While the idea of seeing super clubs such as Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain lose out to RB Leipzig or Lyon – in the semis or the final – was a tantalising, even amusing, prospect, it's fair to say that Sunday's finale is one that's certainly captured the imagination of the neutrals.

From Bayern's perspective, since the promotion of Hansi Flick to succeed Niko Kovac, a host of their players have elevated themselves to world-class levels, some even beyond that.

Alphonso Davies, David Alaba, Thomas Muller, Serge Gnabry – they have all benefited massively from Flick's management and, as a result, Bayern have been practically unplayable.

But Robert Lewandowski deserves special focus. His quality is nothing new – the Pole has been among the best strikers in the world for almost a decade.

This season, however, it is difficult to think of a player anywhere in the world who has been as impressive, as consistently deadly, as Lewandowski.

Bouncing back to emulate Ronaldo

When France Football announced a little over a month ago that the 2020 Ballon d'Or had been cancelled due to the "lack of a sufficiently level playing field" brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, much of the reaction focused on Lewandowski.

The 32-year-old was seen as the most hard done by following that decision – after all, he'd scored 40 goals in 36 matches en route to helping Bayern to Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal success, while he still had real shot at the Champions League.

Since then, he has taken his tally in Europe's elite competition to a remarkable 15 goals in nine matches, while he's also on five assists.

Lewandowski became only the second player after Cristiano Ronaldo to reach that goals tally in a single Champions League campaign, while in the remarkable 8-2 quarter-final demolition of Barcelona he reached 50 Champions League goals for Bayern in just his 60th outing for the club in the competition.

Again, only Ronaldo can better him in that regard, as he got to the landmark for Real Madrid in 50 games.

Even without Champions League success, it would have been difficult to look beyond Lewandowski for the Ballon d'Or this year.

Lewy way ahead of Ronaldo and Messi

Lewandowski's exploits in this season's Champions League have been mightily impressive.

His 15 goals have come from 49 efforts, giving him a shot conversion rate of 37 per cent. While that may not be as high as Erling Haaland (53 per cent) or Josip Ilicic (46 per cent), they had significantly fewer attempts at goal (21 and 15).

Lewandowski's shooting accuracy comes in at 78 per cent, dwarfing the respective records of Ronaldo and Lionel Messi at 56 and 68 per cent respectively.

Ronaldo's total goal involvements was just four, Messi's was six, Lewandowski's is 20.

Of course, football boils down to more than just the individual – these players are all directly influenced by the exploits of their team-mates, and few would claim Juventus and Barcelona have been more cohesive and structurally organised sides than Bayern.

Flick has turned Bayern into a team that presses effectively as a unit, which in itself helps to overload the opposition and create openings, while also making counter-attacking chances trickier to come by.

The consequence is more goals and fewer concessions – Lewandowski has certainly benefited in this regard, but it is not all on him.

Better service?

Of Lewandowski's 34 Bundesliga goals in 2019-20, 27 were scored in the space between the six-yard box and the edge of the penalty area. A further five were from inside the six-yard box.

While many of these goals are certainly examples of Lewandowski's elite marksmanship skills – like when he showed the awareness to chest down a Jerome Boateng pass and finish clinically rather than taking it first time against Werder Bremen – hitting such numbers requires good service.

Lewandowski and Thomas Muller appear to have a particularly effective understanding, with the German setting up Bayern's talisman 10 times this season, with eight of those coming in the Bundesliga.

It seems unlikely that the increase in consistency both players have shown this season is a coincidence, though Flick's ability to get the best out of Muller is arguably the greater achievement given he appeared to be on a downward slide in previous years.

Muller set a Bundesliga record with 21 assists in 2019-20, 12 more than the previous campaign, while Lewandowski's goal haul increased by 12.

Similarly, Lewandowski's expected goals (xG) in the league in 2018-19 was 31, suggesting that he should have scored nine more than he did. This term Lewandowski has scored four more than he would otherwise expect to across the Bundesliga and Champions League – not only is the service better, the Poland star is also taking his chances like never before.

PSG will almost certainly offer a much greater threat than Lyon could, but a team like Bayern shall always create opportunities and at the moment there is no one better in Europe at converting them than Lewandowski, who is hoping to net in his 10th successive Champions League appearance.

Luuk de Jong's unlikely heroics, Diego Carlos controversially escaping a red card, Romelu Lukaku losing focus at the decisive moments – much will be analysed and discussed in excruciating detail following Sevilla's latest Europa League success, but Julen Lopetegui deserves all of the attention.

This is a tale of redemption, from a man who was lambasted and derided in equal measure over the past two-and-a-bit years, to a coach who masterminded a European success against a sleeping giant that was ready to awaken.

Lopetegui's history is well-known – on the eve of the 2018 World Cup, he was unceremoniously given the boot by Spain for agreeing to join Real Madrid, for whom he had previously worked in the youth team, after the tournament.

It was an ugly affair that, rightly or wrongly, led to Lopetegui harbouring the blame for Spain's disappointing campaign, for which Fernando Hierro ultimately took charge.

Lopetegui's Real Madrid dream then lasted only until October, his sacking coming after a humiliating 5-1 Clasico defeat to Barcelona.

The Basque coach, a former goalkeeper for both Clasico clubs, disappeared from the limelight, and who could blame him?

That was until Monchi came calling in June 2019.

Sevilla's sporting director will rightly receive acclaim from far and wide for this triumph – after returning from an underwhelming spell with Roma last year, he built a squad that has got the club back into the Champions League via a fourth-placed LaLiga finish, and now possesses yet another Europa League crown.

But Lopetegui is the true hero of this success. To further understand Lopetegui's fight, we must go back to February.

Sevilla scraped past Cluj in the Europa League last 32. A 1-1 draw in Romania was followed by the cagiest of return legs, as Los Nervionenses were dominated for long stretches.

Their European quest appeared to be over when Cluj scored late on… But VAR bailed them out.

Real discontent from the fans swirled around the team and Lopetegui at that point – they haven't lost a game since, embarking on a club-record 20-match unbeaten run.

Aside from some of their players attracting negative headlines due to their lack of social distancing, the coronavirus-enforced hiatus served Sevilla well.

After securing fourth in LaLiga, they came into the Europa League knowing they were likely to face an extremely difficult route to winning the tournament – Roma came first, then Wolves, Manchester United and now Inter. They all failed to end the club's remarkable record in European finals.

But there's no doubt they rode their luck in Cologne on Friday.

It looked like being a long night for Sevilla right from the off – a rare lapse from Ever Banega on the edge of the Inter box allowed the Italians to break, and pantomime villain Diego Carlos then took centre-stage.

The highly rated Brazilian, who conceded penalties against both Wolves and Manchester United, continued his bizarre streak as he found himself the wrong side of Romelu Lukaku, who he eventually hauled down in the area.

