(re-ledes with Vanity Fair award ceremony)

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Tennis great Rafael Nadal, honored here Monday night as Person of the Year by Vanity Fair, told reporters he is happy "to be part of a great era for Spanish sport."

"I believe Spain has a multitude of personalities and athletes who are at the highest level and much loved by everyone," the 26-year-old superstar said at the gala organized by the Spanish edition of Vanity Fair.

The injured Nadal hailed his teammates on Spain's Davis Cup team for the "exceptional" achievement of reaching the final for the ninth time, while adding that he was not sure he will recover in time to join the squad for the showdown with the Czech Republic.

Nadal, ranked No. 4 overall, began the summer on a high note by capturing a record seventh French Open title with a victory over then-world No. 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia in the final, but has not played since his shocking second-round loss at Wimbledon.

He said in a Twitter posting in early September that he would be sidelined for the next two months with lingering knee problems.

"I have missed the Olympics and the United States Open. What's most important now is to recover well and return when I can," Rafa said Monday night in Madrid.

"These are not joyous times, but neither should we deceive ourselves," Nadal said. "I have a career behind me and one ahead of me. I'm injured now, it's part of my profession."

The Spanish edition of Vanity Fair bestows its Person of the Year prize on the individual deemed to exercise the "most influence" on society "in any of its spheres."

Last year's recipient was Nobel literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa.

Vanity Fair said it selected the tennis star for the honor based on his accomplishments as an athlete and on the good works of the Rafa Nadal Foundation.

Nadal said in an interview published Monday in Vanity Fair that he was not sure "how long" he would keep "playing tennis" and that he was enjoying "one of the best seasons" of his career "until the knee injury."

"I don't know how long I will keep playing tennis. I'll be 31 in five years and taking into account the fact that I started at 16 ... Perhaps stopping now will help extend my career a little bit more. Until I had the problems with the knee again, the final at Roland Garros, had been one of the best seasons of my life. I felt able to win any competition. Complicated times came later," Nadal said.

"Success is not the victory, it's what you've done to win. The knowledge that you've done everything in your power to achieve what you wanted. That feeling makes me very happy. This year I lost the final in Australia and I didn't like it, but I was happy in some ways. It was a success to have lost like that," the tennis star said.

The Spaniard, known for his physically demanding style of play and incredible defensive skills, has struggled to stay healthy during his career, having been forced to withdraw from each of the four Grand Slam events due to various injuries. EFE