(CNN) -- Rafael Nadal was glowing with pride after winning the prestigious Laureus Sportsman of the Year award, following in the footsteps of his greatest tennis rival Roger Federer.
The Spaniard was honored along with American skier Lindsey Vonn, who won the top women's prize at a ceremony in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
"It is very important (in terms of) personal satisfaction," the nine-time grand slam winner told CNN's Pedro Pinto.
"This nomination is voted for by the world of sport ... the best sportsmen and sportswomen in the world voted for me, it's a real honor. It was an emotional season for me, probably the most emotional of my career, so thank you very much for everyone who made this possible for me."
Federer won the men's award four successive times until champion sprinter Usain Bolt reigned in 2009 and 2010, but Nadal took this year's gong after reclaiming his world No. 1 ranking and winning three of the four tennis grand slam events.
The 24-year-old, who won the best newcomer category in 2006, headed off footballers Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta, Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel, basketball star Kobe Bryant and boxer Manny Pacquaio.
He said he was looking forward to returning to action after a leg injury effectively ended his hopes of completing a grand slam at the Australian Open last month.
"For me, the most important thing is not being No. 1 but to be healthy and keep being competitive in every tournament I play," Nadal said.
It was a big night for Spain as the country's 2010 World Cup-winning footballers took out the team award, while German golfer Martin Kaymer claimed the sporting breakthrough prize and Kelly Slater notched a second U.S. success as he won the action sports category for the third time.
Kaymer's compatriot, visually-impaired skier and biathlete Verena Bentele, won the sportsperson with a disability award while motorcycle champion Valentino Rossi was honored for best comeback achievement.
French football legend Zinedine Zidane received a lifetime achievement award, while Europe's Ryder Cup-winning team -- which featured Kaymer -- won the spirit of sport prize.
The 26-year-old Vonn won the top award for the first time after a year in which she won gold and bronze medals at the Winter Olympics in Canada and a third consecutive overall World Cup title.
The most successful U.S. woman skier of all-time, she triumphed ahead of three-time winner Serena Williams, her compatriot's fellow tennis stars Kim Clijsters and Caroline Wozniacki, and athletes Jessica Ennis and Blanka Vlasic.
Spain's football team continued the trend that has seen the FIFA World Cup holders triumph every time since the award's inception in 2000, this time heading off treble-winning club side Inter Milan, the Ryder Cup golfers, Bryant's NBA champions the LA Lakers, Vettel's all-conquering Red Bull outfit and rugby's New Zealand All Blacks.
Kaymer, who was crowned Europe's No. 1 and has risen to second in the world rankings, was honored ahead of fellow golfers Louis Oosthuizen and Matteo Manassero, Germany World Cup star Thomas Muller and French athletes Christophe Lemaitre and Teddy Tamgho.
Rossi recovered from a broken leg to return to the track in just 41 days, but could not add to his seven world MotoGP titles.
The Italian won the comeback award from tennis star Justine Henin, athletes Carolina Kluft, Tyson Gay and Merlene Ottey, plus U.S. golfer Paula Creamer.
Bentele triumphed ahead of fellow Paralympic star Lauren Woolstencroft of Canada, who also won five gold medals in Vancouver last year, skier Jakub Krako, swimmers Matt Cowdrey and Daniel Dias, plus wheelchair tennis star Esther Vergeer, a two-time winner.
Slater, who won a record 10th world title in 2010, headed off nominees including Australian women's surfing star Stephanie Gilmore, last year's winner who like the American has also been shortlisted eight times.