The year 2020, perhaps, saw the least amount of competitive sport being played globally due to the unprecedented circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Olympics were cancelled and most major sporting events were rescheduled, curtailed or played in empty arenas. But even in an interrupted season, the theatre of sport continued to provide respite and drama, controversy and upliftment.
Records were broken, new heights reached and fresh voices emerged in a year when the role of an athlete transcended the sport they played. At the same time, there was comfort of familiar champions and tales of resurgence.
There was much to remember for sports fans, both on and off the court. Here’s a throwback to some of the most memorable sporting moments of 2020.
Lucky 13 takes Nadal to record 20th Major
Rafael Nadal skipped the US Open but there was no way the Spaniard was going to miss his signature event, the French Open which took place at a blustery Roland Garros in a rearranged late September/early October slot.
Inevitably, and without dropping a set on the way, Nadal bulldozed his way to the final where he met Djokovic who was keen to atone for his mishap at Flushing Meadows. It was barely a contest with Nadal winning 6-0, 6-2, 7-5 to claim a 13th French Open title and match Federer’s record of 20 major wins.
India slump to new low – 36 all out
Any cricket team can have a bad day at the office but few have suffered a batting meltdown to compare with India, captained by the great Virat Kohli, when they were bowled out for just 36 by Australia in the first Test in Adelaide in December.
India had been in a decent position after the first innings but Josh Hazlewood (5/8) and Pat Cummins (4/21) ripped through them. It was the fifth-lowest score in Test history and India’s lowest ever.
Osaka speaks out with her masks
Naomi Osaka led the way for athlete activism in tennis in 2020 with her stand for the Black Lives Matter movement.
She attended a peaceful protest in Minneapolis in the wake of George Floyd’s death, wrote an op-ed about racism and Black Lives Matter and later joined the US Sports boycott. Memorably, she wore facemasks with different names of black victims of police brutality at the US Open. After her first match, she said she had prepared seven masks with the aim to reach the final; and got the chance to sport them all as she banished her demons to win a thrilling US Open final for her third Grand Slam title.
Dhoni announces a lyrical farewell
Not having played for over a year and cricket competitions at a standstill, the speculation over 39-year-old MS Dhoni’s future occupied a large chunk of news during the lockdown. This intensified when the T20 World Cup was pushed back by a year due to the pandemic.
But the former India cricket captain answered all questions in his characteristic unconventional manner, retiring by positing a homemade-style video posted on social media to the tune of a philosophical Bollywood song. The announcement seemed so ambiguous and out-of-the-box, it was talked about for a long time.
Bayern sweep to Champions League title
When the pandemic forced Uefa to transform the final stages of the Champions League into a mini-tournament in Lisbon, Bayern looked the best team from the start. An 8-2 annihilation of Barcelona only added to the momentum and powered by goal-machine Robert Lewandowski, they were unstoppable.
Hansi Flick’s accomplished side won their sixth European crown thanks to Kingsley Coman’s header against Paris Saint-Germain in the final.
Lyon extend dominance win fifth straight Champions League title
Lyon continued their reign as Europe’s dominant women’s team as they won the Champions League trophy for the fifth year, beating Wolfsburg 3-1 in the final.
Five titles in a row saw them equal the feat achieved by the Real Madrid men’s team between 1956 and 1960, in the early days of the European Cup. This completed an incredible treble as they had also pipped PSG to claim a 14th successive French title and defeated the same team on penalties in the French Cup final.
Hamilton matches Schumacher’s record
When Michael Schumacher bowed out of Formula One, few thought his record of 91 Grand Prix wins and seven world championships would ever be matched. In 2020, Lewis Hamilton did just that, winning 11 of the 17 races to take his tally beyond Schumacher’s record to 95, and equalling the German’s seven titles.
The 35-year-old Briton certainly benefitted from the outstanding Mercedes car at his disposal but there is little doubt he has etched his name firmly among the greatest of his sport.