Quite how Diego Carlos remained on the pitch is a mystery. He clearly made no attempt to get the ball, but referee Danny Makkelie only produced a yellow. It would prove decisive, but initially Lukaku made the most of the spot-kick and at that point one had to fear for Sevilla.

A resilience swiftly shone through, however. Luuk de Jong, one of the most heavily criticised players in Spain this season, again showed his worth as he did with the winner in the semi-final.

A clever stooping header from Jesus' Navas' cross gave Samir Handanovic too much to do, and he soon followed that up with an even better goal – again with his head – as he met a marvellous delivery from the exceptional Banega.

Given he had previously lost his place in the team to Youssef En-Nesyri, being restored to the line-up was a big call by Lopetegui, but the Dutchman – scorer of just eight goals before this game – vindicated the decision.

Diego Carlos was again under the microscope for the equaliser. His needless foul led to Marcelo Brozovic's free-kick, and Diego Godin lost the former Nantes defender to nod home.

The second half was a much tenser occasion – Sevilla continued to see more of the ball, but Inter appeared to have the greater threat in attack.

Lukaku failed to beat Yassine Bounou when one-one-one and Sevilla took full advantage.

Inter failed to clear a corner and Diego Carlos unleashed an overhead-kick, which Lukaku turned into his own net with 16 minutes to go.

And that was that.

Inter's chance to end a nine-year wait for silverware ended with that incident, as Sevilla clinched the trophy, remarkably, for a sixth time in just over 14 years.

As was the case all of those years ago when they won their first against Middlesbrough, much of the spotlight will fall on Monchi, the transfer guru, but Lopetegui fought back from the brink to mastermind this triumph.

From moulding together what was essentially a brand new squad, to establishing a new style of play that secured Champions League football and another European success for Sevilla, Lopetegui answered his critics resoundingly.

This was a tale of redemption.

RB Leipzig's rapid rise to prominence in the Champions League has left them on the brink of a European final, with Paris Saint-Germain standing in there way.

Though star striker Timo Werner has departed for Chelsea, Julian Nagelsmann still has plenty of quality players at his disposal, and chief among them is Dayot Upamecano.

The centre-back, who has a brilliant turn of pace and plenty of power, has drawn interest from some of Europe's biggest clubs in recent seasons.

However, for the time being at least, Leipzig have fended off any approaches, with Upamecano having signed a new deal, which runs until 2023, in July.

With his immediate future settled, Upamecano has the chance to prove he truly is worth the hype as Leipzig take on PSG – spearheaded by two of the world's greatest attackers in the form of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar – in Lisbon.

The story so far

Despite supposed interest from Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal at the time, Upamecano opted for Salzburg in 2015 and soon got a taste for first-team football at feeder club Liefering.

Given the links between the clubs, it came as little surprise when the centre-back chose Leipzig in January 2017, quickly adapting to a new country and league with 12 Bundesliga appearances over the rest of the campaign.

Upamecano's displays over the next year saw him nominated for the 2018 Golden Boy award, won by then-Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt, but his game has since gone up another level under the stewardship of Nagelsmann.

He has been a mainstay at the back, making 37 appearances in all competitions so far in 2019-20.

What have they said?

A number of current and former stars have heaped praise on the 21-year-old, with former team-mate Werner comparing him to Bayern Munich's Jerome Boateng, and during the enforced break in action amid the COVID-19 outbreak, German football legend Lothar Matthaus talked up the youngster.

But for now, Upamecano seems perfectly happy where he is. 

"I feel right at home here in Leipzig - the overall package is perfect," said Upamecano after signing his new contract.

"We had good conversations with [chief executive] Oliver Mintzlaff, [sporting director] Markus Krosche and [head coach] Julian Nagelsmann, which showed to me that extending my contract was the right decision for me to make.

"Our young and hungry team is part of an ambitious club. I want to take the next step with Leipzig and reach our aims, because I'm convinced by the way we play our football.

"I have been in Leipzig for over three years and I have continued to improve alongside the team's development. I want to carry on developing personally, and I think Julian Nagelsmann is a coach that can bring me to the next level."

Areas of weakness?

Upamecano is quick and strong, a fine player to progress the ball out of defence – he has made more vertical runs with the ball in the Champions League this season than any other player left in the competition – and is excellent in the air.

The Frenchman is still developing, though, and there is certainly room for improvement in terms of his temperament. 

This was evidenced in June, when Upamecano allowed frustration to get the better of him and he received a second booking two minutes before half-time in a Bundesliga clash with Paderborn.

Leipzig were in front at that stage yet Paderborn ultimately claimed a dramatic point when captain Christian Strohdiek struck in the 92nd minute, and team-mate Kevin Kampl was far from happy.

"It was completely unnecessary," Kampl said to Sky Germany about defender Upamecano's sending off. "We lead 1-0, have the game under control and then we weaken ourselves."

Fortunately for Leipzig, the draw did not ultimately cost them a place in the Bundesliga's top four.

The biggest challenge yet?

Though Upamecano has faced the fearsome attacks of Bayern and Borussia Dortmund, he is about to come up against two of the world's finest forwards.

Neymar missed some golden opportunities in PSG's quarter-final tie against Atalanta, but ultimately played a key part in both of their goals as the Ligue 1 champions snatched a late win.

Meanwhile, his partner in crime Mbappe is sure to start after coming on as a substitute in that win – with the youngster, who had been recovering from an injury sustained in July, going on to provide the assist for Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting's winner.

Leipzig switched to a back four against Atletico Madrid, with Upamecano tasked with marking Diego Costa and, subsequently, Alvaro Morata – and putting in a brilliant display.

But with the trickery and guile of Neymar, and the pace of Mbappe – not to mention the poaching ability of Mauro Icardi – PSG will present an altogether different challenge.

However, if he manages to marshall Leipzig's defence against some of world football's most clinical finishers, then Upamecano may well confirm his status as one of the best defenders in world football.

Football, arguably more so than any other sport, has a compulsive need to compare young talents with those who have come before. There's no getting away from it, and it's likely everyone has made such observations.

It has become so ingrained in debates about the sport and players that perhaps we don't even realise anymore, and many of 'the greats' will have been subject to precisely this phenomenon when setting out to establish themselves.

Lionel Messi is an obvious one – one of many Argentinian players to be dubbed the next Diego Maradona in his youth, it's certainly arguable that the Barcelona great has gone on to surpass his compatriot.

But for every Messi there are hundreds of players who, for whatever reason, cannot live up to their early promise and the expectations dumped on their shoulders.

It seems such a harmless occurrence, to suggest an emerging player is comparable – at least stylistically – to an established superstar in conversation with friends, or even over Twitter.

