It just seems the other day when I was signing off goodbye to 2016 — time really flies. And it’s time again to reflect on the sporting year that’s going to draw to a close soon and take stock of the hits and misses that kept us engaged all the way.
How does, then, one look back at 2017? As an year devoid of any of the showpieces like a football or cricket World Cup or the ‘greatest show on earth’ in the Summer Olympics, it did not usher in with the same amount of buzz in one for whom sport is bread and butter. I am happy to be proved wrong by the end of it all.
In a way, it was an year of the masters of the game. The sense of déjà vu in the tennis fan was unmistakable as Federer and Nadal, the two modern icons of the game, renewed their rivalry with all flair and intensity and ended the year with two titles each from the four grand slams. Something. which would have seemed unbelievable at the beginning of the year.
Personally speaking, it’s the renaissance of these two great champions which rang like the theme music to me for the year. Does a scoreline of 6-4,3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 sound realistic in a final between two 30-plus men on the demanding hard courts of Australian Open? The Swiss master was overjoyed to end his long wait for the 18th slam but more importantly, that epic final set the tone for the game throughout the year.
The two humble champions would seem like chalk-and-cheese with the boastful superstar of football — Ronaldo — though even the followers of his greatest rival Messi will grudgingly admit that the year certainly belonged to the showman from Portugal. It’s an year which saw him walk up to the podium to collect the Fifa Player of the Year twice, hold aloft the Uefa Champions League with his Real Madrid teammates for the second year in a row — not to speak of other sundry trophies in the loot including the Fifa Club Cup.
The chest-thumping ‘I am the greatest footballer ever’ in the acceptance speech would have rather made the likes of a Floyd Mayweather proud, and it had raised enough eyebrows in his fraternity.
There is no doubt that Ronaldo polarises votes among football fans like no other, but one cannot help but acknowledge the phenomenal consistency in pulling his team out of the woods.
If sport can consider itself lucky that it’s still privy to the sublime skills of a Federer or Nadal, Ronaldo or Messi, the year nevertheless called time on the journey of the peerless Usain Bolt. If there is one endearing freeze-frame from the sporting world this year, it had to be the one of Justin Gatlin kneeling to reach the feet of the Jamaican after beating him to third place in the London World Championship in August.
The Worlds was to be the swansong of Bolt, and the gesture of the US sprinter Gatlin only summed up his admiration for the master who ruled a decade of sprint like no other — and made Jamaica a powerhouse and assembly line of sprint running.
What does then 2018 hold for us? It’s the Fifa World Cup year in Russia after all… and the air of anticipation can build from now.