When Wimbledon ended last year, there were two great takeaways from the tournament: Novak Djokovic would soon be pulling away in the grand slam title race and Ash Barty was beginning a new era of dominance.

Both seemed to be knock-ins, and yet neither has come to pass. Djokovic missed out on a calendar Grand Slam in New York before being banished from Australia, and despite drawing level with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on 20 grand slams with his Centre Court triumph, he now finds himself two adrift of the Spaniard again.

Barty, meanwhile, has left her own party. The then world number one stunned the tennis world by retiring in March, having added the Australian Open she so craved to her trophy cabinet.

Djokovic and Iga Swiatek head into Wimbledon, which begins on Monday, as the top seeds.

Stats Perform has used Opta facts to consider what the men's and women's singles might deliver.

 

KING ROGER'S REIGN IS OVER, BUT DJOKOVIC AND NADAL KEEP GOING STRONG

There will come a time when the Wimbledon favourite is not one of the 'Big Three'. That time is not now.

Djokovic is the man most likely, as he targets his fourth straight Wimbledon title and seventh overall; since 2011, when he beat Nadal in the final, the Serbian has only been absent from the trophy match three times (in 2012, 2016 and 2017).

His winning run of 21 matches at Wimbledon is the fifth-longest in the men's singles. Bjorn Borg holds the record (41 between 1976 and 1981).

The last player other than Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Andy Murray to win the Wimbledon men's title was Lleyton Hewitt in 2002. Federer is absent this year and may have played his last Wimbledon.

Nadal has won Wimbledon twice, in 2008 and 2010. He won the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in 2010, the only season of his career when he has won three slams. This year, at the age of 36, he has the Australian and French Open trophies already locked away, potentially halfway to a calendar Grand Slam, last achieved in men's singles in 1969 by Rod Laver.

Should Nadal pull off another major coup, it would make him only the second man in the Open Era (from 1968) to win the season's first three singles slams, after Laver in 1969 and Djokovic last year.

Can the rest hope to compete?

What of Murray? Well, only Federer (19), Sampras (10), Laver and Jimmy Connors (both nine) have won more ATP titles on grass than the Scot in the Open Era. If he recovers from an abdominal strain, he has a shot at reaching the second week. He will of course have the full backing of the Wimbledon crowd.

Last year's runner-up Matteo Berrettini is fancied more than Nadal by many, having won Stuttgart and Queen's Club titles in the build-up.

There has not been an American men's singles champion since 2000, and although the United States has six players seeded, more than any other nation, it seems a safe enough assumption we will be saying a similar thing again in 12 months' time.

Third seed Casper Ruud has never won a singles match at Wimbledon, while fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas has not had a win since reaching the fourth round in 2018. Daniil Medvedev, the world number one, cannot compete at The All England Club after their contentious decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

IF SERENA CAN'T CHALLENGE SWIATEK, WHO CAN?

From the jaws of retirement, Serena Williams is back. Silence from the 40-year-old about her intentions had become almost deafening, and yet here she is, back at Wimbledon on a wildcard, hoping to rekindle the old magic.

Because she has pushed back against the doubters for over two decades now, you have to take this seriously. Her haul of 23 grand slams is one short of Margaret Court's all-time record and Williams would dearly love to at least match it.

Three years ago, Williams became the oldest player to reach Wimbledon's women's singles final when she lost to Simona Halep. Six years ago, she was the oldest champion when she beat Angelique Kerber.

Only four women in the draw this year besides Williams have been champion before: Petra Kvitova (in 2011 and 2014), Garbine Muguruza (in 2017), Kerber (in 2018) and Halep (in 2019).

World number one Iga Swiatek starts as favourite. Junior Wimbledon champion four years ago, she has scooped two women's French Open titles since then and is on a 35-match winning streak.

After triumphing at Roland Garros in early June, Swiatek will hope to become the first woman since Kerber in 2016 (Australian Open and US Open) to win two singles slams in the same season.

The only competitive warm-up for Williams came in two doubles matches at Eastbourne, having not played since sustaining a hamstring injury at Wimbledon last year. The seven-time champion might consider it a challenge that there has never been an unseeded Wimbledon women's singles finalist during the Open Era.

The women's top two seeds have not met in the final since Serena faced her sister Venus in the 2002 title match, so don't hold your breath for a Swiatek versus Anett Kontaveit showpiece on July 9.

Could Gauff be best of the rest?

Coco Gauff made a breakthrough with her run to the French Open final. Although she was blown away by Swiatek, for the 18-year-old American it was another mark of progress. Gauff reached the fourth round in Wimbledon in 2019 (lost to Halep) and 2021 (lost to Kerber).

Fitness is likely to be the key factor in how US Open champion Emma Raducanu fares at her home grand slam, given her injury problems. Raducanu reached the fourth round on a wildcard last year and the 19-year-old will attempt to become the first British woman to reach that stage in back-to-back seasons since Jo Durie (1984, 1985).

Ons Jabeur, meanwhile, should not be discounted. The world number three reached the quarter-finals at SW19 last year and heads to Wimbledon having won on grass at the Berlin Open, albeit Belinda Bencic had retired hurt in the final.

The likes of Gauff, Raducanu and 21-year-old Swiatek will attempt to become the youngest woman to lift the trophy since 17-year-old Maria Sharapova triumphed in 2004.

A first-round exit for Swiatek would leave the event wide open, but don't count on it. In the Open Era, only three times has the top-seeded woman lost in round one: Steffi Graf in 1994 and Martina Hingis in 1999 and 2001.

They were the unlikeliest of all European champions and to this day remain the poster boys for all underdogs.

Denmark, the Euro 92 winners, gave hope to generations of teams that would follow them onto the big stage.

How could a nation with a population of a little over five million in 1992 sweep away the competition, when that competition looked so formidable?

Michel Platini's France squad boasted Papin, Cantona, Deschamps, Blanc and Boli; Germany had Klinsmann, Hassler, Moller and World Cup final match-winner Brehme; the Netherlands fielded Van Basten, Gullit, Rijkaard and a young Bergkamp.

Nobody was tipping Denmark, who were called into the tournament 10 days before it began after the expulsion of Yugoslavia, a decision taken by UEFA amid war in the Balkans.

Denmark have given hope to teams who logically should have none. This hope has often been outrageously misplaced. The notion that 'if Denmark can do it, so can we' is a fallacy. The Danes opened the door and fantasists walked through.

The 1992 Denmark team were a band of brothers who seized their unexpected opportunity, facing on-field and off-field challenges along the way. Thirty years since the June 26 final, we celebrate them.

HOW ON EARTH DID THEY DO IT?

There was little indication of what was to come when Denmark followed a 0-0 draw against England by losing 1-0 to hosts Sweden; however, a 2-1 victory over France in Malmo snapped the watching continent to attention.

Peter Schmeichel. John Jensen. Brian Laudrup. Kim Vilfort. Torben Piechnik. The football world knew about goalkeeper Schmeichel, a year into his Manchester United career, and Laudrup was Denmark's star outfielder. But many in their side were barely known outside Denmark. Twelve of their 20 still played in the Danish league.

Michael Laudrup was in international exile, after he and Brian quit the national team in late 1990, unimpressed with new coach Richard Moller Nielsen. Brian came back shortly before the Euros, but Barcelona forward Michael continued to give international football a swerve. Denmark got by without him.

"We were very fortunate that we were one group of people who felt like pioneers in Danish football," Schmeichel told UEFA.com. "We felt we had responsibility to break the waves and go against the tide and prove to everyone that we can compete."

He said it was a "myth" that the Danes had been summoned from the beach, not least because the Danish season was still in full swing.

It was "like a funeral" in the Denmark dressing room after the England stalemate, according to Schmeichel.

"But from that moment on we felt we were definitely in a position where we can compete in this tournament," he said.

SLAYING THE GIANTS

In an eight-team tournament, scraping through in second place from Group 1 meant the Danes went straight into a semi-final.

Getting the better of the Netherlands looked beyond Denmark, given the defending champions were so strong.

Both teams knew Germany were waiting in the final, having got the better of Sweden 3-2 in the first semi-final. The Netherlands had beaten Germany in the group stage, but their hopes of a second clash with Berti Vogts' side were to be shattered in Gothenburg.

Henrik Larsen's double either side of a Bergkamp strike almost gave the Danes victory in 90 minutes, but Frank Rijkaard grabbed a late leveller. When it came to penalties, Schmeichel's save from Marco van Basten made all the difference, every other player scoring from the spot as Kim Christofte sealed the shoot-out success.

In an interview at the FIFA Best awards in 2022, Schmeichel recalled how he had found inspiration in the national team from a young age.

"I have to go back to even 1984 when Denmark lost to Spain in the semi-finals of the Euros," Schmeichel said.

"I was in the generation that came after that and [took] the inspiration from that, and the understanding that even though we are from a small country with a limited number of people playing football, if you work hard and look for your luck, and we always produce skilful players, then there is an opportunity to create very, very good results."

