The greatest comeback? Abidal, Ali and others to rival Tiger

By Sports Desk April 15, 2019

"The greatest comeback story in sports." That was how Stephen Curry described Tiger Woods' incredible triumph at the Masters on Sunday.

Woods' time as golf's premier star looked to be over as his form and fitness deserted him in recent years, with a back injury threatening to end his career.

However, after returning to contention last season, the 43-year-old claimed his 15th major title and fifth green jacket with a superb display at Augusta.

Before following Curry's lead and pronouncing this achievement the greatest ever, though, we highlight some other sporting comebacks to rival Tiger's…

 

PETRA KVITOVA

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova was one of the best tennis players in the world when she was the victim of a knife attack in December 2016, suffering a career-threatening injury to her playing left hand.

She was incredibly back in action for the 2017 French Open and then made the quarter-finals of the US Open.

Kvitova was not done there either, reaching the 2019 Australian Open final and climbing to number three in the WTA rankings. She could yet follow Woods in securing an emotional major win.

ERIC ABIDAL

Few comebacks have been as spectacularly swift as that of Eric Abidal, who was diagnosed with a tumour in his liver in March 2011 and lifted the Champions League trophy two months later.

The Barcelona defender's problems were not entirely resolved, though, and he required a liver transplant the following year that led to a lengthier lay-off.

Yet Abidal still managed to return to win LaLiga in 2012-13 and continue his playing career until 2014. He has since become Barca's technical secretary.

 

NIKI LAUDA

Niki Lauda was the reigning Formula One champion and well on course for a second straight title in 1976 when he crashed at the Nurburgring Grand Prix, with his car engulfed in flames.

Part of Lauda's ear was burnt off and his vision was impaired, but he was back in action six weeks later for the Italian Grand Prix.

The title escaped the recovering Lauda by just a point in 1976, yet he was back on top the following year and claimed the drivers' championship again in 1984 to cap a remarkable career.

MUHAMMAD ALI

Muhammad Ali went three years without a professional fight in the middle of his career.

Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison and fined $10,000 because of his stance on the Vietnam War. He remained free while he appealed, but his boxing licence was revoked.

The American returned to action in 1970 and, although he lost to Joe Frazier in a title fight the following year and sustained a broken jaw against Ken Norton in 1973, Ali was heavyweight champion again when he defeated George Foreman in 1974, aged 32.

 

MICHAEL JORDAN

Michael Jordan did comebacks like few others.

Jordan quit the Chicago Bulls in 1993 after three straight championships to try his hand at baseball, fulfilling his late father's dream that his son might make it in two sports.

That stint in the minor leagues did not quite work out, though, and Jordan was back in the NBA in 1996 and incredibly won three consecutive titles once more with the Bulls. A second return from retirement with the Washington Wizards did not quite go to plan.

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    Thomas Tuchel collected the first league title of his coaching career in double-quick time when Paris Saint-Germain claimed their sixth Ligue 1 crown in seven seasons on Sunday.

    After failing to get over the line with a draw against Strasbourg and heavy loss to Lille followed by a shock defeat to Nantes, PSG finally took an unassailable lead at the summit with five games still to play in France's top flight.

    Kylian Mbappe and the other members of a star-studded line-up can add Coupe de France glory on April 27 but this remains a season that will still probably be remembered for one crushing failure at the Parc des Princes.

    Manchester United's improbable heist in the French capital dumped PSG out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage and the co-existence of continental failure alongside uncompetitive domestic dominance is something Tuchel instantly has in common with his immediate predecessors.

    But how do his efforts so far compare with the other men to have led PSG during the Qatar Sports Investments era? Is the former Borussia Dortmund boss set to breach ground not covered by Carlo Ancelotti, Laurent Blanc and Unai Emery or will this simply be Paris' latest case of "Jour de la Marmotte"?

    More wins, more goals per game

    Comparing the Opta numbers behind each coach's first season at the helm, Tuchel stacks up promisingly.

    A win percentage of 81.8 far outstrips Blanc and Emery, who each returned 71.1 per cent in 2013-14 and 2016-17 respectively, with Monaco and an emerging Mbappe pipping PSG to glory in the latter campaign.

    PSG average 2.9 goals per league game under Tuchel, with the next best in that regard coming during Ancelotti's initial foray from December of 2011-12, when Zlatan Ibrahimovic and others amassed an average of 2.3 over the course of 19 matches.

