As the Earth completes another trip around the sun, I have escaped the big city and am writing to you from a small flat in central Oaxaca. A steaming cup of hot chocolate tends to a pesky headache after one too many mescals last night. As athletes and coaches prepare for various challenges in the new year, most of the sporting world has ground to a halt and so I thought it would be a good opportunity to take a quick look back at 2019. It was a truly extraordinary year in the world of sport.
In football, the Champions League produced some incredible drama, including the remarkable comeback by eventual champions Liverpool in their semi-final against Barcelona and the crazy quarter-final second leg at the Etihad between Man City and Tottenham. All four finalists in the two major European competitions were from England, and three of them were from London, confirming the re-emergence of the Premier League as a dominant force on the continental stage. Elsewhere, Cristiano Ronaldo added to his outrageously cluttered CV when he led Portugal to victory in the inaugural Nations League on home soil. The less said about Arsenal’s 2019, the better.
In tennis, Djokovic and Nadal dominated the slams once again with two wins apiece. The Serb’s Wimbledon final victory over Federer, in particular, was an all-time epic that will live long in the memory. However, the inevitable shift in power away from the Big Three gathered pace with the likes of Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Thiem all taking giant leaps forward, cementing their place in the top 10, and winning multiple trophies. Andy Murray, meanwhile, came back from the brink of retirement to claim his first title in over two years, sparking hopes of further success for the Scot in 2020.
The summer of cricket was arguably the greatest ever, with England winning the World Cup in the most dramatic of circumstances and then drawing a nail-biting Ashes series against Australia. On both occasions all-rounder Ben Stokes shone, proving he is the most exciting cricketer in the world and deservedly taking home the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award for his super-human efforts.
There have been memorable moments across the other sports. In golf, Tiger Woods completed his redemption by winning his fifth Masters title at Augusta, while the Koepka/McIlroy rivalry gathered steam. Rugby’s first World Cup in Asia was a huge success, with home nation Japan dazzling their way to the quarter-finals with a free-flowing style filled with sidesteps and offloads. England destroyed the All Blacks with a sensational performance before coming up short against the Springboks, led by their inspirational skipper Siya Kolisi, in the final.
Lewis Hamilton eased his way to his sixth Formula 1 world title, proving once again he is a cut above his peers. Tyson Fury drew with Deontay Wilder in boxing’s fight of the year, while Anthony Joshua lost, and then re-gained, his heavyweight crown. Canelo Alvarez won world titles in two separate divisions to strengthen his claim to be the best pound-for-pound fighter out there.
Right, I am off to buy some grapes to eat and mescal to drink at midnight. Assuming the world doesn’t come to an apocalyptic end this evening, I will be starting the new year with a few days hiking in the mountains, and so will likely be incommunicado. I should be back with something new for you on weekend, when I will be taking a look at some of the biggest sporting issues that will dominate the narrative in 2020.
Before I go, I just wanted to thank you all for your support throughout the year. It really means a lot to me and I don’t take it for granted. As ever, please do get in touch via the comments section to let me know what you have liked about Sport Thought’s coverage of the sporting world in 2019 and how it can be improved going forward.
I hope 2020 brings happiness and health for you and yours. In good times and bad, there is nothing quite like some innocent, innocuous sporting drama to temporarily transport you into another world where people just want to have fun and compete and forget about the world’s bigger problems. I’ll be doing my best to provide some (hopefully valuable) commentary along the way. Salud!