Denmark were winning their battles on the pitch, but the most important struggle was being fought away from the spotlight, with Vilfort's young daughter Line battling leukaemia.

He missed the France game to be with his family in Copenhagen but returned to Sweden before the semi-final. A movie dramatisation of Denmark's great triumph that summer portrayed Line telling her father he should go back and join his team-mates.

Come the June 26 final against Germany, the Danes were not alone in thinking the improbable might just be possible.

At the Ullevi stadium, Germany began strongly but were caught out in the 18th minute when Jensen sent a sizzling strike past Bodo Illgner.

Schmeichel and his defence defied Germany, and in the 78th minute came a magical moment for Vilfort when he found space between Brehme and Thomas Helmer before sending a low left-footed shot in off the right post, sealing a 2-0 win.

Schmeichel said Denmark's achievement came "from not accepting we're a small country".

"If we get the right circumstances, we can go and do whatever job we want to do, so it's more a mentality thing," he said. "I think that, more than anything, was why we won the European Championship. It was magical and unexpected."

Coach Moller Nielsen later reflected on his sudden change of plans for June 1992.

Moller Nielsen, who died in 2014, was quoted by UEFA as saying: "I was supposed to fit a new kitchen [in my house] but then we were called away to play in Sweden. The kitchen is finished now. I got a professional decorator to do it."

From a hospital bed, Line Vilfort got to see her father lead Denmark to the country's greatest footballing success.

She died a few weeks later, at the age of seven. Dad was a national hero, but this would be the cruellest of final chapters in the story of these great Danes, a personal tragedy amid a summer-long national celebration.

Rafael Nadal is halfway to a calendar Grand Slam, a feat that would mark the crowning point of any player's career.

Yet the Spanish great does not have to look far back into history to see how quickly that dream can be scuppered, with Novak Djokovic having fallen agonisingly short of a sweep of all four majors only last year.

As perhaps the most grounded player in tennis, Nadal heads into Wimbledon well aware that winning the first two majors of the year is no guarantee of any future success.

At the age of 36, and with a foot problem that requires careful maintenance, it would be arguably the most remarkable feat in the Open Era if Nadal were to add the Wimbledon and US Open titles to his Australian Open and French Open triumphs.

Such dominance is scarce in tennis, and Rod Laver was the last player to scoop all four men's singles titles at the majors, all the way back in 1969.

Steffi Graf won all four on the women's side in 1988, and it seemed a knock-in that Serena Williams would do likewise in 2015 when she headed to the US Open with three majors already bagged.

But Williams famously came unstuck when she faced Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals, while Djokovic went even closer in 2021, losing to Daniil Medvedev in the final at Flushing Meadows.

Here, Stats Perform examines the daunting challenge of scooping all four slams consecutively.


WHAT THE GREAT CHAMPIONS SAY

Before tennis reached its Open Era, which marked the dawning of professionalism on the tour, Laver won his first calendar Grand Slam in 1962.

He said later, quoted by the Tennis Hall of Fame: "It was a thrill to come off the court knowing I had won all four majors in one year. But I never felt like I was the best, never felt that way. I just happened to have a good year."

His 1969 dominance came a year after Laver returned to the majors, following a five-year exile while he played professional tennis elsewhere. When the majors allowed professionals to compete alongside the amateurs, 'Rocket Rod' was again unstoppable.

Laver turned 31 in 1969 and did not win any further grand slam singles titles in his career after that astonishing season, but that second perfect season sealed his legacy as an all-time great.

Stefan Edberg won a boys' singles clean sweep in 1983, but Laver remains the only player to win the men's singles full set in a calendar year since American Don Budge captured all four in the 1938 season, the first time it was achieved by a man. Maureen Connolly and Margaret Court achieved calendar Grand Slams in women's singles in 1953 and 1970 respectively.

A non-calendar Grand Slam was accomplished by Djokovic, when he won Wimbledon, the US Open, Australian Open and French Open consecutively across the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Yet no man other than Laver, Budge and Djokovic has won all four singles crowns in succession.

It has been 11 years since Nadal himself went close. He went to the Australian Open in 2011 with the Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US Open trophies in the bag, looking to complete the set.

"I am sure it's going to be the only one opportunity that I'm going to have in my life," said Nadal that year. "I'm not going to have more of these opportunities to win all four in a row.

"I think it is almost impossible. It is very, very difficult, no? Tennis is a very competitive sport and there is not a lot of difference between players. So a lot of matches are decided in a few balls. So for that reason it is very difficult to have one player winning everything. That's the truth."

Nadal, hampered by injury, lost in the Melbourne quarter-finals to David Ferrer in 2011 and had not won back-to-back slams since, until this year's surprise double. 


REACHING PRESSURE POINT

It is too soon to think that Nadal has a glorious chance to land all four big ones this year. After all, although he has won Wimbledon twice before, those triumphs came in 2008 and 2010, and he has a chronic foot problem. He has required radiofrequency ablation treatment in the past fortnight, preventing nerves in his foot sending messages to his brain.

He fell to Djokovic in the 2011 Wimbledon final and has not been back to the title match since, suffering a run of disappointing early exits in London before reaching semi-finals in 2018 and 2019, his last visits to the tournament.

Djokovic is a heavy favourite for this year's title, but it would be bold to entirely rule out Nadal, particularly given that as the second seed he cannot run into Djokovic until the final. Particularly given that he is Rafael Nadal, and prone to doing stupendous things.

Serbian Djokovic, a year Nadal's junior, would be able to tell his great rival just how intense the strain can become when a calendar Grand Slam becomes a serious prospect.

Speaking in November last year, two months after Medvedev denied him in New York, Djokovic said: "I'm very relieved that the grand slam season was done, because I felt a tremendous pressure unlike anything I felt in my life.

"It was an interesting experience, and I'm very satisfied with the way I played in grand slams, three wins and a final. There are much more positive things to be grateful for and to look at than negative."

Like Djokovic, Serena Williams has managed the non-calendar Grand Slam before, with the American first achieving that from the French Open in 2002 to the Australian Open in 2003, and in 2015 she was aiming for five slams in a row when she arrived at the US Open, having begun her dominant streak at her home grand slam the previous year.

That would have meant Williams sealed each of the 2015 slams, and losing to Vinci led to stark frustration, underlined by a terse response to the question of how disappointed she felt by the result.

"I don't want to talk about how disappointing it is for me," Williams said. "If you have any other questions, I'm open for that."

Sometimes, players get ahead of themselves when looking at the season ahead, and Naomi Osaka had a calendar Grand Slam in her thoughts after winning the season-opening Australian Open in 2019.

She had also triumphed at the US Open at the end of 2018, and the Japanese star was beginning to think she might enjoy an invincible year at the majors, only to stumble to a third-round French Open defeat to Katerina Siniakova.

Osaka said: "I think I was overthinking this calendar slam. For me this is something that I have wanted to do forever, but I have to think about it like if it was that easy, everyone would have done it."

It always feels somewhat presumptuous to talk about an NBA Draft in the immediate aftermath and judge who did well and who did not. Surely, we have to wait to see how things play out and whether players with immense potential are able to fulfil it?

However, what you can do is judge those who, on paper at least, seem to have struck gold and those who appeared to stumble through their Thursday evening and may well have come away disappointed with their haul.

The night started off delightfully chaotically as the Orlando Magic went against the widely predicted number one pick of Jabari Smith Jr and instead brought in Paolo Banchero.

Now the dust has settled after an interesting night, Stats Perform has taken a look at the potential winners and losers of the draft.

Winners

Houston Rockets

The Rockets could probably not believe their luck when the Magic decided to opt for Banchero. The Italian-American would have still been a fine first-round pick, but given the choice it seems like Houston would rather have taken Smith Jr, and they had the chance to do just that.

The youngster was a disruptive defender for Aubern, and clearly has sound fundamentals, a result no doubt of growing up in and around basketball, with his father Jabari Smith Sr a former NBA player himself.

Smith Jr averaged 16.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists while shooting 42.9 per cent from the floor and 42 per cent from the three-point line in 2021-22, and should dovetail nicely with Alperen Sengun, a first-round pick from last year.

The Rockets also took Tari Eason, a breakout star at LSU, and TyTy Washington, a high-quality and versatile option who was expected to be picked up earlier in the night.

Detroit Pistons

A very similar moment of fortune fell for the Pistons as their top choice Jaden Ivey was surprisingly still available when it came to their number five pick, with the Sacramento Kings instead taking Keegan Murray.

In two seasons at Purdue, Ivey showed himself to be a top-five prospect with a well-rounded game, though questions persist about the consistency of his shooting. He averaged 17.3 points per game last season, though, with a field goal percentage of 46.0.

Detroit were also involved in a three-way trade with the Charlotte Hornets and the New York Knicks. This ended with them procuring Jalen Duren and Kemba Walker in exchange for their 2025 first-round pick, having acquired it as part of the Jerami Grant trade to the Portland Trail Blazers earlier in the week.

Walker is expected to be bought out of his contract and become a free agent, so it looks like sound dealing to essentially trade a first-round pick to get Duren through the door, who averaged 12.0 points and 8.1 rebounds per game for the Memphis Tigers last season.

