Beaten out by Calgary Stampeders star Jon Cornish for the Lou Marsh Award, Milos Raonic turned the tables Thursday as he was awarded the Lionel Conacher Award as the 2013 Canadian Press male athlete of the year.
Raonic received 45 per cent of the votes from sports broadcasters and editors across Canada, easily beating out Cornish (22 per cent), golfer Graham DeLaet (13 percent) and figure skater Patrick Chan (8 per cent).
The 6-foot-5 righthander from Thornhill, Ont., who finished second in the voting for this award a year ago, is the first tennis player to win the award since it was instituted in 1932. He also won Sportsnet's athlete of the year a few weeks ago.
"Raonic had the most successful year in the history of Canadian tennis and his outstanding performance in the Davis Cup played a leading role in the country's semifinal appearance," Yahoo Sports Canada managing editor Steve McAllister told the Canadian Press. "Raonic's climb up the ATP Tour rankings happens in an era that features more depth than ever before."
It was an early birthday present for Raonic, who is currently in Perth, Australia preparing for his first event of the season. He turns 23 on Friday.
"To have them vote (for) me and tell my story back home and being so positive about it, it's really great to see," Raonic told CP earlier this week from his training base in Monte Carlo. "To (be) recognized through an award like this means a lot to me."
Currently No. 11 in the ATP Tour rankings, Raonic jumped into the top-10, albeit briefly, when he reached the final of the big Rogers Cup event in Montreal last August. He was the first Canadian player to do that in 55 years.
Raonic also led the Canadian team to the semi-finals of the prestigious Davis Cup team competition, and won two ATP Tour events this season.
In an era where the top players (Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Roger Federer) have won just about every major title available, Raonic has set himself apart from the rest of his generation of up-and-comers by maintaining his position as one of the next tier of players, while working to improve and make that final leap.
A day after Raonic received his award, his female counterpart, Genie Bouchard, won the Bobbie Rosenfeld award as CP's female athlete of the year.
Both are appealing performers in their own way. And their concurrent rise in a sport that has global reach – and isn't hockey – has helped their achievements to be recognized by the members of the sports media across the country who voted for them in overwhelming numbers for these awards.
The best part is, they're just getting started. Raonic turned 23 Friday; Bouchard doesn't turn 20 until February.
Raonic made a coaching change earlier this year, from the Spaniard Galo Blanco to Croatia's Ivan Ljubicic, a recently-retired player who reached No. 3 in the world in singles.
Their first match will be against Australia on Saturday.
Stephanie Myles has written about everything from Major League Baseball to wheelchair rugby to tiddly winks over the last two decades. You can usually find her on a tennis court somewhere. More tennis musings can be found at opencourt.ca.