Federer's bagel, Mickelson's major, relentless Brady – sport in 2021 in numbers

By Sports Desk December 31, 2021

Crowds came flocking back in force, we had the full complement of golf majors and tennis grand slams, and sport almost ran smoothly over the past 12 months.

To boot, there were sensational moments, featuring both the biggest names in sport and some that few had heard of at this time last year.

Here, Stats Perform looks back at some of the biggest stories of the year, and the numbers that made them so remarkable.

Jacobs, the shock Tokyo Olympics sprint king

Entering 2021, Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs had a career-best of 10.03 seconds for the 100 metres. By most standards that is staggeringly quick, but at the very elite level of sprinting it ranks as only middling. To put it into some context, 34 men ran quicker than 10.03 seconds in 2021. Jacobs finished only 19th at the 2019 World Championship and few outside of athletics circles knew the name. The former long-jumper grabbed a little attention when he produced a world-leading 6.47 seconds to win the 60 metres at the European Indoor Championships in March, then he ran 9.95 for the 100m in Savona in May, but he still headed to the Tokyo Olympics as a big outsider, not expected to be a factor. Jacobs made a mockery of his lowly billing, as he powered to personal bests in the heats and semi-finals before doing so again in the final, dashing home first in 9.80 seconds to grab gold and leaving rivals gasping in astonishment. He led Italy to sprint relay gold too, a glorious double in that country's remarkable year of success.

Emma Raducan-who? From A level exams to US Open top marks

Twelve months ago – no, make that barely six – London-based Raducanu was simply not a factor in grand slam discussions. Fresh out of school, she had to fight to earn a wildcard for Wimbledon when organisers initially baulked at the idea, but they were persuaded and Raducanu went on to reach the fourth round. The teenager who was born in Canada and has a Romanian father and Chinese mother had arrived, but it was at the US Open that she roared into the history books. There was no wildcard in New York for the British youngster, but Raducanu won three qualifying matches and then raced through the main draw, defeating 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez in the title match. She did not drop a set in 10 matches and became the first women in the Open era to win 10 main-draw matches in her first two grand slams. It made her the first qualifier to win a slam and the first US Open women's singles winner since Serena Williams in 2014 to triumph at the tournament without dropping a set along the way. The $2.5million in prize money was followed by endorsement offers from across the world as Raducanu became an instant superstar. The tennis world waits to see what comes next.

No country for old men as US win Ryder Cup

The youngest Ryder Cup team ever assembled by the United States torched European hopes at Whistling Straits in September, scoring a 19-9 victory. That was the widest margin of victory by either side since Europe, rather than Great Britain and Ireland, became the USA's opposition in 1979. Dustin Johnson bounced back from losing four of his five matches in the 2018 edition to finish with a 5-0 record, just the third player in US v Europe battles to finish with a perfect record (after Larry Nelson in 1979 and Francesco Molinari in 2018). Johnson, at 37, was the oldest player on the team. European veteran Lee Westwood matched Nick Faldo's record of 11 appearances in the match, while Sergio Garcia stretched his points record from 25.5 to 28.5 as he and Jon Rahm combined well, but it was emphatically an event that belonged to the host Americans.

Veteran Mickelson still had his day 

He might have been absent for the US team's Ryder Cup triumph, but Phil Mickelson's name was up in lights again as he became the oldest winner of a men's golf major, landing the US PGA Championship title in May. At the age of 50, Mickelson caused a huge upset at Kiawah Island, scooping his sixth career major when he held off Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen on the final day. It was his only top-10 finish of the year on the PGA Tour.