San Antonio Spurs

Nothing outrageous from the Spurs, but on the face of it, they ended the night with three solid picks.

Jeremy Sochan became the first British player to be picked in NBA Draft in over 10 years. As a freshman at Baylor, Sochan averaged 9.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in 25.1 minutes per game, making 47.4 per cent of his field goal attempts.

As that average suggests, one aspect to his game that could be improved is his shooting, but San Antonio's Chip Engelland is one of the best shooting coaches in the game and could well help the young man who was raised in Milton Keynes, England.

Malaki Branham looks a smart choice as the number 20 pick from Ohio State, with his one college season seeing him average 13.7 points on 49.8 per cent shooting, while Blake Wesley from Notre Dame also has the potential to also be a valuable arrival.

Losers

New York Knicks

After a poor season that felt like it would at least set them up for a productive draft, the Knicks appeared to overthink things at the draft, or underthink them depending on your viewpoint.

They decided to trade their number 11 pick for three future first-round picks, though none that really hold any value.

They managed to get Walker's contract out the door to the Pistons to free up some salary space, seemingly putting all their eggs in the Jalen Brunson basket, or potentially even Kyrie Irving. However, they only saved $9.2m from Walker's contract, which is not a lot considering they gave up one of their first-round picks. 

Who knows if it will pay off, but Knicks fans were almost certainly expecting more.

Washington Wizards

There was nothing particularly wrong with the picks from the Wizards, but as harsh as it may sound, they are in danger of becoming the NBA's dullest team.

A win percentage of 0.427 was down from 0.472 in 2020-21, and it felt like they might need to take a bit of a risk in the draft with their number 10 pick.

Johnny Davis is a fine player, averaging 19.7 points per game for the Wisconsin Badgers last year, the 25th highest in the college game, but someone like Duren could have been a roll of the dice for something to boost that win percentage sometime soon.

Who knows? It could be a sound strategy, but to be frank, it is a strategy that has not been working for the last few years in Washington.

Sacramento Kings

There is some sympathy with the situation the Kings were put in as the extremely obvious pick at four was Ivey, who had expressly said he did not want to go to Sacramento, so they went with Murray instead.

Murray is a fine prospect himself, and arguably a better fit than Ivey for the Kings, but the latter felt like an opportunity to at the very least have significant trade leverage.

Murray did average the fourth-highest points per game average last year with 23.5 for Iowa, while also adding 8.7 rebounds per game, so comes in as a promising addition.

Ivey will inevitably feel like the one who got away if he does what many think he will at Detroit, though, which could bring back memories of when Sacramento failed to take on Luka Doncic in 2018.

With the top three picks of the NBA Draft appearing to be Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero – likely in that order – the real fun begins with the Sacramento Kings at pick four.

The heavy favourite to be selected fourth overall is Purdue's Jaden Ivey, who projects as the top guard prospect in this year's class.

At 6ft 4in with tremendous athleticism, Ivey is a point guard that plays in a similar fashion to John Wall, although he is not the natural facilitator Wall is, leaning on his scoring and driving ability for his primary value.

Ivey was considered part of the top tier through early portions of the college basketball season until the three bigs elevated themselves further into their own conversation, but Ivey has been gaining so much steam throughout the pre-draft process that teams including the New York Knicks have reportedly been enquiring about trading up to the Kings' pick to select him.

 

Keegan Murray

After Ivey, the draft really opens up, although Iowa wing Keegan Murray will likely not fall outside of the top seven.

Murray is a 6ft 8in, highly skilled scorer who will be able to fill both forward spots in the NBA, and figures to be a player who will be able to create his own baskets in isolation situations.

He averaged 23.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game during his sophomore season, and shot a terrific 55 per cent from the field and 39.8 per cent from three-point range on 4.7 attempts per game.

Defense is the question with Murray, but he has the size and athleticism to contribute on that end, while the team that drafts him will hope he can fill a similar role to Milwaukee Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton as a low-maintenance scorer who does not need to be the centrepiece of every play to stack up points, but can also take over if needed.

 

Shaedon Sharpe

The mystery man of this year's class is 6ft 5in wing Shaedon Sharpe, who did not play a single game this past season at the college level.

Sharpe was viewed as a potential top-five pick in next year's draft, but opted to expedite his process to turn professional as soon as possible, and he will be rewarded with a top-10 pick barring any unforeseen red flags.

Strongly built, athletic, long-armed wings with the ability to aggressively hit pull-up three-pointers and defend multiple positions are probably the most valuable archetype in the game right now, and Sharpe fits the billing.

With a game that resembles Paul George, Sharpe arguably has a ceiling as high as anybody in the class, but a lot of future NBA wings look like Paul George when their only footage is against high school kids.

 

Bennedict Mathurin

Arizona wing Bennedict Mathurin also appears to be a lock for the top 10 after a dominant March Madness run that included a 30-point outburst in an overtime win in the Sweet 16, profiling as a high-level traditional shooting guard.

Clearly a score-first player, Mathurin – 6ft 6in with a 6ft 9in wingspan – will be able to defend opposing ones, twos and threes while his well-rounded offensive game should comfortably translate to an off-ball role at the next level.

Through his two seasons at Arizona, Mathurin shot 38 per cent from three on five attempts per game, including difficult, contested looks, while he also showed he can score at all three levels, and even dished seven assists with his 27 points in a key tournament win.

Maybe the safest pick outside of the top three, Mathurin will comfortably score in the teens as a rookie if he lands in a situation with minutes available. Think of him as a more athletic C.J. McCollum.

Dyson Daniels

Arguably the most unique guard in the class is Australian Dyson Daniels, who played with the G-League Ignite, and he also seems unlikely to fall out of the top 10.

Daniels was viewed as a decent prospect as a 6ft 5in combo guard who specialised in defense and lacked a jump shot – then he grew another three inches, cleaned up his jump shot and began assuming point guard responsibilities.

At 6ft 8in now with guard skills and elite defensive upside, Daniels is perhaps the hardest player in the class to find an NBA comparison for. He is so unselfish and pass-first that his play style resembles pure point guards like Tyus Jones or Monte Morris, but he is at least six inches taller and can realistically guard four positions.

Unlikely to ever become a true first option, Daniels is best served playing next to a primary scorer, making him an ideal fit with Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers if they decide to use pick seven instead of trade it.

 

Ousmane Dieng

Speaking of late risers in the draft process, teams seem to be deciding that someone with the tools of France's Ousmane Dieng may have no business falling outside of the top 10.

Dieng, a massive wing measuring at 6ft 10in, showed some extremely interesting flashes of skill this past season as an 18-year-old playing with the New Zealand Breakers in the NBL.

Playing for a professional team, he was not given nearly the kind of leash as college prospects to show what they can do, averaging 15 minutes and three points through his first nine games.

But once he found his footing, it was clear he was a serious prospect, showing off sharp ball-handling and the ability to attack off the bounce in an 11-game stretch where he averaged 24 minutes and 14 points per game, scoring at least 17 points in five contests and shooting 20-of-56 from long range (35 per cent).

A.J. Griffin

The son of former NBA player and current Toronto Raptors assistant coach Adrian Griffin, the only thing that can force A.J. Griffin to slide down draft boards is his injury history.

With essentially the perfect body for an NBA wing at 6ft 6in and 220 pounds with a seven-foot wingspan, Griffin is yet to turn 19 years old, and shot a blistering 44 per cent from long range on 4.4 attempts per game in his sole collegiate season.

If he can stay healthy, Griffin will be a solid starting wing at the bare minimum, with similar offensive upside to Raptors forward O.G. Anunoby and the defensive tools to guard at least three positions.

Teams will take a look at his medicals and decide if he is worth the risk, with multiple serious injuries during his high school career and more injury concerns during his one year at Duke.

It is the end of an era at Liverpool as one of their iconic front three leaves for pastures new.

After six years at Anfield, Sadio Mane has departed for a new adventure with Bayern Munich, completing a move for €41million (£35.2million).

Stats Perform understands Liverpool will receive a guaranteed €32million (£27.5m), plus €6m (£5.2m) based on appearances and a further €3m (£2.5m) depending on future success that Mane and Bayern achieve.

The Reds have already moved on by bringing in Uruguay striker Darwin Nunez from Benfica, but it feels significant that Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah will never play together again for Jurgen Klopp's side.

The trio fired Liverpool to multiple trophies, including a Champions League and Premier League, though the additions of Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz in the last couple of years had already seen a slight evolution.

However, Klopp has now lost one of his main men, which is an experience the German boss has had to get used to in his career, especially the idea of his players moving to Munich.

While it may not feel like quite the blow of past desertions given the forward planning, Stats Perform has taken a look at how the decision to leave Klopp went in the past.

 

Nuri Sahin

Sahin was always likely to be a major component for Borussia Dortmund when he became the Bundesliga's youngest player aged 16 years, 11 months against Wolfsburg in August 2006, a record that was only broken in November 2020 by Youssoufa Moukoko.

