Cricket International

Sportstar’s classics: From Usain Bolt’s three-peat to Federer-Nadal Wimbledon classic


The coronavirus pandemic has forced cancellations or postponements of events across the globe. If the lack of sporting action has left a void in your day, here’s something to satiate that hunger – our pick of five classic sporting moments from the years gone by that you should revisit.

Ronaldinho vs. England, FIFA World Cup quarterfinal, 2002

Over the course of his career at Barcelona, Ronaldinho produced many moments of magic. But the one that’s still etched in my mind is the performance that first announced his arrival on the big stage — against England in the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup in Korea-Japan. It was a time when English Premier League was beamed across Asia and loyalties were firmly divided between Manchester United and Arsenal. Scores of such fans in India united to root for England by default.

Ronaldinho celebrates his goal for Brazil against England in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal   –  AP

The side was led by the fashionable David Beckham; it was a long time before veteran writer Brian Glanville started railing against ‘Beckhamitis’ in the pages of this hallowed magazine. But over one half of football, Ronaldinho’s buck-toothed brilliance decimated England. His first contribution was a superb assist for Rivaldo’s equaliser, where he picked up the ball just inside his own half, ran past scurrying defenders before leaving Ashley Cole on the ground with a step-over that the latter is unlikely to ever forget. The next was a free-kick from almost 60 yards out that left David Seaman, who was off his line, looking stupid. To me, no two moments showcase better the joyful self-expression that Brazilian football is known for.

Read: Olympics postponed to 2021: Neeraj, Yadav welcome the move

Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal, Wimbledon final, 2008

In the mid-2000s, I was always told by legions of Roger Federer fans that Rafael Nadal, in his pirate pants and sleeveless shirt, was nothing more than an upstart with a one-dimensional clay-court game who would soon fade away. From 2004 to 2007, Federer had won 11 of the 16 Slams and was well on his way to being christened the greatest ever. But Nadal stood between Federer and his coronation. The Spaniard had beaten Federer in three consecutive French Open finals (2006-2008). Federer, for his part, had overcome Nadal in the Wimbledon final both in 2006 and 2007 and was primed in 2008 to become the first man to claim six straight singles crowns at the All England club.

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Roger Federer congratulates Rafael Nadal after his 2008 Wimbledon win   –  Getty Images

But in a match that ended under fading light and flickering flashbulbs, Nadal denied Federer to become the first male since Bjorn Borg to complete the arduous French Open – Wimbledon double. It was a roller-coaster that witnessed two rain delays and two missed championship points for Nadal in the fourth set tie-breaker before the man from Mallorca took it 9-7 in the fifth. My father, a life- long John McEnroe supporter, often spoke with great joy about how an irresistible force from America dethroned Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon in 1981. I finally had a story to match.

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Sachin Tendulkar 175 vs. Australia in Hyderabad, 2009

A Sachin Tendulkar solo ending in an agonising defeat inevitably brings the Chennai Test of 1998-99 against Pakistan to mind. But the maestro’s terrific 175 (141b, 19×4, 4×6) against Australia in Hyderabad in November 2009 can stand shoulder to shoulder. Until then in the series, Tendulkar had appeared scratchy. Leading up to the match, he hadn’t crossed 40 in five innings, a lean patch by his exalted standards. On that day, however, he didn’t put a foot wrong.

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Sachin Tendulkar holds his pose after a cover drive   –  K.R. DEEPAK

The stand-out drives, the jaw-dropping flicks and the cheeky late-cuts and paddle sweeps were out in full force as he led India stage a stunning counter-attack while chasing a mammoth 350. It was his 45th ODI century, ninth and the fastest by any Indian against Australia (81b). In Chennai, Tendulkar had departed leaving the last three batsmen to get 17 runs. In Hyderabad, they had to get 19 off 17. It was tragic for a Tendulkar- worshiper like me to not see the great man lead his team home. It was something his critics always held against him. But the innings, like the one in Chennai, endures even in defeat.

Read: Biles, Felix, Federer: Olympics swansong denied or delayed?

Michael Phelps eight golds, Beijing Olympics, 2008

Mark Spitz’s seven gold medals in the 1972 Munich Olympics was the record for most golds in a single edition. Michael Phelps first tried to break that at Athens 2004, but had to ‘settle’ for six gold and two bronze medals. Four years later in Beijing, he swam to victories in all eight races he competed in, seven of them with world record timings. Over nine days and 17 races, I was sat riveted in front of the television every morning as Phelps whizzed through the waters.

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Michael Phelps with one of the eight gold medals won at the Beijing Olympics   –  AP

The explosive start, the remarkable turn off the wall and his end-game brilliance were sights I never got tired of. The see the surge of power travel through his gangly arms up to his finger-tips was electric. The victory in the 100m butterfly by one-hundredth of a second over Milorad Cavic was a perfect example of this. Phelps would go on to add nine more golds over the next two editions in London and Rio de Janeiro. But Beijing will forever be the acme of achievement.

Usain Bolt, triple ‘three-peat’, Rio Olympics, 2016

Usain Bolt was a showman. But no sprinter in history has had such an accessible persona. Elite athletes often talk about ‘being in the zone’, that state where the immersive focus render them Zen-like. Bolt’s greatest gift was that he made all of it look so amateurishly simple. At Rio in 2016, he completed the triple ‘three-peat’ of Olympic golds – the 100m, 200m and 4x100m titles across three straight Olympic Games – with world record times in all three events. It all started in 2008 when the world looked to him to drag track and field out of the pits after L’affaires Marion Jones and Justin Gatlin. In his first ever Olympic 100m in Beijing, he shattered the world record and ended the race with chest-thumping euphoria, well before the finish line. It kicked off a string of 21 global championship races he would run from 2008 to 2016. He won 19 of them. The signing off in Rio was just the way he had started, winning the 100m with that enduring sideways-looking giggle with a few metres still left. Those nine golds are Bolt’s and Bolt’s alone, but the clowning and the goofiness made him one of our own.

(This is a part of a daily series where Sportstar’s correspondents will pick their five favourite sporting moments worth revisiting. Reader contributions are welcome. Send in your picks to sportstar@thehindu.co.in)



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