    Nowhere else does the esteemed Italian tactician compare too favourably to what has followed, underlining the rapid rate of PSG's progress.

    Defensive solidity

    Expanding the analysis to look at the completed reigns of Blanc and Emery shows Tuchel's PSG to be the most miserly at this comparatively early stage of his tenure.

    A backline marshalled by Thiago Silva and in which Presnel Kimpembe's burgeoning reputation continues to grow has only been breached 0.8 times per match.

    An average of 10.2 shots conceded per game is fewer than Ancelotti managed but more than Blanc's figure after 114 matches in charge.

    More progressive?

    PSG's passes-per-game numbers are notably down under Tuchel when set against the Blanc and Emery eras.

    The former France and current Arsenal boss saw their sides average 659.3 and 656.6 passes over the course of 90 minutes, while Tuchel's 619.1 is a notable break from this uniformity.

    Adrien Rabiot's standoff with the club means alternative midfield solutions, such as deploying Dani Alves in the engine room, have been required – possibly tempering the steady control of matches preferred by Emery and Blanc.

    However, a return of 15.1 shots per game – slightly down on Emery's numbers and more than Blanc – and the improved scoring rate speaks of a team getting forward in a quicker, more direct fashion to unleash a fearsome forward line.

    Conclusion

    The indications that Tuchel is developing PSG into a team with a defined style help to explain why the Parc des Princes board are reportedly set to hand him a fresh contract despite the United setback.

    In time, the controlled and composed dissection of their Premier League opponents at Old Trafford in the first leg could come to look more significant – evidence that PSG can perform effectively to a shrewd Tuchel game plan.

    However, a repeat of that second-leg failure next season is unlikely to be tolerated. Slightly better dominance of Ligue 1 than Blanc and Emery will not ultimately be the measure of Tuchel's reign.

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    C.T. Pan carded a four-under-par 67 for a one-stroke triumph at the RBC Heritage after world number one Dustin Johnson fell apart in South Carolina.

    Johnson – who was runner-up behind Tiger Woods at the Masters – led by one shot heading into the final round in Hilton Head but the American star capitulated as he posted a six-over 77.

    The 2016 U.S. Open champion lost his way on the back nine, making three consecutive bogeys followed by back-to-back double bogeys en route to a tie for 28th position at four under.

    Johnson's woes and Pan's impressive final round saw the Taiwanese player – who had five birdies and survived a bogey on the par-five 15th hole – clinch his maiden PGA Tour title on Sunday.

    The 27-year-old Pan – who turned professional in 2015 – finished 12 under on the Harbour Town Golf Links, holding a one-shot lead with golfers still on the course.

    Pan headed to the driving range to stay loose in the event of a playoff. But he sealed his first victory — he had a pair of wins in 2015 on the PGA Tour Canada — moments later when Shane Lowry's 180-yard approach shot sailed wide right of the 18th green.

    He won ahead of American Matt Kuchar (67), with Lowry (70), Scott Piercy (69) and Patrick Cantlay (69) a shot further back.

    "It's something when I was younger I always dreamed of," Pan told CBS. "I watched Tiger [Woods] playing growing up. To have a W on the PGA Tour means the world to me. It's a dream come true."

    J.T. Poston (66), Seamus Power (67) and Kevin Streelman (68) ended up tied for sixth at 9 under.

    Former world number one Jordan Spieth ended the tournament tied for 54th following his final-round 75.

    After shooting a 74 on Saturday, Spieth went four over on day four to drop 12 positions to two over as his woes continued.

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    Manchester United had statisticians searching through the record books after they suffered at the hands of Everton on Sunday.

    The 4-0 reverse at Goodison Park means the Red Devils have now lost five consecutive away games in all competitions, their worst run of defeats since March 1981.

    United last conceded four without reply against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in October 2016, when former Blues boss Jose Mourinho was still in charge.

    They have only twice been on the wrong end of 5-0 results in the Premier League era, against Newcastle United in October 1996 and then to Chelsea three years later, while their heaviest loss in terms of goals conceded was the 6-1 derby defeat to Manchester City in October 2011.

    This season's squad have conceded 48 league goals, already the club's highest single-season tally in the competition and their most in a league campaign since 1978-79 (63).

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    And it could still get even worse yet - they still have four games to go in the league, starting with Wednesday's clash with neighbours City at Old Trafford.

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