He shone under Klopp, particularly in 2010-11 when Dortmund shocked German football to win the Bundesliga title, with Sahin claiming the league's Player of the Year award and earning a move to Real Madrid.

After 14 goal involvements from midfield (six goals, eight assists) in his last season in the Bundesliga, Sahin struggled to do similar in Spain, making just 10 appearances in all competitions for Madrid, with one solitary goal in the Copa del Rey against Ponferradina.

An unsuccessful loan move to Liverpool the following season was cut short halfway through, and just 20 months after leaving Signal Iduna Park, Sahin was back in the yellow and black on loan, before making the switch permanent in 2014, staying until a move to Werder Bremen in 2018.

Shinji Kagawa

The Japan international spent two very productive seasons at Dortmund under Klopp between 2010 and 2012, winning back-to-back Bundesliga titles and scoring 21 goals in 49 league games.

Kagawa decided to try his hand at the Premier League, moving to Manchester United in June 2012, but much like Sahin, found the grass far from greener.

Due to injury, he only played a supporting role as United won the title in the 2012-13 season, scoring six goals in 26 appearances in all competitions, before making a further 29 in the first campaign at Old Trafford following the retirement of Alex Ferguson, with no additional goals to his name.

Like Sahin, Kagawa returned to Dortmund in 2014, spending a further five years at the club.

 

Mario Gotze

The fresh-faced Gotze came through the youth ranks at Dortmund and, like Kagawa, played a vital role in Klopp's great Dortmund side that won two Bundesliga titles, and also had a big hand in getting them to the 2013 Champions League final.

One of the side narratives to that final against Bayern was that prior to it, Gotze had agreed a €37m move to the Bavarian club.

Klopp was hurt by Gotze's decision, but although the attacking midfielder went on to score the winner for Germany in the 2014 World Cup final and have a decent record at Bayern, scoring 36 goals in 114 games, he never really established himself as a key cog in their team, and in a familiar move for those who had left Dortmund, returned three years later.

Gotze spent four years back in the yellow and black, but was never able to recapture the magic that made him one of Europe's hottest prospects under Klopp.

Robert Lewandowski

Arguably the only real success story of those who moved on from Klopp, though there is no denying that the building blocks were put in place by the German for Lewandowski to become the striker he is today.

Arriving at Dortmund as an unknown from Lech Poznan, he scored just eight times in 33 games in his first Bundesliga season, before going on to rack up 66 across his next three league campaigns.

His goals also played a part in Dortmund winning two titles and reaching the Champions League final, but a year after Gotze had moved to Bayern, Lewandowski did the same following the expiry of his contract.

There were thoughts that the Poland international might struggle to replicate his form to quite the expected levels in Munich, scoring just 17 goals in his first Bundesliga season.

However, since then he has never scored fewer than 22, and broke Gerd Muller's record for most goals in a Bundesliga season when he netted 41 times in just 29 games in 2020-21.

Since leaving Dortmund in 2014, Lewandowski has won eight Bundesliga titles, three DFB-Pokal's and a Champions League, while also being awarded the FIFA Best Men's Player of the Year in the last two years.

 

Philippe Coutinho

Klopp probably thought the days of losing his star players were behind him when he arrived at Liverpool, but on the eve of his third season at Anfield, he was rocked when Coutinho handed in a transfer request.

The influential Brazilian was part of Klopp's first great front three at Liverpool along with Mane and Firmino, but the arrival of Salah softened the blow of his move to Barcelona in January 2018, as did the reported £142m (€160m) fee.

Despite a promising start to life at the Camp Nou, the pressure of the price tag and essentially being the replacement for the legendary Andres Iniesta proved too much, with Coutinho loaned to, of course, Bayern after just 18 months in Spain.

He had a successful season in Germany, winning a treble and having 20 goal involvements (11 goals and nine assists) in 38 appearances in all competitions, but returned to Barca and again failed to impress, albeit a serious knee injury curtailed most of his 2020-21 campaign.

After 16 goals and seven assists in 84 games in all for Barca, Coutinho returned to England in January 2022 to play for ex-Liverpool team-mate Steven Gerrard at Aston Villa, recording five goals and three assists, enough to secure a permanent move for a slightly more modest fee of around £17m (€20m).

Georginio Wijnaldum

The Netherlands midfielder may be a harsh inclusion as it remains unclear how much of his exit from Liverpool was his decision and how much was the club's, but Wijnaldum parted ways with Klopp and the Reds at the end of the 2020-21 season to join Paris Saint-Germain.

The man who earned cult status at Liverpool with his two goals against Barcelona in their dramatic comeback in the Champions League semi-final second leg three years ago would now get the chance to play alongside Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi.

However, despite being a regular under Klopp, having never started fewer than 27 league games in his five years on Merseyside, the 31-year-old started just 18 Ligue 1 games for PSG, scoring once.

Wijnaldum was voted the worst signing in Ligue 1 by a poll held by Get French Football News, but still has two years left on his contract at the Parc des Princes, so could yet turn things around, and had a title winners' medal to show for his efforts after his debut campaign.

Mane will most likely win more titles in Germany to add to his already meaty collection from his time at Liverpool, but whether he can recreate the level of performances and subsequent adulation he received from the red half of Merseyside remains to be seen.

A clear top tier has emerged ahead of Thursday's NBA Draft, comprised of Auburn wing Jabari Smith, Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren and Duke forward Paolo Banchero.

The Orlando Magic hold the keys to the draft with the first overall pick, and ever since they won the lottery the buzz has been about their affinity for the six-foot-10, smooth-shooting Smith.

Smith, who only turned 19 in May, is one of the youngest prospects in the draft and seems to tick a number of high-value boxes that are usually required to become a star in the NBA.

His premier skill is his shooting, boasting arguably the prettiest jump shot in the whole class, and he converted a scorching 42 per cent of his three-pointers while getting up a healthy 5.5 attempts per game.

Playing at Auburn with a cast of guards, who at times appeared to have no idea they were playing with an NBA player, meant Smith was primarily used in an off-ball role, getting shots up quickly off the catch or at the end of plays, as opposed to getting an opportunity to create with the ball in his hands.

This role and his ability to stylishly rise up and hit long jumpers at his size with hands in his face have caused many to compare him to former Magic power forward and two-time All-Star Rashard Lewis.

Lewis appears to be Smith's 'floor' – which would be a pretty handy worst possible outcome if it is the case – but his athleticism, seven-foot-one wingspan with defensive upside, and well-reported elite work ethic as a son of a former NBA player puts him on a similar trajectory to Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum, who also had questions raised about his playmaking and ball-handling coming out of Duke.

The Magic will be selecting between Smith and Holmgren, with the Gonzaga big-man clearly the most unique prospect in the class.

Holmgren has been on NBA radars since his high school days when he was carrying the United States to junior gold medals – winning Tournament MVP at the 2021 FIBA Under-19 Basketball World Cup.

As the number-one recruit in the country coming into the 2021-22 college basketball season, Holmgren chose to shun traditional 'one-and-done' schools to go play for respected coach Mark Few at Gonzaga, where he would buy into a pro-style team system instead of playing for a program that would allow him to average 20 points per game.

Out of more than 3000 Division One college players, Holmgren was fourth in blocks per game (3.7) and eighth in block percentage, blocking 12.6 per cent of opponent shots while he was on the court.

He was also number one in two-point field goal percentage, converting almost 74 per cent of his chances as he routinely finished off lobs and alley-oops both in the half-court and in transition, and his seven-foot-six wingspan made it impossible to block his shot when he was allowed to catch with two feet in the paint.

Add to the equation that he shot a terrific 39 per cent from long range on 3.3 attempts per game, and that he has displayed for more ball-handling and open-court playmaking in the international game than he was allowed to in college, and he is a near-flawless prospect.

As such a unique prospect, there are very few comparisons that can be made. Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis seems the only obvious choice, but Holmgren plays a less ball-dominant style, like a bigger Andrei Kirilenko.

His one major flaw scouts point to is his body – he is seven feet tall and weighs less than 200lbs – and does not appear to have a frame that will allow him to blow up physically the way Giannis Antetokounmpo and other skinny rookies have.

But how many players in the NBA right now are actually too skinny? It is hard to think of a single player who is truly unplayable because of not being physically stout enough.

Oklahoma City Thunder wing Aleksej Pokusevski is a similar build, but he does not play center, and does not show close to the defensive chops Holmgren does. 

Admittedly, against hulking behemoths like Joel Embiid – who are exceedingly rare – he may need to play next to a true, bruising center, to take the pressure off; but those match-ups are few and far between.

The third player in the top tier is Banchero, and although the Magic are reportedly not considering him with the top pick, some respected draft analysts rate him as this year's best prospect.

It is easy to see why, especially given the modern NBA.

Banchero projects as the most likely of the top trio to become a lead initiator early in his career, flashing terrific feel for the game with ball in hand, and an ability to attack the rim and create off the dribble.

In his one season, he had 24 games with at least three assists, while Smith had 11 games with at least three assists, and Holmgren had six.