Federer bagelled, Djokovic denied Golden Slam

Strange things happened in men's tennis in 2021, not least the sight of Roger Federer suffering a 6-0 'bagel' at the end of a straight-sets Wimbledon quarter-final defeat. That happened against Hubert Hurkacz in July, and it was the last match Federer played in the year. He wants to play again, and the 40-year-old believes he can, but knee surgery will keep him out of action until mid-2022 at the earliest, by his own reckoning, and that Centre Court defeat to Hurkacz could turn out to be how his eight-title Wimbledon career ends. Novak Djokovic joined Federer and Nadal on a joint-record 20 grand slam titles by cleaning up at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, and he has now spent a record 353 weeks at number one, passing Federer this year. But Djokovic could not make it a Golden Slam, losing to eventual champion Alexander Zverev in the Olympic Games semi-finals, and a Grand Slam was just beyond him too, Daniil Medvedev winning his first major when he swept the Serbian in straight sets in the US Open final.

Another year, more records for Brady

At the age of 43, Tom Brady was MVP in the Super Bowl as he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in February. He now has seven Super Bowl wins behind him, another outright record, and has been MVP in the game on an unmatched five occasions. Brady, having turned 44 in August, is in the hunt for another Super Bowl ring and perhaps outright NFL MVP honours this season, although Aaron Rodgers will likely deny him the latter accolade. Still, the records keep coming for Brady. He has moved in front of Drew Brees to have the most pass completions in league history (7,200 and counting), become the first ever 15-time Pro Bowler, and in December became the first quarterback to throw 700 career touchdowns.

England's Ashes surrender calls for Root and branch review

Joe Root became the first England captain – or player, indeed – to suffer nine defeats in Tests starting in a single calendar year, in a strange 12 months for the Yorkshireman. His form with the bat has been up there with the best of his career, the 31-year-old scoring 1,708 Test runs to go third on the all-time single-year list, with only Mohammad Yousuf and Viv Richards ahead of him. Even in the Tests that England have lost, Root has made a number of handy contributions with the bat, scoring 648 runs at an average of 38.11. Overall he has scored 26 per cent of England's Test runs across the year, the highest proportion of any player for their respective team in 2021. Yet the Ashes were lost by lunch on day three of the third Test, an outrageously dismal result. Root top-scored in England's two innings in Melbourne, typically, but he cannot get a tune out of many of his team-mates, so ends the year with his future as skipper in doubt.

Curry still hot as NBA records fall

In January, LaMelo Ball became the youngest player to post a triple-double in the NBA, as the 19-year-old Charlotte Hornets prospect grabbed 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over the Atlanta Hawks. Come December, the Memphis Grizzlies set two records in the same game, scoring a franchise-high number of points and winning by the biggest margin in NBA history, as they handed out a 152-79 thrashing to the Oklahoma City Thunder. December was also the month when Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors set a new three-pointer record, becoming the first man to make 3,000 threes in a career after going past Ray Allen's previous NBA record of 2,973.

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  • Medvedev hails 'logic' of ATP's Wimbledon points decision and smiles at quirk set to see him go to number one Medvedev hails 'logic' of ATP's Wimbledon points decision and smiles at quirk set to see him go to number one

    Daniil Medvedev has given the ATP credit for reaching a "logical" decision to strip Wimbledon of ranking points – and the Russian stands to benefit by going back to number one in the world.

    There would need to be a remarkable turn of events for Novak Djokovic to retain top spot at the end of the short grass-court season, given he has a mountain of points to defend over the next two months and will lose the 2,000 that he earned by winning Wimbledon last year.

    That is the standard total awarded to a grand slam singles champion, with Medvedev earning the same number for his US Open triumph in September.

    The decision by the ATP, which runs the men's professional tour, to effectively punish Wimbledon for its decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players, means the absent Medvedev at least stands to benefit in the rankings given he only has 180 points to lose from the London grand slam.

    Djokovic carried a lead of only 680 points over Medvedev into the French Open, where the Serbian is again defending 2,000 points after beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in last year's final. Medvedev was a quarter-finalist in Paris last year, collecting 360 points.

    Medvedev may yet go top before Wimbledon, but there is a strong chance Djokovic begins his campaign at the All England Club knowing he will be powerless to prevent his number one status sliding away.

