The world’s top-ranked professional tennis players, Novak Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka, both earned selection as the United States Sports Academy’s January Athletes of the Month for winning the Australian Open.
Djokovic outlasted Rafael Nadal in the longest Grand Slam match in history – 5 hours and 53 minutes. The 24-year-old Serb won the Australian Open for the third time by rallying to defeat Spain’s Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5. The match in Melbourne ended at 1:37 a.m. and Djokovic joined Nadal, Roger Federer, Pete Sampras and Rod Laver as the only players to have won three majors in a row since the sport turned professional in 1968. Only two men have managed to win all four of the sport’s biggest tournaments in a single year, which Djokovic says is his goal this season. Laver did it in 1962 and 1969, while American Don Budge achieved the feat in 1938.
Meanwhile, Azarenka, a 22-year-old from Belarus, won her first career Grand Slam title with a dominating 6-3, 6-0 victory over Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open finals. Azarenka, who was ranked third, became the new No. 1 women’s tennis player on the WTA Tour. Azarenka was tied at 2-2 with Sharapova but then she reeled off 10 of the remaining 11 games to earn the title. She had also won the Sydney International tournament in January against China’s Li Na, the defending French Open champion.
The public is invited to participate in the worldwide Athlete of the Month nomination and ballot voting processes. Visit the Academy website at www.ussa.edu to submit your nominations each month, and then return to the website during the first week of each month to vote on the male and female Athletes of the Month. The votes along with the Academy’s selection committee choose the winners and they are announced on the Academy’s website and in the online edition of The Sport Update.
Finishing second in the men’s category was Shaun White. The American snowboarder earned the first perfect score in Winter X Games history in the men’s Snowboard SuperPipe finals to win his fifth consecutive gold medal. He scored 100 out of a possible 100 points on his final run by unveiling his newest trick, a frontside double cork 1260. He nailed it on the final wall of his last run becoming officially the only person to have ever landed the trick.
The runner up to Azarenka on the women’s ballot was Lindsey Vonn. The American skier won two races and finished second in a third race at the Audi FIS Alpine World Cup in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Vonn has now won 49 World Cup races in her career. The Olympic downhill champion torched the St. Moritz speed track for a whopping 1.42 second margin of victory. The downhill win was Vonn’s eighth triumph of the season, second in two days and extended her World Cup overall lead to 352 points over Slovenia’s Tina Maze.
Third place winners for January were Eli Manning, an American quarterback for the New York Giants who led his team to a Super Bowl victory over the New England Patriots with outstanding performances throughout the playoffs; and American soccer star Abby Wambach, who led the United States women’s national soccer team to a CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying final’s victory and a berth in the 2012 London Olympics. She also scored her 131st goal to move into second on the list for the most goals scored all time, trailing only Mia Hamm’s 158 goals.
The winners of the Academy’s male and female Athletes of the Month will be considered as candidates for the 2012 Athlete of the Year ballot. In December 2012, the Academy will name the male and female Athlete of the Year for the 28th consecutive year. The recipients of this prestigious award are selected annually through worldwide online balloting hosted by the Academy in conjunction with USA Today and NBC Sports.
In 2011, the Male Athlete of the Year was No. 1-ranked tennis player Novak Djokovic of Serbia and the Female Athlete of the Year was No. 1-ranked golfer Yani Tseng of Taiwan. Both of them dominated 2011’s ballot that drew as many as 50,000 votes a day from across the world.