The ability to create shots for yourself and others is thought of as the most valuable skill-set in basketball, with LeBron James clearly the standard-bearer, but with less explosive athleticism Banchero more closely mimics Jimmy Butler on the offensive end, without the Heat star's unrelenting defensive motor.

To be clear, Banchero is significantly bigger than both James and Butler, reportedly measuring in at over six-foot-10 without shoes, with a grown man's body at 250lbs. Given his size, his lack of true first-step explosion – or 'wiggle' off the bounce – should not greatly hinder his ability as a match-up nightmare from day one.

Banchero is too big for traditional wing defenders who will have a speed advantage on him, and he will be too quick for guys his own size.

He has shown he can run pick-and-roll and operate in a pass-first role, and jumbo playmakers like Luka Doncic and Cade Cunningham are showing that elite quickness is not mandatory at that size if you are savvy enough and understand how to use power instead of speed.

The Houston Rockets are the overwhelming favourites to select Banchero with the third selection, pairing him with one of the best athletes in the entire league in last year's number-two pick, Jalen Green.

Real Madrid enjoyed a brilliant season, winning LaLiga comfortably before also being crown champions of Europe by beating Liverpool in Paris.

That 1-0 win at the Stade de France capped a remarkable run in the Champions League, with Los Blancos having instigated great escapes against Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City.

It's difficult to recall any team enduring a tougher run to Champions League success, and yet Carlo Ancelotti – who was seen as a steady if slightly underwhelming appointment – managed to mastermind arguably his greatest triumph as a coach.

There's no sign of Madrid standing still, either. While the Spanish giants may have missed out on Kylian Mbappe, the fact they were in the hunt for him is evidence enough they are in a strong financial situation, perhaps unsurprising given their generally modest – by Santiago Bernabeu standards – outlay in the transfer market over the past couple of years.

Antonio Rudiger was signed up for next season nice and early, Aurelien Tchouameni's reported €100million signing was confirmed on Saturday, and the departures of Gareth Bale, Marcelo and Isco will give Madrid plenty of room for manoeuvre when it comes to wages.

Either way, there's nothing to suggest the LaLiga champions aren't going to be stronger in the 2022-23 campaign, meaning the chasing pack – namely Barcelona, Atletico Madrid and Sevilla – have work to do, given how far behind they finished this term. 

Out with the old, in with the Nou

After a rocky start to 2021-22 that ultimately led to Ronald Koeman's dismissal, Xavi got Barca back on track and eventually secured second place, which was impressive given the top four looked beyond them for a while.

Nevertheless, their form did tail off a little in the final five or six weeks of the season, losing four of the final nine matches across all competitions.

Barca's season in general vindicated the decision to ditch Koeman for the inexperienced but well-regarded Xavi. It also proved the potential in the Blaugrana squad, as well as a degree of mental weakness at the business end.

 

Of course, it would be much easier for the club to build on the positives of this season were they not in a financial quagmire equivalent to over €1billion in debt.

As such, reports suggest Barca will largely be relying on free transfers, two of which are said to have been concluded already. Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen have apparently agreed to join, while Cesar Azpilicueta may follow the latter from Chelsea.

But the big question mark hangs over Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich talisman has made no secret of his desire to leave the Bundesliga, and Camp Nou is where he sees himself next – but Die Roten are playing hardball, and who can blame them?

A whole raft of players are expected to depart Barca, however, with Ousmane Dembele seemingly destined for Chelsea and the likes of Clement Lenglet, Antoine Griezmann, Samuel Umtiti, Oscar Mingueza, Riqui Puig, Martin Braithwaite and Sergi Roberto all expected to leave permanently. On top of that, Adama Traore and Luuk de Jong are highly unlikely to have their loans renewed, while Frenkie de Jong appears the most likely to deposit some serious money in the coffers, given Manchester United's interest.

But such upheaval will be difficult to contend with. Even if Lewandowski signs, it'll take something spectacular for Barca to be champions this time next year.

Finally Joao Felix's time to shine?

Diego Simeone's side were dethroned with little more than a whimper. Their title defence looked over before it ever really got started.

It was a disappointing season given many felt Atletico's squad was strengthened significantly last year. Griezmann, Matheus Cunha and Rodrigo de Paul provided extra spark, creativity and goal threat, though arguably none of them quite reached expectations, even if the Brazi forward did prove a dependable option off the bench.

The departure of Luis Suarez means a new striker is likely to arrive, and early indications are Alvaro Morata may be returning – granted, that may not be enough to get Atletico fans excited.

Either way, fans and neutrals alike will once again be hoping Simeone can finally find a way to get the best out of his more creative players.

 

Joao Felix is still yet to shine on a consistent basis, with 2021-22 a tricky campaign in which injuries, illness and suspension contributed to him making only 24 league appearances; just 13 of those were as a starter.

His 12 goal involvements came at roughly one every 100 minutes, which is a decent return, but there is clearly an element of Simeone not completely trusting him yet, otherwise he'd surely have started more frequently.

The exit of Suarez might allow for Joao Felix to take on a little more responsibility in attack, and who's to say that won't be the making of him?

No one doubts the talent's there; he just needs to show he can be Atletico's talisman on a regular basis. If he can, Atletico may again be the most likely to stop Los Blancos.

A Sevilla summer of upheaval

Sevilla fans are accustomed to seeing most of their squad replaced over the course of a transfer window – it's just what Monchi does.

While their rebuild may not be quite as extensive this year as in past windows, expect to see plenty of ins and outs; in fact, there's already been one key departure.

Diego Carlos has joined Aston Villa in a move that begins the dismantling of Julen Lopetegui's bedrock of a defence. In 2021-22, no team in LaLiga conceded fewer than Sevilla (30 goals), while only Manchester City (57) and Madrid (52) kept more clean sheets than Julen Lopetegui's side (51) across the top five leagues during the Brazilian's time at the club.

His centre-back partner Jules Kounde is widely expected to leave as well, with long-term admirers Chelsea once again able to flex their financial muscle now they're no longer sanctioned.

But while Sevilla boasted the best defence in LaLiga, it's easy to forget that for a while they looked to be the only team capable of challenging Madrid for the title.

 

In the end, they scraped fourth place, with their form between February 1 and the season's conclusion seeing them rank seventh with 24 points; Barca led the way with 38 in that period, while Madrid took 36.

Sevilla's biggest issue was scoring goals. Only Rafa Mir (10) reached double figures in LaLiga, with Lucas Ocampos (six) the one other to net more than five.

That – and centre-back – would appear to be where Monchi's focus will lie over the coming months, particularly now it seems Lopetegui will be staying.

But Monchi's got his work cut out keeping the team as competitive given the likely upheaval and small gap between themselves and bitter rivals Real Betis in fifth. 

A title challenge like that of 2020-21 would be an impressive feat, but if Sevilla can limit the break-up of their defence and sign a reliable striker, it would become more realistic.

The 2021-22 season may still be ongoing at international level, but Premier League and Ligue 1 clubs can officially register new signings for the next campaign following the opening of the transfer window on Friday.

Teams in LaLiga, Serie A and the Bundesliga must wait until July 1 for their business to go through – though that is not to say preparations are not already in full swing behind the scenes.

Indeed, a number of big deals are already in place and waiting to get the seal of approval, with Antonio Rudiger heading to Real Madrid and Karim Adeyemi brought in by Borussia Dortmund to replace Manchester City-bound Erling Haaland, while others – Darwin Nunez to Liverpool and Aurelien Tchouameni to Madrid – appear to be all-but complete.

One transfer saga came to an end before the window even officially opened, meanwhile, with Kylian Mbappe confirming that he is staying put at Paris Saint-Germain, despite strong interest from Madrid.

For others, there are weeks of uncertainty ahead. Having already picked out the big-name free agents up for grabs this window, Stats Perform looks at the transfer sagas that are likely to rumble on for a little while longer yet.


Player: Robert Lewandowski
Current club: Bayern Munich
Rumoured suitors: Barcelona, Real Madrid

While the futures of Mbappe and Haaland have already been resolved, arguably the world's best striker in Lewandowski is seeking pastures new after recently declaring that his time at Bayern "has come to an end" – even if the German champions do not quite see it that way.

The Poland international still has 12 months to run on his contract and Bayern are understandably reluctant to sell, even if that means forgoing a transfer fee in a year's time, making things particularly difficult for Barcelona, who are the rumoured frontrunners for his signature.

He was once again the hottest striker across Europe's top five leagues in 2021-22 when taking all competitions into account, the 33-year-old scoring 50 goals in 46 games for Bayern in what was his second-best goalscoring campaign across eight years in Bavaria, behind only the 55 netted in 2019-20.

 

Player: Sadio Mane
Current club: Liverpool
Rumoured suitors: Real Madrid

Whether it is to replace wantaway Lewandowski or to play alongside the prolific striker, Bayern are seemingly intent on bringing Liverpool and Senegal forward Mane to the Allianz Arena.