Djokovic’s sensational disqualification
World No 1 Novak Djokovic went into the US Open looking for an 18th Major triumph in the knowledge that Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were absent. Going into his fourth-round match against 20th seed Pablo Carreno Busta, the Serb had not lost a singles match in 2020.
It all went wrong though when the 33-year-old vented his frustration after dropping his service by hitting a ball behind him, striking a female line judge in the throat. Djokovic immediately apologised but after a lengthy discussion, he was disqualified, leaving the field open for Dominic Thiem.
Swiatek takes Pole position at Roland Garros
Iga Swiatek was ranked 54th in the world when she travelled to Roland Garros. Two weeks later, after seeing off Australian Open champ Sofia Kenin in the final, the 19-year-old had risen to No 17 and had become the first Pole to win a Grand Slam singles title.
It was a breathtaking fortnight for Swiatek who capitalised on the absence of world No 1 Ashleigh Barty and the early exit through injury of Serena Williams to become the youngest female singles winner since Monica Seles in 1992.
Liverpool end 30-year Premier League wait
Under Jurgen Klopp, the Reds had threatened for two years to finally land their first domestic title since 1990.
Strengthened by the addition of goalkeeper Alisson and centre-back Virgil van Dijk, in 2019-’20 they galloped to an almost unassailable lead, only for the pandemic to halt football. When the season resumed, they didn’t miss a Mersey beat and lifted the trophy on an empty Kop as their supporters defied coronavirus warnings to gather in a haze of red flares outside.
Australia clinch fifth T20 World Cup with crowd record
A rampant Australia emphatically swept to their fifth ICC Women’s T20 World Cup title on March 8, in one of the last major tournaments with full crowds. In fact, the 86,174 fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on International Women’s Day was a record crowd for a women’s cricket game.
It was heartbreak for India though, as they were crushed by 85 runs in their second World Cup final in three years.
Indian Premier League goes outside India
The IPL, usually held in the summer, was moved to autumn and played outside India in the United Arab Emirates due to the rising Covid-19 cases in India. But despite no crowds in the stadium and players being in a bubble for months, it was seen as a welcome relief to cricket fans during the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the different circumstances, the result seemed a familiar one as Mumbai Indians won an unprecedented fifth title beating first-time finalists Delhi Capitals. But the major change in the 2020 edition seemed to be the result of Chennai Super Kings – who slumped out of the playoffs race for the first time in IPL history.
A Messi Saga
Off-field, Lionel Messi and Barcelona were at the centre of the biggest drama in football. A La Masia product and seen as life-long Blaugrana, Messi shocked the football world when he said he wants to leave the Catalan club. Bitter losses and the evident lack of planning and team building had finally got to the captain.
A lengthy drama followed with legal causes invoked and the Argentine decided to stay because he didn’t want to battle ‘the club of his life’, giving an explosive interview against the team management However, a new coach in Ronal Koeman and a new season hasn’t brought much cheer to Camp Nou as the same old problems persist.
Cricket in the time of corona
When coronavirus first struck, it looked as though all summer sport would be written off but on July 8 at the Rose Bowl in Southampton, England and the West Indies, who had been in a bio-secure bubble for a month, emerged to play a thrilling Test behind closed doors. West Indies edged the opener thanks to fine performances by captain Jason Holder, Shannon Gabriel and Jermaine Blackwood but England came back to take the three-Test series.
The real winner, though, was the England and Wales Cricket Board who managed this and the next series against Pakistan, as well as ODI series against Ireland and Australia, impeccably. They also ensured the women’s team had an international series to play against West Indies, after India controversially cancelled their tour and South Africa pulled out as well.
Athletics finds a new star
When pole vaulter Armand Duplantis set a new world record of 6.18m in an indoor meet in Glasgow in February a week after clearing 6.17m, the sport of track and field had a new star. The US-based Swede with the teen movie looks then produced the highest outdoor vault of all time (6.15m) and finished the year undefeated in 16 competitions.