federer relinquished his number 1 ranking to Nadal, after being at the top for 237 weeks! But just when you thought that crushing Wimbledon defeat would deflate Federer for the rest of the year, he managed to win a fifth straight US Open title with wins over Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. And a year later at Roland Garros, Federer (who had beaten Nadal on clay in Madrid a week earlier), won his very first French Open Title! Nadal suffered a shocking defeat to Robin Soderling in the fourth round. Although Nadal was out, it was not easy for Federer. He was within five points of a fourth round, straight sets loss to Tommy Haas, before turning it around. In the semi-finals, he had to come from behind to beat the talented Juan Martin del Potro in five sets before beating Robin Soderling in straight sets for his 14th Grand Slam title. Federer called it the most satisfying win of his life and up there with his very first win at Wimbledon.
And then it was on to Wimbledon where he and Andy Roddick played the longest match in Wimbledon history in number of games played, the fifth and final set going 30 games! Federer outlasted Andy Roddick 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14, serving a career high 50 aces. With Pete Sampras watching, Federer won his sixth Wimbledon title and a record-breaking 15th Grand Slam Championship. Nadal withdrew before the tournament started with a knee injury.
Critics of Federer enjoying 'Athlete of the Decade' recognition will cite the fact that Nadal has beaten Federer in five of seven championship finals and holds a 13-7 edge over him. I disagree. Their intense rivalry is great for tennis and proves that in spite of such a talented player being a threat in the draw, any time he is healthy, Federer was still able to dominate the sport in this decade, beating a plethora of talented players along the way. And Nadal and Federer's rivalry add to each player's greatness.
But if Nadal can get healthy, he could carry the torch into the next decade, with some help from Juan Martin del Potro and Novak Djokovic. To date, Nadal has won six Grand Slam titles including the Australian Open in 2009, four French Open titles from 2005-2008, and Wimbledon 2008. The US Open is the only Grand Slam title that has eluded him. He got to the semifinal round there in 2008. At 23 years of age, Nadal is five years younger than Federer and if he can stay injury-free, he can continue to add major titles to his incredible resume. Unfortunately, his explosive, high-octane style of play contributes to knee injuries and other ailments.
And many of you will argue that Tiger's stellar golf accomplishments in this decade make him your pick for Athlete of the Decade, choosing to overlook Tiger's quadruple bogies off the course. As you know, the Associated Press named him Athlete of the Decade a few weeks ago. There is no doubt that Tiger dominated golf, winning 12 of his 14 major titles this decade. He won 64 tournaments over-all and 56 PGA Tour events. And there is no doubt that Tiger ruled golf like Roger did in tennis. Roger did it with a lot more class.
For more information on Ann, visit her web site at annliguori.com.
Follow Ann Liguori on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@AnnLiguori