Bayern are reported to have had a second bid of €35.3million (£30m) turned down by Liverpool earlier this week, with the ball very much in the Reds' court – just like it is with the Bavarians and Lewandowski.

Mane would be a huge loss to Liverpool, having scored 90 goals in 196 Premier League appearances since joining at the start of 2016-17 – only Jamie Vardy (104), team-mate Mohamed Salah (118) and Harry Kane (134) have more – explaining their desire to snap up Nunez from Benfica.

 

Player: Gabriel Jesus
Current club: Manchester City
Rumoured suitors: Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Real Madrid

Manchester City striker Jesus may just about be the most in-demand player up for grabs this window, with his agent confirming as many as seven clubs are interested in signing the Brazil international.

Arsenal are the only known team to be in discussions with Jesus' camp, though they are expected to face interest from the likes of rivals Tottenham and Chelsea, as well as reigning European and Spanish champions Madrid.

The stats reflect exactly why Jesus is so highly regarded – albeit not by City following the arrival of Haaland – as he has scored or assisted in 57 per cent of matches he has started in the Premier League, a figure bettered only by Salah (62 per cent), Thierry Henry (61 per cent) and City legend Sergio Aguero (60 per cent) among those to have started at least 10 games.

 

Player: Frenkie de Jong
Current club: Barcelona
Rumoured suitors: Manchester United

De Jong has not quite been able to match expectations at Barcelona since arriving from Ajax in a big-money deal two years ago, which the midfielder has regularly put down to being used out of position in central midfield.

The arrival of the Netherlands international's former Ajax boss Erik ten Hag at United has only intensified speculation that he could be on his way out of Camp Nou, with Barca themselves needing to offload players if they are to seriously strengthen elsewhere.

De Jong will leave a void to be filled if he does move on, though, as Sergio Busquets (51) was the only Barca outfielder to feature in more games in the 2021-22 campaign than the 25-year-old (47 apps).

 

Player: Christopher Nkunku
Current club: RB Leipzig
Rumoured suitors: Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United, Real Madrid

Nkunku well and truly burst onto the scene in the 2021-22 campaign with a combined 51 goals and assists in 52 games for Leipzig across all competitions, meaning he near enough directly contributed to a goal per game.

Only Europe's absolute elite players, Lewandowski (56 goal involvements), Benzema (59) and Mbappe (60), outperformed Nkunku in that regard, making links with Europe's top clubs unsurprising.

Still aged only 24, the four-cap France international may well be a Ballon d'Or winner in waiting if his trajectory over the past couple of seasons is anything to go by. But with two years to run on his Leipzig contract, it will take a huge sum for the Bundesliga side to even consider cashing in. 

 

The seemingly never-ending 2021-22 season may be ongoing, with a number of big international fixtures still to be played this month, but plenty of focus is already on the next campaign.

This month's conclusion will mark the end of an era for many players as their contracts come to an end – though for some it will provide a much-needed opportunity to begin a new chapter elsewhere.

For others, becoming a free agent simply provides more bargaining power when negotiating fresh terms with their current employers, at a time when most clubs cannot spend as frivolously on new players as they once could.

While some big-name freebies have already moved clubs, and others are reported to have signed pre-contract agreements elsewhere – such as Franck Kessie and Andreas Christensen at Barcelona – others remain on the market.

Here, Stats Perform picks out some of those who are on the lookout for a new club.


Player: Paul Pogba
Current club: Manchester United
Rumoured suitors: Juventus, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain

United last week announced the departures of six players, with Juan Mata, Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard and Pogba among them. While the first three of those will undoubtedly be of interest to teams across the continent, Pogba is arguably the most in-demand free agent around.

Juventus reportedly lead the way for the France international, who won eight trophies in four seasons with the Serie A giants prior to rejoining United in 2016. Whichever side of the divide you stand – that Pogba has too often been used out of position or is just simply not good enough – there is no denying his second spell at Old Trafford has not gone to plan.

Still, with 67 goals and assists in the Premier League since the start of 2016-17, United are waving goodbye to a player who has been involved in 17.5 per cent of their goals across that period – only Marcus Rashford (21.9 per cent) has directly contributed to more.

 

Player: Gareth Bale
Current club: Real Madrid
Rumoured suitors: Cardiff City, Getafe, MLS clubs

As the winner of 16 trophies across nine seasons at Madrid – one of those spent on loan at Tottenham – and still aged just 32, you would imagine Bale would have the pick of the world's top clubs to choose from in the upcoming transfer window.

But that is not quite the case, with hometown club Cardiff City and Madrid-based Getafe now considered the two favourites to land the Wales international. That does come with a caveat of sorts, though, as Bale's main focus is on entering November's World Cup with Wales in peak fitness, rather than adding to his trophy collection.

The forward has had a number of injury setbacks in recent years but, wherever he plies his trade next season, he will want to play more football than he did in 2021-22 when available. He featured in just seven of Madrid's 56 matches, totalling 290 minutes on the field, and started only four of those – seven per cent of all minutes Madrid played.

 

Player: Ousmane Dembele
Current club: Barcelona
Rumoured suitors: Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Liverpool

Barcelona were eager to get Dembele off their books in January, so much so that director of football Mateu Alemany publicly told the France international to find a new club "immediately". Five months on, after a strong second half to the 2021-22 season, Barca would like nothing more than to retain Dembele's services.

The former Borussia Dortmund attacker assisted 11 LaLiga goals between the start of 2022 and the end of the season, a tally that no other player across Europe's top five leagues could match, with Lionel Messi next best on 10 with PSG in Ligue 1.

Re-signing Messi has been touted, but that seems fanciful a year on from his emotional exit, so Barca may well focus on tying Dembele down to a new deal before PSG – who also have another ex-Barcelona favourite in Neymar on their books – add to a star-studded frontline.

 

Player: Paulo Dybala
Current club: Juventus
Rumoured suitors: Arsenal, Tottenham, Barcelona

Juventus are coming off the back of their first trophyless season in a decade, and with it comes the end of an era in many ways as Giorgio Chiellini is departing after 18 years in Turin, while Federico Bernardeschi is also on his way out and seemingly set for Napoli.

However, the name on everyone's lips right now is Dybala's, even if the Argentina international has not fully lived up to the admittedly huge hype following his arrival at Juve from Palermo in a €40million transfer seven years ago.

Dybala can still be pleased enough with his goalscoring return at the Allianz Stadium, having netted 115 goals in 293 appearances in all competitions, making him the club's third-highest foreign goalscorer of all time behind David Trezeguet (171) and John Hansen (124).

 

Player: Angel Di Maria 
Current club: Paris Saint-Germain
Rumoured suitors: Juventus, Barcelona

Di Maria signed off from PSG in the near-perfect manner with a goal and an assist in his final game for the club against Metz last month, though his importance clearly diminished following the arrival of Messi as he started just 19 Ligue 1 games last term, down from 23 in the two previous campaigns.

That performance against Metz, albeit in a dead-rubber, highlighted Di Maria's quality when used and it is perhaps little surprise that some big-name clubs are interested. A move to Juventus seemed a certainty not so long ago, but Barcelona are supposedly now the frontrunners for the 34-year-old.

Di Maria is not the only South American attacker available to sign on a free next month, either, as the aforementioned Cavani and Uruguay international team-mate Luis Suarez are also on the lookout for a new club following their exits from United and Atletico Madrid respectively.

Behind all the charm that Iga Swiatek brings to tennis, the relatable personality and the culture vulture sensibilities, there lies a ruthless champion.

Swiatek is now a two-time French Open winner, and goodness knows how many more grand slams the 21-year-old might add in the coming years.

The women's tour is not yet officially in a post-Williams era, but if Serena and Venus never play again, the game is surely in safe hands.

A 6-1 6-3 dismantling of Coco Gauff meant Saturday's showpiece was no classic Roland Garros final. Great champions don't care much about classics, though. It's all about getting the W, and stacking those up. Classics are great, but only if you win them.

Nobody in the 2000s has hit on a hotter streak than the one Swiatek is presently living through. This was a sixth consecutive title in 2022 for Swiatek and a 35th match win in succession. Venus Williams had a six-title, 35-win run in 2000, and Justine Henin reeled off six successive tournament triumphs from 2007 into 2008.

The Pole is the youngest winner of two or more grand slams since Maria Sharapova, at 19, added the 2006 US Open title to the Wimbledon crown she sensationally secured as a 17-year-old.

Swiatek is among elite company there, just as she was when she fist-bumped her hero, Rafael Nadal, before stepping onto court.

How far can Swiatek extend this run? Well, Martina Navratilova won 74 successive matches in 1984, a record for the WTA Tour.

As Swiatek collected the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen, she might have been aware that Lenglen, long before the WTA was formed in 1973, embarked on an even more staggering undefeated run.

The Frenchwoman is said to have strung together a 181-match winning streak in the 1920s. Some sources put it at 179, but at this stage we're splitting hairs.

When Gauff said at the post-match presentation that she hoped to play Swiatek in more finals, a beaming smile passed across the champion's face, but it faded just a little when Gauff said she hoped to pull off a win in future.