But what we don't tend to see is the other side, how those comparisons take root and spread, eventually spiralling out of control and impacting on the very player being discussed.

Ryan Gauld can attest to that.

'Mini Messi'

Now 24 and playing for Farense, who've just been promoted to Portugal's Primeira Liga, Gauld is very familiar with such player comparisons and the adverse effect they can have.

Before joining Sporting CP on a long-term contract in 2014, Gauld had broken into the first team at Dundee United where he was first dubbed 'mini Messi' for his stature, dribbling ability and the fact he was left-footed. The comparisons began and ended there, but that was all it needed.

"To be honest, I wish it was never written," he explains to Stats Perform News from his home in the Algarve. "What are the similarities between us? We're small and left-footed, that's about as far as you can go. I would've been more relaxed than I already was if it wasn't a thing."

For Gauld, the 'mini Messi' label became a stick to beat him with more than anything, ramping up the pressure after moving to Sporting – he was always expecting it to be tough to breakthrough in Lisbon, but being compared to an all-time great took its toll.

"I would be lying if I said it didn't crop up in my head a couple of times. Like, as soon as people see me as that, they weren't caring what I could do, what I was good at, they were looking to see why I was like Messi, and then if I couldn't do something he could do, they'd say, 'He's rubbish, he's not a mini Messi, he's not worth that tag', or whatever."

The prominence of the 'mini Messi' tag grew to such an extent that Gauld doesn't even think most people knew his actual name for his first two years in Lisbon.

"If they saw me walking about Lisbon or in a shopping centre, Sporting fans who wanted a photo or something, they'd shout 'mini Messi', they wouldn't shout 'Ryan'," he recalls with an exasperated smile. "It makes you think how many people actually know your name – I was known as 'mini Messi' for about two years."

A career interrupted

In the eyes of some, especially those who actually referred to him as 'mini Messi', Gauld's career hasn't quite panned out as might have been expected – he only managed two league appearances for Sporting's senior side in five years, while loans with Vitoria Setubal, Desportivo Aves and Hibernian yielded little.

While he believes his struggles with certain expectations didn't help, Gauld also harbours grievances with Sporting regarding his development, specifically their decision to terminate his loan with Setubal just when he had started to find his groove.

"It was my first shot in the top division. I found it difficult in the beginning to get a place in the team because they started really well and I didn't start the season with the them, and then, I got an opportunity," he said. "The manager was really happy with how I did and I think I played six or seven games on the bounce, and then we had Sporting in the cup.

"I was cup-tied, so couldn't play, but we beat Sporting with a last-minute penalty to knock them out. The next day I received a call from one of the directors to say they were cancelling my loan agreement because we beat them. I think they took the huff a bit, so that was really frustrating."

Another loan was set up, but after spending a month waiting up in the north of the country for clearance to begin training with his new team, he was told Setubal wouldn't sign release papers – a return to Sporting's B team beckoned. "That was the most frustrating part of my whole time here. I would've thought Sporting could have done more to make sure it went through, but no, nothing happened, no one apologised for anything that happened or gave any explanations. It wasn't a very good time."

A social media hiatus and a brighter outlook

After a disappointing return to Scotland with Hibs in January 2019, Gauld's time with Sporting ended – a spell that promised so much finished with the former Scotland youth international barely making a splash.

But he wasn't done with Portugal yet. While many would have expected him to head back to Scotland permanently, Gauld took the eyebrow-raising decision to drop a division, joining Farense on a two-year deal after the two parties left a strong impression on each other during a short loan spell in 2018.

His new-found happiness hasn't only been influenced by on-field matters, though – turning his back on social media played a major role, particularly with respect to being able to detach himself from his 'mini Messi' demons.

"A year, a year and a bit I've been off social media, it's made such a difference," he explains. "You're not seeing it [criticism], you're not looking for it, looking for the negative energy that comes from it. I think that's played a big role in me not thinking about it [the 'mini Messi' label] too much.

"There was a game on TV, and I played terrible, it'd be in my head, 'Oh no, what are people going to be saying about me now?' I don't care what anyone says, it's difficult if that comes up on your phone, it's difficult to not read it."

In 2019-20, Gauld scored nine league goals in 21 matches for Farense, making him their top-scorer as they secured a return to the top flight for the first time since 2001-02 – in the intervening seasons, they have sunk as far as the sixth tier.

Sporting will be the first match he looks out for when the fixture list is announced - like the returning Farense, Gauld has a score to settle in the Primeira Liga.

In what should have been the opening week of Wimbledon, Stats Perform News revisits an interview with analyst Craig O'Shannessy.

 

"By the end of that match, Rafa's mind was scrambled eggs."

Craig O'Shannessy was part of Dustin Brown's coaching team when the German qualifier sensationally eliminated two-time Wimbledon champion Rafael Nadal at the All England Club in 2015.

Through numbers, patterns and data, Australian pioneer O'Shannessy orchestrated the gameplan to send Nadal packing in the second round almost five years ago.

"After the match, I described that as organised chaos," O'Shannessy told Stats Perform News prior to the Australian Open in January. "A lot of times with Dustin it's pure chaos. Sometimes he wins with it, sometimes he loses. What gelled was we organised his chaos so that people didn't know him, would've looked at that thinking all hell is breaking loose. Whereas I'm watching the match going 'he is running the patterns that we talked about perfectly'.

"It's about taking away what Rafa wanted to do. It's about attacking him early on the point, it's about attacking him wide of the forehand, going after returns simply because you know where the serve is going, about drop shots and bringing him in. It's just about messing with his mind and making it very unclear."

O'Shannessy – recognised as a world leader in teaching and analysis – has continued to transform the sport. He teamed up with Novak Djokovic as his chief strategist in 2017 and helped the Serb rise back to the top with four grand slams in three years.

Now working with 2019 US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini, Jan-Lennard Struff, Alexei Popyrin and Tennis Canada, O'Shannessy crunches the numbers for his players.

Struff – with mastermind O'Shannessy in his box – threatened to derail Djokovic's quest for a record-extending eighth Australian Open title before the defending champion fought hard to survive in the opening round in Melbourne, where he eventually hoisted the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup aloft.

"Every single match the player receives a pre-match report that has text, specific details about what the players like to do, I'll put in a bunch of numbers, tables and graphs particularly on serve patterns and rally length, then video," he said. "You just keep hammering away and supporting the winning strategy in as many different ways as you can."

At the forefront of analytics in tennis, how further can data go?

"Still a long away. We're only scratching the surface," O'Shannessy said. "There's a lot of numbers and data that we see but still don't know exactly what it means. The next five years will be incredibly important and we'll know way more than we do now. We're just at the start of the journey."

On data and patterns, O'Shannessy added: "For example, when you're returning, you can't cover everything. Players that try to cover everything, basically end up covering nothing. You look at it by the point score, if a player is at 30-30, they really need the point. If they're at 40-15, they don't necessarily need the point.

