For a few months in the middle of 2020, things were looking bleak for sports fans (and athletes, of course). The sporting world had been reduced to a metaphorical ghost town, with tumbleweeds bouncing past shut stadiums around the world.
But, since May, slowly and steadily, things have started picking up. Liverpool have won the Premier League, Bayern Munich men’s team and Lyon women’s team romped to Champions League glory, England have been at the forefront of cricket’s restart and above all, the Lionel Messi saga: there has been no shortage of drama around the sporting world.
But nothing can come quite close to the incredible scenes one witnessed on September 6, 2020: a Super Sunday of sorts in a year that has not been all that super for sports. (Well, not quite super if you are a Novak Djokovic fan: more on that at the end of this).
Breathe easy, Indian Premier League fans. You will not have to wait till the toss to find out which two teams are playing on the day (as some feared). Two weeks before the start of the tournament in UAE, the schedule for IPL 2020 was finally announced by the Board of Control for Cricket in India. It is not like the world was waiting to make their plans to go watch the matches (seeing as it is not allowed, at least for now) but there were a lot of fans who were getting anxious with the delay in the schedule. On Sunday evening, as is usually the norm for BCCI, those tensions were eased as it became official that CSK will take on Mumbai Indians on September 19 to kick-start IPL 2020.
Pravin Tambe’s moment in the spotlight
One person who will (unfortunately) not be part of the IPL is Pravin Tambe. The 48-year-old was famously picked up by Kolkata Knight Riders at the auction last year but the BCCI decided they want no part of his fairy tale story because he played a T10 tournament.
But, given another shot at the limelight by KKR’s sister franchise Trinbago Knight Riders at the Caribbean Premier League, Tambe already made history by becoming the first Indian to play at the event. On Sunday, however, he made it even more special by taking a superb diving catch and following that up with a wicket too.
Tambe’s is a story that should remain an inspiration.
A couple of bizarre moments in Southampton
Over in Southampton, England won the T20I series against arch-rivals Australia rather easily. While the second match of the series was not the most memorable, it provided us two epic moments.
First, the review from England that will go down in the DRS Hall of Fame. It was Ultraedge that showed the ball hitting the middle of Aaron Finch’s bat. Ultramiddleofthebat, if you will. Everyone had a chuckle.
Later on, Jonny Bairstow became the first Englishman to be out hitwicket in a T20I.
For a while now, a group of German athletes have threatened to pull off something incredible in men’s javelin throw. On Sunday, at a Continental Tour Gold event in Poland, former world champion Johannes Vetter stunned the athletics world by sending the javelin 97.76m — the second longest throw of all time. You only had to see how the officials were scrambling back to measure when the javelin landed. No one was quite expecting that, not even Vetter.
Italian Grand Prix
When Lewis Hamilton scorched his way in record speed to the pole position at Ferrari’s home race in Monza, all signs were pointing at another routine race-day win for him.
But were we all in for a shock or what.
Pierre Gasly secured his first Formula One triumph on Sunday when he won a tumultuous Italian Grand Prix for the Alpha Tauri team after crashes, penalties and safety cars had tipped expectations upside down at Monza.
The first French race winner in 24 years seized his opportunity and resisted late pressure from Carlos Sainz of McLaren to claim his team’s second victory with Lance Stroll finishing third for Racing Point.
“It was such a crazy race,” said Gasly.
It was the Alpha Tauri outfit’s second win on Italian soil – the first having been scored for them when they raced as Toro Rosso by Sebastian Vettel, his maiden F1 win in a rain-hit race in 2008
Pole-sitter Hamilton was on his way to a comfortable win before a 10-second stop-go penalty for taking a pit stop when the pit lane was closed, pushed the Mercedes world champion to the back of the pack.
The six-time champion eventually ended up in seventh place.
Gasly, who was dropped by Red Bull to rejoin the junior sister team last year, jumped for joy as he leapt from his car. He became the first French driver to win a Grand Prix since Olivier Panis was triumphant at the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix.
“Honestly, it’s unbelievable,” said the 24-year-old from Rouen.
“I don’t think I’m realising what’s happening right now. We’ve been through so much in the past 18 months. I have no words.”
“It was such a crazy race. I have been through so much in the space of 18 months, to get my first win in Formula 1 I am struggling for words.”
– Shock Italian Grand Prix winner Pierre Gasly after his maiden F1 triumph and first by a French driver for 24 years.
“It hurts even more once it’s at home.”
– Charles Leclerc after Ferrari suffered their worst qualifying performance in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza in 36 years. In the race on Sunday, Leclerc survived a huge accident.
Ansu Fati continues to rise
There has been so much attention on Barcelona’s established superstar that it was a nice change of pace to see a rising star take the limelight.