Swiatek, 21, overwhelmed first-time slam finalist Gauff, 18, on this occasion, but they might have many more big-stage matches to come. Swiatek has no interest in losing any such clash.

Based on their combined ages, this was billed as the 'youngest' Roland Garros final since 19-year-old Iva Majoli stunned 16-year-old favourite Martina Hingis in the 1997 showpiece.

The only grand slam final in the 21st century to feature two players with a lower combined age than the Swiatek-Gauff pairing was last year's US Open trophy match between Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez.

Ahead of this match, American great Pam Shriver spoke on the Tennis Podcast about facing the greats of the game in the 1970s and 1980s, saying: "I played through these amazing streaks of Chris Evert, Navratilova, Graf, Seles... but literally the quality of Swiatek's game right now is equal to the greatest of all time during their streaks. She's the real deal."

This match was won by Swiatek identifying a weakness – the Gauff forehand – and targeting it, constantly. There was no escape for Gauff, who would have recognised the shot was letting her down.

By the end of the third game, Gauff had already committed 10 unforced errors and was a double break down. Welcome to your first grand slam final, Coco.

When Gauff slapped a rare forehand winner, she let out a cry of satisfaction, but the Florida resident then lashed the next ball she faced into the tramlines.

It was a 6-3 6-1 trouncing in Swiatek's favour when these two met in Miami in March, and the Paris crowd were longing for more of a contest this time.

When Gauff broke serve and led 2-0 in the second set, Swiatek's supremacy was briefly in doubt. That didn't last long.

Swiatek swept through her next service game and soon had two break-back points when Gauff flung in a third double fault of the match. Then a forehand – of course it was the forehand – went just wide from Gauff and the set was back on serve.

What would the response be from Gauff? She was broken in a flash, and the contest was effectively finished.

How did the match end? With Gauff flinging a forehand service return long. Yes, this was a final with a theme.

Swiatek saw the disappointment in Gauff's face as she approached the net, and the embrace was a sympathetic one, followed by a consoling pat on the American's back.

To be clear, that means nothing for their future rivalry. Swiatek is cold-blooded until the final point has been played out.

The AC/DC and Led Zeppelin fan, who has been reading The Three Musketeers while in Paris and visited the Palace of Versailles last week, has this clinical flip side to her character.

She lost her first tour final to Polona Hercog as a 17-year-old in 2019, but since that defeat in Lugano has been formidable in trophy matches, winning nine now and only three times being extended as far as 6-4 in any set.

This is why there might be many more slams to come, and perhaps Wimbledon glory awaits in the coming weeks.

Swiatek won the French Open as the world number 54 and a virtual unknown two years ago and has shown she can handle the pressure of being the top seed and hot favourite this time.

Evert, speaking on Eurosport, was drawn into fantastical talk about Swiatek perhaps one day rivalling Nadal for Roland Garros titles. On Sunday, the Spaniard will go after his 14th such triumph.

"She has to get past my seven, doesn't she, before we talk about Rafa?" Evert said, shrewdly. "She can look and dream about winning 10 [grand slams], and it's very possible that she will, but I don't think specifically she's thinking, 'I can win this tournament 14 times'."

That will surely be beyond Swiatek, but Evert's haul, the most by a woman, may not be.

The Boston Celtics stole home-court advantage with their impressive win against the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals – but it is a long series, and both teams have some adjustments to make.

In the Celtics' 120-108 victory, Jayson Tatum did not shoot the ball well (three-of-17 from the field), but made up for it with his playmaking, dishing a career-high 13 assists to take advantage of an outlier shooting performance from the rest of his team.

For the Warriors, a dynamic 38-24 third period had them leading by 12 heading into the last, before a fourth-quarter bombardment saw a 103-100 lead turn into a 117-103 deficit courtesy of a 17-0 run.

Stephen Curry was spectacular, with 21 points and a Finals-record six three-pointers in just the first quarter, going on to finish with 34 points, five rebounds, five assists and three steals.

With Game 2 scheduled for Sunday night, here is one key adjustment we could see from both teams as the series progresses, and a storyline to watch.

 

Warriors play no more than one big at a time

When the Warriors were at the peak of their dynasty, Draymond Green would play center, surrounded by four perimeter players.

Due to his excellent play this postseason – as well as playing all 82 regular season games, starting 80 – center Kevon Looney has earned a significant playoff role. 

He was the difference-maker when trusted with an extended run in his side's Game 6 closeout against the Memphis Grizzlies, collecting 22 rebounds, and he was terrific against a Dallas Mavericks side lacking a true center, averaging 10.6 points, 10.6 rebounds and three assists per game for the series.

To put the blame of the Game 1 loss on Looney is simply wrong. He was not just serviceable, he was good, with nine rebounds, five assists and three blocks in his 25 minutes – but the Warriors are simply not the same beast on the offensive end when he and Green are on the floor at the same time.

However, this does not mean they must bench Looney, but instead the Warriors may be forced into some difficult conversations about the effectiveness of Green in this series.

Green is no longer the explosive athlete he was at the peak of his powers – when he was clearly the best defensive player in the NBA – and without that athleticism he begins to feel like the 6'6 center that he is.

Calling him a non-factor on the offensive end is disrespectful due to his incredible basketball IQ and the value he adds with his ball-movement, passing and screening – but these are areas Looney has quietly excelled in as well.

Looney, significantly bigger at 6'9, matched Green with five assists, showing plenty of similar reads and the ability to function in a largely similar role on the offensive end. He also grabbed six offensive rebounds, providing serious tangible value in the form of extra possessions, while also being the Warriors' only real rim protector.

Green will likely not shoot two-of-12 from the field again – missing all four of his three-point attempts and all three of his free throws – but if he is weighing you down offensively while not bringing his once-outlier defensive ability, it just may be a Looney series against the real size of Al Horford and Robert Williams III.

For Wales, the wait is nearly over.

After a delay of more than two months owing to the horrific events that have unfolded in Ukraine, Wales finally get a shot at ending their long wait for a place at the World Cup.

With their opponents now known following Ukraine's impressive victory against Scotland in midweek, the Dragons' date with destiny finally arrives in Cardiff this Sunday.

And after a wait of some six-and-a-half decades since last appearing at the biggest football tournament of them all, the excitement could not be any higher.

If Wales are to jump the final hurdle and make it to Qatar 2022, though, they must do something no side has achieved since Croatia in October 2017 – beat Ukraine in a qualifier.

Ukraine have proved their resolve in more ways than one and now, spurred on by most of the world, Oleksandr Petrakov's battlers are potentially 90 minutes from the World Cup.

Stats Perform looks at how both sides shape up ahead of the showdown at Cardiff City Stadium.


QUALIFYING RECORDS

While Wales have enjoyed runs to the semi-finals and last 16 of the past two European Championships, not since 1958 have they competed on the grandest stage of them all.

Should they reach Qatar 2022, that gap of 64 years would surpass the record jointly held by Egypt and Norway of 56 years between tournament participations.

To put into context just how long ago Wales' only previous World Cup outing was, Brazil great Pele scored the only goal against them in that year's quarter-final.

At 17 years and 239 days, he still holds the record of being the tournament's youngest-ever goalscorer.

 

Ukraine have themselves competed at the World Cup just once, albeit having only had six previous attempts at qualifying as an independent nation.

The Eastern European country reached the quarter-finals in Germany 16 years ago, where they were beaten 3-0 by eventual winners Italy.

Like opponents Wales, they have twice qualified for the European Championship, as well as being given direct entry to the tournament as joint-hosts with Poland in 2012.

 

PREVIOUS MEETINGS

The two teams' pedigree is pretty similar, then, as is their record against one another down the years.

Only three times have they previously met, with two of those finishing all square in World Cup 2002 qualifying, and Ukraine winning the other 1-0 in a pre-Euro 2016 friendly.

Incidentally, current Wales boss Rob Page played the full 90 minutes in Ukraine's only previous outing on Welsh soil, with that contest ending in a 1-1 draw 20 years ago.

 

PLAY-OFF PEDRIGREE

Wales' record when it comes down to crunch fixtures down the years has been pretty impressive, having won all three of their previous World Cup qualifying play-off games.

The Dragons beat Israel over both legs in qualifying for the 1958 edition and saw off Austria 2-1 in March to set up their clash with Ukraine, who beat Scotland in the other semi.

History is not exactly on Ukraine's side in that regard, though, as they have failed to reach the tournament in each of their previous four play-offs – in 1997, 2001, 2009 and 2013.

 

If it is to be fourth time lucky, the Blue and Yellow will have to breach Wales' Cardiff City Stadium fortress, where Page's side are unbeaten in 17 matches since November 2018.

But Ukraine certainly know how to grind out results on their travels, having won each of their past three away competitive matches, including that 3-1 win in Glasgow this week.

In fact, Petrakov's side have gone unbeaten home and away throughout Qatar qualifying, as was the case en route to reaching Euro 2020.

That run of 18 games without losing in qualifying is a record only Belgium can match among European nations.