"So the players will have the tendency to gravitate to certain locations when they need that point and if you're sitting there waiting for it, all of a sudden the advantage of that point gets completely turned around. Instead of the returner being unbalanced, the server is off balance because the return is coming back harder and faster. They're on defence instead of offence.

"Early in my coaching career, I naturally put a big emphasis on the opponent, the idea being you're going to play 50 matches in a year and you may only play two or three where you think you've played incredible. The other 47 it's going to be your B or C game that triumphs, so the more you can understand it's not about you playing phenomenal tennis, it's about making them play bad. That mentality takes the pressure off and delivers it to the other side of the court."

Then there is artificial intelligence. Stats Perform harnesses the true power of sports data by leveraging advancements in AI to generate the industry's richest insights, though it is relatively untapped in tennis.

"AI is able to crunch some very big data and make sense of it," O'Shannessy added. "The ability to do forecasting through there about percentages and situations. I'm already looking at the best way to incorporate AI and the end result to basically help players win more matches."

World number 34 Struff also shared his thoughts on AI and numbers in an interview with Stats Perform News in April.

"Yes of course," Struff said when asked if AI will become more important in tennis. "I don't know exactly what the other players are doing on that area. You are always trying to hide these things. Nobody wants to talk about what he is doing, how his fitness training looks like and such things.

"Everybody is trying to hide himself, so the opponents don't see if certain things are working out or not. This is to prevent the other guys from copying certain things and actually catching up. But this is definitely going to come."

Gianluigi Buffon broke Paolo Maldini's record for Serie A appearances in Saturday's Turin derby, playing for the 648th time in Italy's top flight.

Buffon, 41, was an Italy team-mate of former Milan defender Maldini, who retired in 2009 at the age of 40.

The iconic goalkeeper broke in the Parma first team as a teenager before joining Juve in 2001 in a £32.6million deal, making him the world’s most expensive goalkeeper at the time.

It proved to be money well invested as he spent 17 years in a first spell with the Turin giants, staying at the club following relegation amid Italian football's Calciopoli scandal and helping Juventus reel off seven successive Scudetti before leaving for Paris Saint-Germain in 2018.

After a year in France, Buffon returned to Juventus last July, competing with Wojciech Szczesny for the starting role in Maurizio Sarri's team since then.

Below, we have used Opta data to highlight the remarkable longevity of Buffon's career.

17 – Buffon made his Serie A debut for Parma on November 19, 1995 at the age of 17 years and 295 days. It was a 0-0 draw against Milan.

648 – Since then, Buffon has gone on to rack up 648 appearances in Italy's top flight, including Saturday's clash with Torino that has seen him break Maldini's record.

42 – Buffon is the third-oldest player to feature in Serie A during the three-points era, behind only Marco Ballotta (44 years, 38 days) and Francesco Antonelli (42 years, 235 days).

23 – This is Buffon's 23rd season in professional football. Having signed a new contract, he will play a 24th campaign in 2020-21.

247 – Giorgio Chiellini signed a new contract at the same time as Buffon. The centre-back is the player Buffon has most regularly played with in Serie A, 247 times.

480 – No one has played more Serie A games for Juventus, with Buffon's 480 two more than Alessandro del Piero's haul.

9 – Buffon has won nine Serie A titles, more than any other player. He could yet add a 10th later this month.

285 – The veteran had kept 285 clean sheets in 647 Serie A matches prior to the Turin derby, which is a record.

At long last, the 2020 Formula One season will finally begin this week.

The action will begin with the Austrian Grand Prix behind closed doors at the Red Bull Ring, with the Steiermark Grand Prix being held at the same track the following weekend.

Silverstone will also stage two races this year, with Hungary, Spain, Belgium and Italy the only other confirmed events as things stand.

The season had been due to get underway with the Australian Grand Prix in March, but it was cancelled after a member of the McLaren garage tested positive for COVID-19.

A lot of things have changed since then, so we have recapped the biggest stories during the four-month coronavirus hiatus.

 

Vettel decision sparks driver changes

Ferrari announced that four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel would not remain with the team beyond the end of this season.

The German has yet to find another seat in F1, with Carlos Sainz to replace him at Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo leaving Renault for McLaren.

Toto Wolff confirmed Mercedes are monitoring Vettel's situation, though Valtteri Bottas claims he was told by the Silver Arrows there is nothing to the story.

Renault are yet to disclose who will take Ricciardo's place in 2021, with a shock return for two-time champion Fernando Alonso mooted.

Regulation changes pushed back to 2022

The pandemic forced a number of teams to furlough staff or reduce the size of their workforce, while F1 brought its mandatory mid-season shutdown period forward and extended it.

Together with the reduction in income from the lack of racing, sweeping changes to the technical regulations that were expected to challenge Mercedes' dominance of the series have been pushed back.

Teams will now contest the 2021 season in the same cars as this year, with the new rules instead coming into effect from 2022.

Budget cap implemented and reduced

In a bid to level the playing field in F1, for the first time a cost cap will come into effect from the 2021 season. This will limit the amount teams can spend on their cars to $145million.

The cap had initially been set at $175m but was lowered to avoid the possibility of some constructors spending up to that limit while others found themselves incapable of doing so due to the financial impact of the coronavirus crisis.

In 2022 the cap will be reduced to $140m, before dropping to $135m the following year and remaining there. This was done to make it easier for the bigger teams to adjust the size and scale of their operations.

Mercedes manoeuvring

A key member of Mercedes' six-year domination of F1 has left the team.

Managing director Andy Cowell, who had direct responsibility for the F1 power unit, helped establish Mercedes at the pinnacle of the sport in his 16 years with the team, but Hywel Thomas took over from him on July 1.

Mercedes team principal Wolff bought a stake in Aston Martin, which is controlled by Racing Point owner Lawrence Stroll.

Wolff insisted a personal investment "has nothing to do with Formula One", despite the fact Racing Point will be rebranded as Aston Martin on the 2021 grid.

A push for diversity

Six-time champion Lewis Hamilton criticised the Formula One community for its silence in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis in May, which sparked anti-racism protests around the globe.

The 35-year-old Briton subsequently partnered with the Royal Academy of Engineering to create The Hamilton Commission, looking at how more young people from black backgrounds can be brought into motorsport or be employed elsewhere in the field of engineering. F1 has also set up a new task force to increase diversity and inclusion in the sport.

Mercedes signalled their commitment to fighting racism and discrimination by unveiling an all-black livery in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, switching from their traditional Silver Arrows design.

Hamilton and Bottas will race in black overalls, while 'End Racism' will feature on the halo of both cars and the F1 initiative #WeRaceAsOne will appear on the mirrors.