    "About the ATP decision, it is not easy to comment, but when I read the FAQ of the ATP, why they made this decision, because they are explaining themselves, they are not just saying, 'Okay, we decided that', I found it very logical what they say at least," Medvedev said.

    "This is what I didn't find in Wimbledon explanations. I'm not saying which decision is right, but at least so far in explaining their decisions, I found ATP just more logical."

    The ATP said its decision, which has been unpopular with many, was reached "purely on the basis of maintaining a level playing field for our players across the season".

    Medvedev began his French Open campaign on Tuesday with a clinical 6-2 6-2 6-2 win against Argentinian Facundo Bagnis, showing no ill effects of recent hernia surgery.

    Smiling, Medvedev said it was "very strange" that he might become the world's top-ranked men's player while exiled from Wimbledon.

    "But I'd be really happy to play Wimbledon. I love Wimbledon," said the 26-year-old, who plans to compete at grass-court events in Germany and the Netherlands in June.

    "I love playing on grass. I will play on grass after Roland Garros. But if I cannot, I'm just going to prepare for the next tournaments and follow what's happening there.

    "There are no points, I become number one, well, great for me. If there are points, I cannot become number one, I'm going to be gutted. It is what it is. I cannot change some decisions, both about ATP and Wimbledon."

  • French Open: Shapovalov slates ATP's Wimbledon points decision as Pliskova reveals WTA stars can't agree French Open: Shapovalov slates ATP's Wimbledon points decision as Pliskova reveals WTA stars can't agree

    Denis Shapovalov has attacked Wimbledon and the ATP for the decisions that have led to fears of players skipping the grass-court grand slam.

    Canadian left-hander Shapovalov enjoyed a run to the semi-finals at the All England Club last year, eventually losing to Novak Djokovic, but he will lose all his points and be unable to defend them at the 2022 tournament.

    The season's third major will not have any ranking points after the ATP and WTA, which run the men's and women's tours, respectively, effectively decided to punish the grand slam's organisers for banning Russian and Belarusian players.

    Naomi Osaka has said she is unsure about playing in London on that basis, as she wants to play events where there are points available following a slide on the WTA list, and there are concerns others may also give it a miss. A number of players have voiced concern that prize money could be slashed too.

    Shapovalov, who addressed the matter after a shock first-round loss to Denmark's Holger Rune at the French Open on Tuesday, said he did not agree with the banning of players or the subsequent points decision.

    "I completely understand the politics and the situation they're in. But if you have a tennis tournament that's supposed to have the best athletes in the world, it shouldn't matter where you're from," Shapovalov said.

    "I also don't agree with the ATP to take out all the points. The most guys it's affecting are the guys in the top rankings."

    Referring to last year's semi-finalists in the men's singles, Shapovalov, who beat Andy Murray on the way to the last four, said: "Obviously Novak [Djokovic], me, Hubi [Hubert Hurkacz], [Matteo] Berrettini, who is not playing here, we're going to drop a lot.

    "I think they could have gone with it a different way, maybe keep 50 per cent like they have in the past or some kind of fairness."

    Karolina Pliskova lost to Ash Barty in the women's final at Wimbledon last year, and the Czech described the WTA's move to strip points from Wimbledon as a "super tough and unfair and bad decision".

    She will play Wimbledon, which starts on June 27, because she feels it is a tournament she can win, and at the age of 30 she is determined to take every opportunity going to land a maiden grand slam. She could become champion this year but, because last year's Wimbledon ranking points will fall off, plunge down the rankings at the same time.

    Intriguingly, Pliskova said leading WTA stars could not agree what action tour chiefs should take about points.

    "We had a group of WhatsApp chat [between] top 10 players and these 10 girls could not agree on the same thing," Pliskova said. "Some girls were for no points, some were for 50 per cent, to keep just 50 per cent from last year, some were for like all the points. So it is what it is."