 

KEY MEN

When it comes down to the individual battles, at full strength there is very little between two nations separated by just nine places in the latest FIFA rankings.

For Wales, Bale undoubtedly remains the focal point of the side in what could reportedly be his final ever game in professional football should his side taste defeat.

The free agent has only played six games in qualifying, totalling 488 minutes, yet only five European players have been involved in more than his eight goals.

With those five goals and three assists, Bale is averaging a goal or assist every 61 minutes for his country on the road to Qatar.

 

There is not one standout star in the Ukrainian ranks, as such, but plenty of focus will be on Roman Yaremchuk, who was on the scoresheet at Hampden Park.

The Benfica attacker is Ukraine's top scorer this qualifying campaign with four goals, the past three of those coming in away matches.

This run to the qualifying play-off final has very much been built on unity, though, which will again be on show in the Welsh capital on Sunday.

Yet whether it is the chance to put history right, make a nation of people proud or anything in between, the end goal for Wales and Ukraine is ultimately the same.

At the end of a week in which Amelie Mauresmo said there is "more attraction and appeal" in the modern men's game, Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff get a showpiece stage to show the rising stars of the WTA Tour can be box office too.

Former women's number one Mauresmo, who is now tournament director at the French Open, sparked upset for many when she explained why nine out of 10 evening session matches at Roland Garros were men's clashes.

The lone exception was the second-round match between France's Alize Cornet and Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko, but on Saturday the women are at the heart of the action as world number one Swiatek, on a 34-match winning streak, tackles the exceptional American Gauff, the youngest Roland Garros finalist since Kim Clijsters 20 years ago.

Saturday's title contenders have a combined age of 39 – Swiatek turned 21 this week and Gauff is 18 – making it the 'youngest' Roland Garros final since 19-year-old Iva Majoli stunned 16-year-old favourite Martina Hingis in the 1997 trophy match.

The only grand slam final in the 21st century to feature two players with a lower combined age than the Swiatek-Gauff pairing was last year's US Open trophy match between Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez.

Both have plenty to gain, with heavy favourite Swiatek arguably having the most to lose. Ahead of their showdown, Stats Perform looks at two players who belong in the spotlight, day or night.


Super Swiatek will be hard to stop

In terms of the head-to-head between these two, we are in the early stages. While Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have fought out an epochal 59-match rivalry on the men's tour, this is just meeting number three between Swiatek and Gauff, with Swiatek winning both to date, including a 6-3 6-1 trouncing in Miami in March.

Swiatek would become just the fifth top seed in 25 years to triumph in the women's singles if she gets the job done. She triumphed in 2020 when ranked a lowly 54th and as a relative unknown.

If she gets the win and improves to 9-1 in singles finals across her career, Swiatek will achieve the longest streak of victories on the women's tour since Venus Williams also strung together 35 in 2000. The young Polish player would also become the youngest winner of two or more grand slams since Maria Sharapova, at 19, added the 2006 US Open title to the Wimbledon crown she secured as a 17-year-old.

Swiatek has won 15 matches in a row on clay, the most consecutive successes by a WTA Tour player since Serena Williams strung together 20 from 2015 to 2016.

The AC/DC and Led Zeppelin fan had won five consecutive titles leading into this fortnight (Doha, Indian Wells, Miami, Stuttgart and Rome) and can become the first woman to land six in a row since Justine Henin reeled off victories in Toronto, at the US Open, Stuttgart, Zurich, the WTA Finals, and Sydney in the latter months of 2007 and beginning of 2008.


Gauff's moment arrives

She was Wimbledon's youngest qualifier of the Open Era in 2019, and ever since that breakthrough moment Gauff has stood out as a player and person of increasingly great stature.

A mature, wise head on her shoulders has seen Gauff make powerful statements on important matters such as police brutality, LGBTQ rights and gun violence, and at the same time her tennis continues to dazzle.

She has been as high as number 15 in the world and is heading towards a low single-digit ranking very soon. In Paris this fortnight, Gauff has yet to drop a set, unlike Swiatek, who lost one to the impressive qualifier Zheng Qinwen in the quarter-finals.

So here's the skinny: Gauff, at 18 years and 84 days, will be the youngest women's grand slam singles finalist since Sharapova at Wimbledon in 2004; she has broken serve 35 times in six matches at this edition of Roland Garros; she is through to the doubles final too, with Jessica Pegula.

She is the third American woman aged under 19 to reach this French Open final, after Chris Evert in 1973 and Andrea Jaeger in 1982, and among all WTA players, only Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Steffi Graf have taken the title at a younger age in Paris during the Open Era.

Gauff has such self-belief she will know the number one can be toppled, as history has told us. Since November 1975, when computer rankings were introduced on the women's tour, four teenagers have beaten the WTA number one player in the French Open final.

Should Gauff pull off the shock on Saturday, she will be following in the footsteps of Graf (beat Navratilova, 1987), Sanchez-Vicario (beat Graf, 1989), Monica Seles (beat Graf, 1990) and Majoli (beat Hingis, 1997).

There is a growing sense that, like Swiatek, Gauff will eventually be remembered in the company of such luminaries, and now she has to go out and prove it.

Seven-time French Open winner Evert this week called it "destiny", adding on Twitter: "We saw greatness 3 summers ago. We've all been waiting for this!"

So here we are, after all that basketball in 2021-22, we come down to the final pair as the Golden State Warriors take on the Boston Celtics to decide the destination of this year's NBA championship.

It was a relatively smooth route for the Warriors after a 4-1 win against the Dallas Mavericks in the Western Conference finals, while the Celtics went to Game 7 for the second round in a row, eventually overcoming the Miami Heat.

Having been able to rest up since they sealed their place in the finals on Friday, Steve Kerr's team will be heavily fancied to win their first title since 2018.

Golden State were electric against Dallas, with all four of their wins being by a margin of at least nine, and even managing to overcome the outrageously talented Luka Doncic, winning Games 2 and 3 despite 40 or more points in both coming from the Slovenian.

It is no surprise that Stephen Curry is leading the way for the Warriors, averaging 25.9 points per game in the postseason, as well as 6.2 assists and 4.9 rebounds.

His three-pointer attempts have been a little wayward by his own very high standards, making 60 of 158 attempts in the playoffs, just three more than Klay Thompson (57 from 143 shots), who himself is playing more than just a support role.

Thompson is averaging 19.8 points per game, while Jordan Poole is not far behind with 18.4.

Andrew Wiggins also deserves credit for his contribution, averaging 15.8 and scoring 27 in the Game 3 win against the Mavs at the American Airlines Center, and a good example of how Kerr's team can get at you from anywhere on the court.

 

All that being said, the Celtics have shown themselves to be big-game players during the playoffs, overcoming both the defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks and the number one seeds in the East, the Heat.

Jayson Tatum has invariably been the main man, averaging 27.0 points in the playoffs along with 5.9 assists and 6.7 rebounds per game.

Like the Warriors, though, Boston are able to spread the responsibility, with Tatum's 26 against the Heat in Game 7 supplemented by 24 each from Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.

The Celtics are in the finals for the first time since 2010, and it feels like they have shown the backbone needed to go all the way, even against a supremely talented Warriors side.

Ime Udoka could cement his legacy in Boston, admitting after overcoming the Heat they will need to go one better to be remembered, saying: "We don't hang or celebrate Eastern Conference championships in the Celtics organisation, so we all fall in line and appreciate that standard of excellence."

Udoka against Kerr could be the most interesting contest across the NBA Finals, but all over the court there are intriguing narratives and plenty of top-class basketball to witness.

Whoever rises to the top, they will surely be worthy champions.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Golden State Warriors – Draymond Green

The outspoken 32-year-old said on his podcast recently that whatever happens, "the dynasty been stamped" for this Warriors team.

A fourth NBA title in eight years would be quite a convincing way to stamp it further, and Green is likely to play a big role if that is to happen.

In the playoffs, he has been averaging 2.8 turnovers, 8.7 points, 6.3 assists and 6.9 rebounds per game. He racked up nine assists in the clincher against the Mavs, as well as sinking six of seven field goal attempts.

Boston Celtics – Al Horford

After a year each at the Philadelphia 76ers and Oklahoma City Thunder, Horford came back to Boston to try and finally reach the NBA Finals, and he has done just that.

His ability to stop the opposition and tidy up attacks could well be key against an opposition with danger-men all over the place.

Horford has averaged 8.1 defensive rebounds in the playoffs, including 12 in the Game 7 win against the Heat, and managed three turnovers in three different games during that series.

KEY BATTLE – Will defense win the championship?

Following on from Horford's ability to snatch the ball in defense, these two were both in the top four in the league in the regular season for defensive rebounds, with Golden State second overall with 2,930, while Boston were fourth on 2,915.

One thing the Celtics will need to be aware of is the Warriors' ability to steal, making the fourth most in the league in the regular season (719), while the Celtics were only in 19th place (591).

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Celtics will be especially confident based on recent match-ups, having won six of their past seven meetings with the Warriors, including a 110-88 win at Chase Center in their most-recent contest in March.

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