Wimbledon should have been getting under way on Monday and the queue would have been building all weekend long, a tented village of flag-waving, gin-swigging tennis diehards doing whatever it takes to land a prized ticket.

The practice courts would have been bustling, news conferences with the world's elite players running all day Saturday and into Sunday, and the first bumper delivery of fresh strawberries would have arrived fresh from the fields of Kent.

Elite athletes and their entourages would have been milling around the grounds, before at 10.30am on Monday morning the paying spectators would have been released from their holding bay, many racing straight to the grass bank that is officially named Aorangi Terrace but better known as Henman Hill.

And at 11.30am, the first players would have been walking on court, the championships getting under way. To be there at such a time is a delicious thrill, the waiting over, the grounds teeming, the first points being played, and the anticipation escalating as to what might unfold over the next fortnight.

Yet this year Wimbledon was all quiet across the weekend; thousands did not queue for tickets; the line painters, the stewards, and the ball boys and ball girls stayed at home; and a whole lot more strawberry jam is being produced in England this year than last.

The 2020 championships were cancelled on April 1, the only reasonable decision available to the All England Club amid the coronavirus pandemic, but organisers are already preparing for next year's return.

And from the plot lines that are already emerging, it is clear we can expect a classic Wimbledon.

A farewell to great champions?

There is the very real prospect of tennis losing a huddle of its biggest stars practically all at once, with anyone that was considering bowing out this year surely now giving the glad eye to 2021.

Roger Federer will be just weeks short of his 40th birthday by next year's Wimbledon, and the same applies to Serena Williams, whose sister Venus will already be 41.

Andy Murray will be a relatively young 34 but his body has taken a battering, the Scot desperate to play more grand slams but also realistic enough to know there may not be many left for him. He longs for another Wimbledon, maybe just one more.

Between them, that quartet have won 22 Wimbledon singles titles, and all four could choose the 2021 tournament as their opportunity to bid farewell to the All England Club.

It's going to be an emotional tournament in any case, if we are back to normal, but if there are goodbyes to be said too, the championships promise to be one packed with indelible memories, and so many tears.

The magic numbers

Serena Williams has lost each of the past two Wimbledon women's finals and has been stuck on 23 grand slams since winning the 2017 Australian Open, agonisingly one short of Margaret Court's record.

Could Wimbledon be where Williams matches or even passes Court's total? The American remains the player to beat at Wimbledon, and her hunger for grand slam success has not remotely diminished over time.

There can be little doubt she is playing not purely for the love of it, but because of the thrill of the chase, and Williams might wind up disappointed at the end of her career, still marooned one adrift.

But what a story it would be if Williams were to win another Wimbledon, the last of her thirties. Don't put anything past her.

And the race to finish as the all-time leader on the men's side keeps rolling, a devil of a duty to predict who will come out on top between Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Another Wimbledon win for any of them could take on momentous significance in that respect.

A new men's Centre Court king, at last?

The last player to win the Wimbledon's men's singles, besides the 'Big Four' of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray, was Lleyton Hewitt in 2002.

And while the era of those four great players dominating in SW19 has been one to treasure, seeing a new champion crowned would be rather special.

There have been nine winners of the women's singles over the same period of time, multiple champions among them but also terrific one-off stories such as Marion Bartoli's triumph, the 17-year-old Maria Sharapova's big breakthrough, Amelie Mauresmo's great achievement, and the unbridled joy of Simona Halep last year.

Certainly there is so much to admire about the quartet that have ruled the men's singles, but a little novelty feels overdue.

Those queueing up to form a new dominant group need to push themselves forward, rather than play a waiting game.

Gauff gunning for major breakthrough

Gauff gunning for major breakthrough

What a revelation Coco Gauff became last year, defeating her great hero Venus Williams and reaching the fourth round, where it took eventual champion Halep to halt the 15-year-old's run.

She dramatically followed up by reaching the third round of the US Open and then round four of the Australian Open at the start of this year.

Between those two grand slams, Gauff also landed her first WTA title, in Linz, Austria, where she became the youngest winner on tour for 15 years.

The American teenager is the real deal, that much is clear, and she has a bright future.

Gauff demonstrated wisdom beyond her years off the court in early June with a terrific, powerful address at a Black Lives Matter rally in her Florida home town of Delray Beach.

May she return many times to Wimbledon.

With restaurants and bars shut, Manchester City did the best they could to mark Kevin De Bruyne's 29th birthday: they enjoyed a stroll in the park.

Presumably De Bruyne was presented with a king-sized sweet treat too, because City must be wise after Yaya Toure and cake-gate when plotting their star midfielders' celebration days.

There are more inviting, leafier parks in the north of England than Newcastle United's St James', but De Bruyne had a rum time with his chums.

The locals even presented him a gift, a first-half penalty after Fabian Schar foolishly pushed Gabriel Jesus in the back.

City's park strollers might have been surprised by whom they found waiting for them in the city centre park: mostly young 'uns who ran about skittishly, with vague purpose, at one end of the field, and a big lad with a funny beard who mainly stayed away from the others, taking social distancing to the extreme.

Naturally, City ran rings around them, on a day when their pink and yellow outfits against the locals' black and white made it look like a sweet-shop colour clash of fruit salads and humbugs.

And bah humbug for Newcastle, who never looked as though they could be competitive, certainly not until manager Steve Bruce saw sense after 64 minutes and realised big Andy Carroll was not the man to get them back into this FA Cup tie, turning to substitute Dwight Gayle.

Gayle, within two minutes of coming off the bench, showed he too was not the man to rescue the hosts, as he shovelled over a sitter from six yards after Allan Saint-Maximin fizzed a low cross his way.

Two minutes later and Raheem Sterling added the second goal City wanted to make the rest of their afternoon as much as a saunter as the first half had been. That made it 2-0: job done.

It was all too easy for City, while Newcastle were spectacularly low on ambition, most notably by picking Carroll, a player who has not scored a competitive goal all season and who indeed had not started a game since December, and giving him no service.

In the quarter-finals last year, Swansea made life desperately uncomfortable for City, to such an extent Pep Guardiola felt compelled to apologise after his team scraped a 3-2 win in south Wales.

City, on that occasion, came from 2-0 down to prevail 3-2, helped by a questionable penalty and an offside winner from Sergio Aguero.

But whatever the instructions Bruce fed his Newcastle side, the effect they had was allowing City to attack with impunity, raining in eight shots in the first 19 minutes.

A full St James', rather than this empty-seats version, would have surely been raging at Newcastle's plodding ways, particularly in the first half, when it took desperate defending to keep the score down.

Sterling's strike was a soother for City, and so Guardiola allowed De Bruyne to sit out the rest of the game, substituting the Belgian jewel in City's crown, the end of this cakewalk in sight.

