MONACO – Novak Djokovic’s stupendous comeback from injury last year which saw him win two Grand Slam titles earned him the Laureus Sportsman of the Year Award at a lavish ceremony on Monday.
The 31-year-old Serbian – who added the Australian Open in January to the Wimbledon and US Open crowns he won in 2018 after coming back from elbow surgery – won the award for a fourth time, beating the likes of France’s World Cup winner Kylian Mbappe and NBA superstar LeBron James.
Iconic American gymnast Simone Biles won Sportswoman of the Year for a second time on the back of the 21-year-old’s historic achievement last year in adding a fourth all-around world championship to her full to bursting medals cabinet.
Djokovic was delighted with his award – voted on by the 68 members of the Laureus Academy, which includes sporting legends such as nine-time singles Grand Slam champion Monica Seles and Britain’s six-time Olympic track cycling gold medallist Chris Hoy.
“Last year was an incredible season for me. Returning from injury to win Wimbledon and the US Open is something I’ll remember forever,” said Djokovic.
Seles, also born in Serbia – although now a naturalised American citizen – presented the award to Djokovic, who admitted it had been a long hard road back mentally as well as physically.
“Reflecting on it standing here now, it seems like a fairytale story, but it tells me one thing,” he said. “In those moments of when you are facing adversity and challenged, you should always look inside.
“I did not understand that fully before, but now I know where I can always find strength and belief and to keep on going.”
It was fitting that we gave the last words of #Laureus19 to an athlete who epitomises so much of what we admire in our sporting heroes.
Tennis had a golden night as women’s World No 1 Naomi Osaka – who like Djokovic added the Australian Open to her breakthrough Grand Slam success at the US Open – became the first Japanese winner of a Laureus award, the 21-year-old taking the World Breakthrough of the Year gong.
American golf great Tiger Woods was rewarded for his return from years in the wilderness, due to injury and personal problems, to winning the Tour Championship and going close to adding to his 14 major titles in the Open Championship and the PGA Championship with the Comeback of the Year award.
"If you asked me a couple years ago would I ever be involved in the game, I would have given you a different answer."
China’s Xia Boyu’s extraordinary achievement in climbing Everest last May, four decades after losing both legs to frostbite in a previous attempt to conquer it, won the Sporting Moment of the Year, which is voted on by the public.
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi was also nominated for that award.
Laureus is a global movement that aims to use the power of sport to tackle social challenges in the world.