Ansu Fati announced his arrival in international football on Sunday after becoming the youngest goalscorer in the history of the Spanish national team in a 4-0 thumping of Ukraine that put them on top of their Uefa Nations League group.
Barcelona forward Fati put Spain three goals ahead after just 31 minutes of the League A, Group 4 clash at the empty Alfredo di Stefano Stadium in Madrid with a fine individual strike that came amid a scintillating debut start for his adopted country.
Aged 17 years and 311 days, Fati, who was born in Guinea-Bissau and obtained Spanish nationality a year ago after moving to Spain when he was seven, beat the previous record held by Juan Errazquin, who scored three goals aged 18 against Switzerland in 1925.
“As soon as I showered and changed I called my family – they are the people who have helped me reach this day and who always help me overcome challenges,” Fati said after the match.
“I’ll ask all the guys to sign this Spain shirt and it’ll go up on the wall in a special place in my house.”
Having already won the penalty that captain Sergio Ramos converted just two minutes after kick-off, he could have scored just minutes before finding the net when his close-range bicycle kick was unwittingly cleared just as it looked to be heading in.
Fati’s strike – a curling shot after some fine footwork on the edge of the area – came just three minutes after Ramos had put Spain two up with a beautiful looping header from Dani Olmo’s cross. Substitute Ferran Torres completed the rout five minutes from the end.
Shelby Rogers’ escape act
From Europe, we move to New York where, not for the first time in the past week, a player fought back from the brink to register an epic win.
American Shelby Rogers fought off four match points to upset sixth seed Petra Kvitova and reach the US Open quarter-finals for the first time on Sunday.
The 27-year-old Rogers, who two years ago wondered if she would ever play again as she struggled to recover from knee surgery, battled into the last eight with a 7-6 (7/5), 3-6, 7-6 (8/6) defeat of Czech ace Kvitova in two hours and 40 minutes.
It is only the second time in Rogers’ decade-long career that she has advanced to the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam. She reached the last eight at the French Open in 2016.
Rogers said she hopes to draw on the memory of her defeat at Roland Garros in New York.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been in the quarter-finals of a Slam,” Rogers said. “It’s nice to have those memories coming back, remember that time. It was a very special moment for me.
“Maybe it will help me a little bit. I’d like to do one, two better than I did last time at the French Open.
“It’s nice to be back there. I told myself coming back after injury and quarantine, ‘You can get back to where you’ve been before, you’ve done it, and go even farther’.”
Rogers’ career was plunged into uncertainty in 2018 when she ruptured cartilage in her knee at Indian Wells. A difficult recovery left her fearing her promising career would be cut short.
“The low moment was six months after my surgery where I didn’t think I’d be able to play,” Rogers said. “I wasn’t confident in my knee. I wasn’t able to move like I thought I should. Here I am two years later as fit as I’ve ever been and moving really well.”
Even though she started this year ranked 174th in the world – she is now ranked 93rd – Rogers said she always thought of herself as a higher-ranked player.
“When I stepped on the court, I didn’t see that number,” she said. “I felt like I would get back to where I wanted to be if I just kept doing the things that I knew were right, stuck with the process.”
Rogers’ performance was the latest impressive showing from the US contingent in the women’s singles at Flushing Meadows.
With Jennifer Brady upsetting Angelique Kerber earlier on Sunday, and second seed Sofia Kenin and third seed Serena Williams playing in the fourth round on Monday, the United States could have as many as four women in the quarter-finals.
Novak Djokovic disqualified
While almost everything that came before this had a celebratory feel to it, the only word to describe what happened at the Arthur Ashe Stadium late on Sunday night is: bizarre.
Serbian star Novak Djokovic was dramatically disqualified from the US Open on Sunday after seemingly accidentally striking a line judge with a ball in frustration during his last-16 match, sending shock waves through the tournament.
The world No 1 apologized for hitting the ball in disgust after losing his serve to go 6-5 down in the first set to Spain’s 20th seed Pablo Carreno Busta.
Djokovic appeared to be looking the other way when he pulled the ball from his pocket and smacked it in the direction of the official, it hitting her directly on the throat.
The official cried out and began gasping for air as she collapsed to the ground.
Djokovic rushed over to check on her, placing his hand on her back as she struggled to breathe. After a few minutes she got up and walked off the court looking dazed.
Around ten minutes of discussions then ensued between Djokovic and the tournament referee Soeren Friemel alongside other officials, during which the 33-year-old pleaded his case.
The umpire then declared that Carreno Busta had won by default.
And just like that, in a few surreal moments, the dream of winning an 18th Major was over as was his incredible 26-match win streak in 2020.
(With AFP inputs)