    Latvian Jelena Ostapenko, who won the French Open in 2017 and reached the Wimbledon semi-finals a year later, suspects there could yet be a twist in the saga to come.

    Ostapenko said: "There are of course a lot of rumours and talks, but I think maybe they are going to change their mind. I'm not sure about points. But I think a lot of things may happen within the next week or two weeks.

    "That's my personal opinion. Maybe I'm wrong. If there are no points, I'm not really sure what I'm going to do.

    "I feel like it's a little bit unfair to play the tournament when there are no points and you can win the tournament and then you don't move one spot up in the ranking."

  • Tomori's Scudetto success 'a really good bridge' to England level – Southgate Tomori's Scudetto success 'a really good bridge' to England level – Southgate

    Gareth Southgate believes the rest of Europe's leading leagues face a "jump" to the Premier League, but he has suggested Fikayo Tomori's Serie A title success with Milan represents "a really good bridge".

    Tomori has long since been touted as a potential England star, yet he only returned to Southgate's senior set-up on Tuesday after clinching the Scudetto with the Rossoneri.

    The former Chelsea man is well established as one of the finest defenders in Italy, although the Three Lions manager suggested this alone was not enough to put him ahead of Premier League rivals.

    Southgate has also watched Tammy Abraham play in Serie A this season, with the Roma forward becoming the highest-scoring English player in a single season in the league's history (17 goals – ahead of Gerry Hitchens' 16 for Inter in 1961-62).

    This has given Southgate and his coaching staff a greater understanding of the level of play in Italy, but the England boss says it pales next to the "powerful" English game, even if the pressure of a title race has now played in Tomori's favour.

    "Firstly, huge credit to both the boys for going and adapting to living abroad, playing a different style of football, the endeavour to learn another language and fit in culturally with the group," Southgate said after announcing his squad for June's Nations League fixtures. "That deserves huge credit.

    "We're watching a lot of Serie A, we're watching a lot of the Bundesliga, we were watching a lot of LaLiga when Tripps [Kieran Trippier] was there – the leagues are different levels to the Premier League.

    "Milan's defence, if you looked at the defence in the last few months of the season, was very young, with very few international caps right across the back four.

    "Inter are very strong; I think, in those leagues, the top two or three teams are very strong.

    "But compared to the depth of the Premier League, there isn't the financial clout and so the depth isn't the same. And the intensity of the games is very different – there is a lot more structure, a lot less transitional.

    "There is a jump, I think, and I think that's been shown in a lot of the Champions League fixtures and European fixtures.

    "Our league is incredibly powerful in terms of its spending power. Some of the smallest teams in our league, with the least financial resource, can compete with some historic European giants. It's a great product we've got.

    "So, we're trying to map all of that when we're assessing the players and the levels of their performances – because we watch them week in, week out, really clearly, we're pretty clear on what that is, so we're realistic in our expectations.

    "But, of course, Fik in particular comes with the confidence of having just won a league title, playing at Milan in front of 70,000, 80,000 people every week.

    "That's a similar sort of pressure to what he's going to have in an England shirt. It's a really good bridge."

    Tomori was preferred to a more experienced option like Tottenham's Eric Dier, who is "definitely in our thinking", Southgate said.

    "We know him," Southgate explained of Dier's absence, but Leicester City's James Maddison, coming off the best scoring season of his Premier League career (12 goals), was snubbed because he remains behind Mason Mount and Phil Foden in the pecking order.

    The England manager still will not rule out any option ahead of the Qatar World Cup, however, adding: "We have September, and I think there's always the possibility that somebody emerges. That's always happened when I've been selecting squads."

    Elsewhere, Southgate confirmed he had spoken to Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta before selecting Bukayo Saka, while there were discussions with Liverpool's Champions League finalists Trent Alexander-Arnold and Jordan Henderson.

    Alexander-Arnold is involved but will likely only to take part in "the first part of the camp", though Southgate "didn't need to see" Henderson.

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