The last time a tennis player was named the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year was in 1992, when Arthur Ashe was recognized for his illustrious career as well as his humanitarian work. It seems unlikely that 2015 will be the year for another tennis player to earn the title—one of the most prestigious athletic honors in the United States—despite the fact that Novak Djokovic, the world’s number-one competitor, is perhaps as worthy a candidate as any other.
In the Sports Illustrated reader poll, which is one of the factors that determines the recipient of the award, Djokovic currently has only one percent of the vote.
The leader? American Pharaoh, the racehorse that won the Triple Crown this spring. That’s right, the Sportsman of the Year very well may be a horse.
The ridiculousness of these statistics is an entirely different issue for another time. What’s worth discussing now is how incredibly overlooked Djokovic’s season has been.
The 28-year-old Serbian is 78-5 this season coming into the ATP World Tour Finals, the final event of the year, where the world’s top eight players compete in a round-robin format. Djokovic, who has won the event the past three seasons, came into the event on a 22-match winning streak, having not lost since August.
Not only has Djokovic won an exceptional number of matches, but he has done it on the biggest stages against the best players. In the finals of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, he beat Roger Federer, who is often considered to be the greatest player of all time. 2015 has also been the year in which Djokovic won the Australian Open for a fifth time.
The Serbian tennis star’s performance has been almost flawless all year, and furthermore, he has consistently embodied what it is to be a sportsman. Perhaps no player is more gracious in defeat than Djokovic—a true testament to his character given that losses are such a rare occurrence.
Coupled with his work to raise money for children in his native country through the Novak Djokovic Foundation, there is no question that it is hard to find a more impressive, accomplished athlete in 2015.
Given that the Sportsman of the Year is awarded by an American magazine with American writers, it is understandable that Djokovic, a global sports icon, is being overlooked.
Regardless, it is a shame that he does not have much of a shot at the title. He might not be the most recognized athlete in this country, but, if the award truly is for best sportsman, Djokovic deserves more consideration.
At least, more than a horse.
Shapiro is a member of the class of 2016.