Manchester United got there in the end. After a largely forgettable 120 minutes at Carrow Road, they will contest a record 30th FA Cup semi-final thanks to a 2-1 win over Norwich City, but victory failed to mask some of the problems facing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

United were particularly poor in what was a dire first half in the Norfolk sun. Neither side managed a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes, with the match's creative players struggling to live up to expectations.

Those in red looked especially out of sorts.

Solskjaer had rung the changes, eight in total, from the side that cruised to a 3-0 win over Sheffield United in midweek.

While it was by no means a surprise to see Solskjaer make so many alterations – indeed, he highlighted pre-match there was only one difference to the team that took them into the quarter-finals – it brought to light some of the numerous issues with United's squad.

Odion Ighalo looked sharp up top, but in behind him there was precious little craft coming from Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard, the latter of whom produced no key passes in his 63 minutes on the pitch.

Both constantly wanted to come inside and abandon their wide berths, but neither could do so to any real impact.

Bruno Fernandes' presence in the starting XI will have raised some eyebrows from supporters. Why not take the opportunity to rest him for the Premier League run-in? But without him their lack of craft would have been startling, with his central partners Scott McTominay and Fred not necessarily renowned for their creativity.

At times it even seemed like Fernandes' team-mates became complacent, sitting back under the impression the talented Portuguese midfielder would do the business on his own. He couldn't.

As it happened, the opening goal came about through sheer fortune on United's part – Luke Shaw's cross taking a kind ricochet off a defender and falling for Ighalo, whose improvised finish continued his strong impact as a back-up striker.

But generally, United never looked a dominant force, or even particularly threatening, until deep into the second half when Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Paul Pogba were among those to come off the bench.

The latter's introduction came shortly after Todd Cantwell's well-taken 75th-minute equaliser, and Pogba and Anthony Martial looked the most effective of those to come off the bench.

In a week where United's distance from Premier League champions Liverpool was largely unspoken but still glaring, the performance of Solskjaer's initial chosen XI was apt.

The fact United needed to turn to so many of the manager's strongest XI against a Norwich side that is bottom of the Premier League and played all of extra-time a man down due to Timm Klose's sending off says everything of their depth in attack.

While they have made good strides with the additions of Fernandes and Ighalo, Martial and Rashford continue to improve and Greenwood boasts undoubted potential, beyond them and Pogba there is a lack of quality in depth.

Lingard, Mata and Andreas Pereira, who was an unused substitute on the day, have had little impact this season, while Daniel James – not in the squad this time – has often struggled to be influential when using his pace on the break is less of an option.

In the end, United's victory at Carrow Road had an air of inevitability about it – it was surely only a matter of time until their hopeful pumping of deliveries into the box would pay off against the 10 men, and eventually captain Harry Maguire was the one to turn home.

But the difficulty Solskjaer's fringe players had should serve as a warning and a reminder of where improvements are needed ahead of next season.

They aren't far off having an excellent starting XI, but there's little doubt their supporting cast needs improving significantly if they are to begin bridging the gap to Liverpool.

Cristiano Ronaldo's impact at Real Madrid was truly phenomenal – there's certainly an argument for him being the greatest signing in the history of the sport.

But when his move from Manchester United to the Santiago Bernabeu was completed on June 26, 2009, there was certainly more than a hint of scepticism.

Let's not forget, when Madrid paid a reported €94million (£80m) for him, Ronaldo became the most expensive footballer ever at the time, breaking a record that had stood for eight years.

There were plenty of people suggesting Madrid had paid over the odds for him, but now we all know what a remarkable signing he was for Los Blancos and Spanish football until his departure for Juventus in 2018.

On the 11th anniversary of Ronaldo joining Madrid, we look back on his time with the club and his legacy, with a little help from Opta.

The early years – finding another level

Ronaldo had already won the Ballon d'Or during his time at Old Trafford, so his quality was never in doubt, but a haul of 33 goals across all competitions in his first season with Los Blancos was an impressive start, particularly given it was an increase of eight on his final campaign in England.

But it was just the tip of the iceberg. As it would turn out, 2009-10 was the only one of Ronaldo's nine seasons with Madrid in which he failed to reach the 40-goal mark.

Granted, the Portugal star played significantly more games over the next few years, but to maintain that consistency – and arguably improve on it – over 50-plus matches without suffering fatigue is genuinely remarkable.

In 2010-11 Ronaldo claimed his first trophy for the club – the Copa del Rey – and had a hand in 69 goals (53 scored, 16 assisted) in 54 matches. He then improved on that further the next year, his 60 goals and 15 assists helping Madrid to their first LaLiga title in four years and the Champions League semi-finals.

By 2012, Ronaldo was already finding himself mentioned in debates regarding the "greatest player of all time" – that would only intensify in the coming years.

Sustaining greatness

The Champions League has long been an obsession of Real Madrid's, and so too it became a major goal of Ronaldo's – after all, three successive last-four eliminations meant five full seasons passed without the forward lifting the famous trophy.

For Madrid, the barren run had been even longer. They'd been chasing 'La Decima' since 2002, but finally, in 2013-14, the wait was over – Ronaldo's 65 goal involvements (51 goals, 14 assists) leading them to a European and Copa del Rey double. His late penalty in the 4-1 win over Atletico Madrid that saw them crowned Champions League kings took his tally to 17 goals for the season in that competition, a record.

Three more Champions League titles followed over the next four years, though 2014-15 – when Ronaldo enjoyed the best individual season of his career with 61 goals and 21 assists – was the anomaly. He would only score in one of those three finales, however, the 4-1 over future employers Juventus, though he did net the decisive shoot-out spot-kick a year to again break Atletico hearts in 2016.

Ronaldo's final two years in Madrid saw the club win a total of eight trophies, while he scored 86 times and moved level for a while on five Ballon d'Or wins with Lionel Messi.

Ronaldo became synonymous with the Real Madrid brand – it became difficult to imagine the two without each other, but in 2018 they parted ways, ending one of the most iconic player-club associations in modern football.

The legacy

Across his nine years with Madrid, Ronaldo scored 450 goals and laid on another 119. The former figure makes him the club's all-time leading scorer.

He surpassed Raul (323) in October 2015, having already cruised past the like of Ferenc Puskas, Carlos Santillana and Alfredo Di Stefano.

Of those goals, 311 came in LaLiga, a figure only Messi (440) can better – though the Argentina star has spent his entire career in Spanish football.

While all defenders are likely to have been glad to see Ronaldo leave LaLiga, he had a particular penchant for netting against a select few teams. Barcelona (18), Celta Vigo (20), Atletico Madrid (22), Getafe (23) and Sevilla (27) were his most frequent victims.

But it wasn't just LaLiga opposition against whom he thrived – he was the first player to score 10 Champions League goals in seven successive seasons and to reach a haul of 100 in the competition for a single club.

