Federer Tops Winners' List in St. Pete

ReutersPole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva straightening Putin's collar Monday night as racing driver Mika Hakkinen looks on at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg.
ST. PETERSBURG -- Tennis was the big winner in St. Petersburg on Monday as Swiss ace Roger Federer and Belgium's Justine Henin picked up Laureus World Sportsmen awards.

The victory in the sportsman of the year category was Federer's fourth, and, with President Vladimir Putin looking on from the audience, Henin completed the tennis double by taking the women's prize.

The team award went to South Africa for its Rugby World Cup triumph, and Ukrainian Pole Vault legend Sergei Bubka was recognized with a lifetime achievement award.

Sixty Olympic gold medalists, including 16 from Russia, joined Putin in the Mariinsky Concert Hall to honor the greatest performers of 2007, as voted by the 43-member Laureus academy.

Federer made history when he added to his wins of the last three years to once again beat out the other favorite, U.S. golfer Tiger Woods, as well as other nominees, U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay, Brazilian World footballer of the year Kaka, Finland's Formula One champion Kimi Raikkonen and U.S. swimmer Michael Phelps.

Federer, who has held the No. 1 spot in the world rankings since February 2004, saw his win as a reward for his unbroken dominance of men's tennis.

"It's a big moment. I think the first one ... made a statement that Roger Federer has arrived," he said. "Now the fourth [award] is just proof that I have been doing an incredible job of keeping it up, staying healthy and doing things the right way."

Ominously for his opponents, Federer, 26, spoke of playing till the age of "35 or so."

Henin's triumph was a predictable reward for a brilliant year that included Grand Slam wins in the French and U.S. Opens, eight other titles, and the best win-loss mark in women's tennis – 94 percent – since 1989.

Henin's rival nominees were Russian pole vaulter and last year's Laureus winner, Yelena Isinbayeva, Swedish heptahlete Carolina Kluft, Australian swimmer Libby Lenton, Brazilian world footballer of the year Marta and Mexican golf No. 1 Lorena Ochoa.

Former Springbok coach Jake White felt humbled that the team he led to victory at the Rugby World Cup won out over such illustrious company as European and world club football champion AC Milan, Formula One champion Ferrari and the all-conquering Australian cricket team.

Flanked by five team members, including world player of the year Brian Habana, White said, "Look at those teams we were up against, AC Milan, Ferrari, Australian cricket, and yet the jury, all top, top sportspeople, decided that the Springbok rugby team is the world team of the year. I don't think it can get any bigger than that."

The other team nominees were the Germany's World Cup-winning football team, and the Iraqi men's football team for its fairytale Asia Cup victory.

Two of the biggest names in British sport won Laureus Awards. Lewis Hamilton won the breakthrough award for his remarkable debut season in Formula One, and Paul Radcliffe won the comeback award after her return from a two-year absence -- to give birth to her first child and then recover from injury -- was capped by her win in the New York Marathon.

In the night's other awards, U.S. skateboard and snowboard ace Shaun White won for action sports, and Dutch women's wheelchair tennis great Esther Vergeer won the disabled sportsperson category.