At the age of 35, he continues to excel for Juve in Serie A. But it was with Madrid where his impact was most felt, and it will be a long time before the club see anything even remotely comparable again, if they ever do.

As Novak Djokovic and the Adria Tour gang cavorted in a Belgrade nightclub, the limbo-dancing tennis stars demonstrated precisely how low the sport could go.

If the president of the ATP player council can get it so egregiously wrong in a time of global crisis, and if Nick Kyrgios can pipe up as the voice of reason, then tennis has just thrown up the most shocking of double faults within its established conventions.

So tennis is in crisis: Wimbledon is cancelled, the US Open will attempt to go ahead without fans, and the French Open is clinging to hope it could happen starting in September.

People have lost their jobs, tournaments have been scrapped and might struggle to return, and coronavirus has caused untold damage, aided and abetted by bewildering human assistance.

A relief fund for low-ranked players whose livelihoods were under threat was openly scorned by multi-millionaire Dominic Thiem, whose argument was put brutally dismantled by near-penniless Algerian player Ines Ibbou.

This is tennis then, midway through 2020.

What's happened so far?

The season was suspended on March 12, days after the Indian Wells Masters was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, and there has been no tennis on the ATP or WTA Tours since.

Rafael Nadal said in May that he doubted there could be any more tennis played in 2020, but the harsh economic reality means there is a strong will to find a way.

And that means tennis is coming back in August, public health and player buffoonery permitting, with a string of tournaments leading up to the US Open, which has kept its regular place on the calendar.

The Cincinnati Masters is moving to Flushing Meadows, but Washington is staying in D.C., and Kitzbuhel, Rome and Madrid are all billed ahead of Roland Garros.

On the women's side, tennis will relaunch in Palermo, Italy, with 20 tournaments scheduled to happen before the end of the year.

Wimbledon, to which the eyes of the sporting world routinely turn at this time of year, looks poised to come out of this intact because of pandemic insurance cover.

Other tournaments have not been so prudent, and are feeling the pinch.

How realistic is a resumption?

If anyone needed a warning about how badly wrong this could all go, Djokovic's exhibition Adria Tour at least provided that. That he, Borna Coric, Grigor Dimitrov and Viktor Troicki – others too – should test positive for COVID-19 was a damning indictment of an event set up with good intentions that descended into an apparent free-for-all.

Tennis within a bio-secure bubble, with regular testing and restrictions on movement, should allow the sport to push ahead with some of its plans.

But that is a highly expensive exercise and many tournaments will inevitably come to rely on self-policing.

Tennis without fans, living out of hotels, promises to be an austere experience. At the US Open, the stars will be able to see the Manhattan skyline, but they reportedly face being banned from visiting the island.

For the players that cannot afford to rent a house – which will come from a limited supply – then the US Open fortnight will see them split their time between Flushing Meadows and a hotel next to JFK airport.

It will take discipline to make not only the US Open work, but every tournament until the end of the season and beyond. Pockets of infection could be economically ruinous, and from a health perspective the worst-case scenario ought to be lost on nobody.

What has been said?

Serena Williams says she "really cannot wait to return to New York". Her involvement is a huge boon to the US Open, with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) in need of good news, having made 110 job cuts during the pandemic period, change in the organisation hastened by the crisis.

In a recent conference call, USTA chief executive Mike Dowse said US Open net operating income stood to be down by "about 80 per cent" for 2020, but he said keeping prize-money at a high level by delving into reserves amid the fall in revenue was "not a model that can continue".

Expect that to be the case practically across the board, with tournaments pulling out all the stops this year in the hope of saving tennis from the prospect of a season all but wiped out.

While the grand slams can just about cope without fans, many other events face an uncertain future if they face behind-closed-doors orders.

Herwig Straka, who manages Thiem and is tournament director of the Vienna Open, told German newspaper Der Standard the event would be "doable" provided it could operate at least at 50 per cent of crowd capacity.

"It is of course not enough," Straka said. "We'd be in the red. We don't want the public to take a year off. It would be impossible below 40 per cent."

Saint Nick?

Australian firebrand Kyrgios has quite the rap sheet, punished at various points for insulting umpires, his vulgar tongue, and even showing a lack of effort.

But this has been open season for the mercurial 25-year-old, who sniped after the news of Djokovic's positive test: "Don't @ me for anything I've done that has been 'irresponsible' or classified as 'stupidity' - this takes the cake."

If Kyrgios is enjoying his break from the tour, so too must the umpires be relishing their time away from him.

His greatest misstep during the pandemic, however, appears to have been going perhaps a touch heavy on the red wine during an Instagram live session with Andy Murray in May.

What happens next?

For all the best intentions, it remains hard to imagine every ATP and WTA tournament going ahead as planned, once the season resumes.

Tennis, like golf, relies on its biggest stars travelling from city to city, country to country, and the speed at which this virus moves and takes hold is hardly conducive to such a lifestyle.

Golf's PGA Tour is already encountering problems, and so will tennis.

The sport is living on the edge. At this point, it needs its star players to be setting a high bar, rather than going low, danger-dancing like nobody's watching.

Zsa Zsa Gabor's eighth marriage was a shorter-lived affair than John Isner and Nicolas Mahut's licentious congress at Wimbledon.

The queen of all socialites wed a Mexican count, Felipe de Alba, on April 13 1983, with their union annulled a day later when it emerged marriage number seven had not yet been quite annulled.

Yet Isner and Mahut spent three days in cahoots at the All England Club, their head-spinning 2010 match breaking record after record, and it all began on June 22, 2010.

Ten years on, and although the longest tennis match in history eventually did end, it stands to be an eternal marker of ultra-endurance.

'IT'S A BASKETBALL SCORE'

Like Max von Sydow's knight facing down Death over a chess board, Mahut eventually bowed, Isner unrelenting in his pursuit of the kill.

They spent 11 hours and five minutes in action, ace after ace, mental and physical torment, but the match spanned a full 46 hours and 34 minutes of the human race's existence.

It started inconspicuously at 6.13pm on the first Tuesday of the Wimbledon fortnight and ended as a globally recognised phenomenon at 4.47pm on the Thursday.

Isner sent exceptional forehand and backhand winners fizzing past Mahut in successive points to take the win, sensational trolling from the American given both men were physically beat on their feet.

The match is quaintly recorded in Wimbledon's official compendium thus: J.R. Isner (USA) bt. N.P.A. Mahut (FRA) 6-4 3-6 6-7 (7-9) 7-6 (7-3) 70-68

That final-set score will forever have the air of a misprint, and Isner admitted to feeling "delirious" when play was suspended due to fading light on the Wednesday evening, the contest poised at 59-59 in the decider.

"It's a basketball score," Isner later told ESPN. "It always reminds me of that. I'll never forget these two numbers for as long as I live."

CALL THE COPS

You could watch The NeverEnding Story seven times in 11 hours and five minutes.

In the playing time that it took Isner to break Mahut's resistance, and his heart, you could watch Rafael Nadal's victory over Roger Federer in their epic 2008 Wimbledon final twice over, and be almost halfway through a third viewing.

You could watch The Lord of the Rings trilogy and leave yourself an hour and 47 minutes to wonder why you just did that.

Or you could watch all seven films in the Police Academy franchise and have a spare hour and four minutes to ruminate on whether Mahoney had a heart of gold or a hollow soul.

In 46 hours and 34 minutes, you could indulge your own Mission To Moscow fantasy and drive from the All England Club to the Russian capital, enjoying a couple of short overnight stays on the way.

EVEN THE SCOREBOARD COULDN'T BELIEVE IT

The truth is that barely anybody was engaged with Isner versus Mahut for its entirety. Different days mean different crowds at Wimbledon.

Isner, the 23rd seed, and qualifier Mahut were assigned a late-afternoon Tuesday slot on Court 18, one of Wimbledon's smaller show courts but a hidden gem, and it was only on the Wednesday, when the fifth-set score kept nudging up, that media-room interest began to whip up.

By tea time on the second day, it was the longest match in Wimbledon history, then the longest in all grand slams, going beyond the six hours and 33 minutes Fabrice Santoro needed to beat Arnaud Clement in their 2004 French Open tussle.

The big serving of both players was cooking up never-before-seen numbers.

The scoreboard stalled at 47-47, technology's own expression of disbelief. And yet tennis' Fischer versus Spassky continued, a trial of temperament as much as talent. There was no Cold War element, just the question of which man would crack as the pressure ramped up.

On day four, the UK's Queen Elizabeth II made a rare visit to Wimbledon, albeit not to spend the day on Court 18.

RECORD AFTER RECORD

Come Thursday's denouement, Isner and Mahut had contested the most games in a grand slam match, with 183 toppling the previous record of 112.

They had played the most games in a set, with their 138 eviscerating anything in the record books, and until the dramatic finale they had played 168 consecutive games without a break of serve. The run of holds began early in the second set.

The fifth set alone, lasting eight hours and 11 minutes, was longer than any entire match ever played in professional tennis.

Isner hit a mind-boggling 113 aces across the piece and Mahut made 103, a miracle of athletic achievement.

Serious aesthetes may have found little to love except the drama, but sometimes drama and shows of lung-busting human willpower outweigh finesse on the sporting field.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

Isner bombed out a day later, thumped 6-0 6-3 6-2 by Thiemo de Bakker, with the American a victim of his own first-round excesses, but the match against Mahut will never be forgotten.

A plaque on the wall outside Court 18 marks what occurred there, Wimbledon's equivalent of a Hollywood star as passers-by queue to be photographed next to the permanent record.

The introduction of a fifth-set tie-break at 12-12 by Wimbledon in 2019 means there is no prospect of another 70-68 these days in SW19.

Freakishly, Isner and Mahut were drawn together again a year later in Wimbledon's first round. Second time around, Isner needed just two hours and three minutes to record a straight-sets win.

There's no plaque to mark where that happened – it was Court Three, for the record – nor is the rematch spoken of in the bars and restaurants of Wimbledon Village.

They still talk reverentially of the 2010 occasion though, with 'Isner-Mahut' shorthand for the spectacular sporting stamina that tennis had never known the like of before and surely will never again.

As Isner said, moments after walking off court: "I guess it's something Nic and I will share forever really."

The Texas Rangers were not very good last season and deserved to sit out the postseason. That is hardly a controversial statement for a 78-84 team.

Yet it is very possible that a team with a similar record to the Rangers – albeit in far fewer games – could advance to the playoffs in 2020 and beyond if MLB goes ahead with a proposed 16-team expanded playoff following a regular season delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

In the proposal, eight teams from each league would reach the postseason and the two wild card games would transform into an eight-team wild-card round with eight best-of-three series.

If the proposed 16-team format is applied to the final 2019 standings, the added playoff teams would have been the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Rangers in the American League, and the New York Mets, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs in the National League.

Each of those teams finished above .500 except for the Rangers, who would qualify under the new format as the eighth seed in the AL.

The only previous team to reach the playoffs after finishing the regular season under .500 was the Royals with a 50-53 mark in the strike-split 1981 campaign. The Kansas City Royals went 20-30 in the first half of the season and 30-23 in the second half before losing to the Oakland Athletics in the playoffs.

It is not difficult to see why both MLB and players would be in favour of expanded playoffs. More postseason games mean more broadcast rights can be sold, which is particularly important after so much revenue will be lost from an abbreviated regular season played without fans in most cases.

In the proposal, commissioner Rob Manfred said MLB would give the additional playoff games to broadcast partners for free this year to compensate for the shortened regular season, and MLB would then sell the games for 2021.

The increase in playoff games gives players extra opportunities to play beyond the regular season, which is after all why the games are played in the first place. The new format also adds the designated hitter to all games for the first time, including games between National League teams for 2020 and 2021.

That will not make baseball purists happy and fans will be robbed of magical moments like Bartolo Colon hitting a home run, but a universal DH adds jobs to a game that has seen its free agent market squeezed recently. It will also extend the careers of players no longer able to play defense adequately.

How will fans feel about more than half the teams reaching the playoffs? Some will scoff at the idea and say that it makes baseball look too much like the NBA and the NHL.

Others might be totally on board with it. That could especially be true of fans in Detroit or Baltimore or any other team with no chance at the postseason in a regular 162-game season. Maybe the Orioles get hot for a couple of weeks late this summer and somehow sneak into the playoffs. This new format at least provides a glimmer of hope, however miniscule.

It was not long ago that just four teams out of 28 qualified for the playoffs, but changes were made following the 1994 strike season.

A wild card team was added in 1995, increasing the number of playoff teams to eight. That remained the status quo until another wild card was inserted in each league in 2012 to bring the total number of playoff teams to 10 out of 30.

It's often said that a whole new season begins with the playoffs and look no further than the 2019 World Series champion Washington Nationals for a prime example. Washington did not even win their division, finishing four games behind the Atlanta Braves, but the Nationals were the best team when it mattered most.

This new format may decrease the importance of the regular season, but it adds more excitement to the playoffs and would make those games even more tense.

More playoff teams provide more opportunities for upsets and what fan couldn't get behind a sub-.500 team knocking off a top seed? That scenario is a whole lot more likely if MLB goes through with the proposed three-game series in the first round of the playoffs.

Certain seasons leave an indelible mark, whether for on-field play or for other reasons. The 1981 season with its two halves and the 1994 strike-shortened season fall in the latter category. The 2020 season appears destined for that group as well.

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