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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A farewell to great champions?

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

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

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

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

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

The magic numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gauff gunning for major breakthrough

Gauff gunning for major breakthrough

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

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

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

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

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

May she return many times to Wimbledon.

Serena Williams remains tantalisingly close to Margaret Court's all-time grand slam record of 24 major victories.

The American, still going strong at the age of 38, has lost her last four grand slam finals against Angelique Kerber, Naomi Osaka, Simona Halep and Bianca Andreescu.

Wimbledon is a special event for Williams, who has reached the final on 11 occasions, including those recent losses to Kerber and Halep.

The tournament therefore represents one of the best chances for the seven-time champion to draw level with Court's historic mark.

However, the event in 2020 was cancelled – the first time that has happened since World War II - due to the coronavirus pandemic, complicating Williams' record pursuit.

Ahead of what would have been the start of Wimbledon next week, Stats Perform News debated whether Williams can already be considered the greatest player in women's tennis history.


Graf is the greatest

By Joe Wright

Serena is a modern powerhouse, her serve and shot-making unrivalled at its best; Martina Navratilova's serve-and-volley skills delivered 59 majors across singles and doubles from 1981 to 1990; Margaret Court still tops the tables for grand slam singles titles, winning 24 between 1960 and 1973, spanning the shift to the Open era.

The greatest, then, would be a player who could feasibly have thrived in any of those eras. The greatest, then, is Steffi Graf.

The German ruled women's tennis for more than a decade after winning the 1987 French Open. A year after that triumph in Paris, she became the first to win tennis' 'Golden Slam' - all four major singles titles and Olympic gold in the same year. She was 18.

Between 1987 and 1996, she won 22 grand slam singles titles spread neatly across the four events: four in Australia, six in France, seven at Wimbledon and five in the United States. She held the number one ranking for 377 weeks, a record never beaten in the women's or men's game.

Her 107 tour titles puts her behind only Navratilova and Chris Evert on the all-time list and only she and Court have won three majors in a single calendar year five times.

'Fraulein Forehand' could overpower opponents from the baseline, unbalance them with a wicked sliced backhand and demoralise them with ferocious serves and precision volleys.

She combined power and elegance in such a way that she could dominate on every surface. She would have been a match for Court in the 60s, she beat Navratilova in four of six slam finals and, had she not retired at just 30 in 1999, she'd have known how to handle a young Serena.

In that same year, Billie Jean King proclaimed: "Steffi is definitely the greatest women's tennis player of all time." That should be proof enough.

 

Serena has dominated in toughest era

By Chris Myson

On and off the court, Serena has had a monumental impact in taking women’s tennis to incredible heights.

Twenty-one years after her first grand slam title at the 1999 US Open, she remains a fierce contender for the sport's biggest accolades, having changed the game with her unrivalled talent, athleticism and longevity.

Seven Wimbledon titles, six US Open crowns and three French Open wins are on her record.

Throw in another seven Australian Open victories, including her remarkable 2017 triumph while pregnant with her daughter, and you have a resume that may never be topped.

Thirty-three major finals in a 20-year span is a statistic made all the more remarkable when you factor in she missed 15 slams over that period.

Serena held all four grand slams when she won in Australia in 2003, while 11 years later she was celebrating a three-peat at Flushing Meadows by beating close friend Caroline Wozniacki.

Not that it is needed to bolster her claim, but Serena has also won 14 women's doubles majors with her sister Venus, having never lost a grand slam final in that format.

She has two mixed doubles crowns as well, taking her total major haul to 39.

Most significantly, these incredible feats have taken place in the modern era, where the level of competition has never been so strong and so deep, due to the global growth of tennis.

Top-tier rivals are more plentiful than in the eras of Graf, Navratilova and Court, while they are stronger, fitter, better equipped and more prepared than ever before.

Serena’s impact and staggering commercial success off the court has paved the way for future generations like Osaka to thrive.

But it is her play on it that means her place as the greatest women's player of all time is secure, even if the cancellation of Wimbledon has made her path to the elusive 24th crown more complicated.

Serena Williams has confirmed she will play at the 2020 US Open.

On Tuesday the United States Tennis Association (USTA) announced the grand slam at Flushing Meadows will go ahead as planned despite the global coronavirus pandemic.

The WTA will resume on August 3 and there are three tournaments scheduled before the US Open, which is due to run without fans present from August 31 to September 13.

While reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep and world number one Ashleigh Barty have expressed concerns about the tournament in New York, Williams has confirmed she will be involved.

"Ultimately, I really cannot wait to return to New York and play the US Open 2020," Williams told reporters on a Zoom conference call.

"I feel like the USTA is going to do a really good job of ensuring everything is amazing and everyone is safe.

"It's gonna be exciting. It's been over six months since a lot of us have played professional tennis.

"I'll certainly miss the fans, don't get me wrong. Just being out there with that New York crowd and hear everyone cheer, I'll really miss that in some of those tough matches. But this is crazy, I'm excited."

Williams needs one more grand slam title to equal Margaret Court's record haul of 24.

The 38-year-old has ended up on the losing side in each of the previous two US Open finals and the last of her six titles there was won in 2014.

Halep and Barty are not the only elite players to raise concerns about participating in the grand slam while curbing the spread of COVID-19 continues to be an issue for the USA and beyond.

Defending men's champion Rafael Nadal admitted he was not comfortable with travelling while the pandemic continues and world number one Novak Djokovic complained about protocols, which could see players remain at hotels between matches and have only one other person with them at Flushing Meadows.

Serena Williams would relish the chance to play at this year's US Open and continue her quest to surpass Margaret Court's grand slam haul, the American's coach has said.

It has been reported it will soon be confirmed that the US Open shall begin on August 31 without fans, as planned, despite concerns about the coronavirus safety measures from elite men's and women's players.

Men's world number one Novak Djokovic expressed reservations about being kept at a hotel between matches and the possibility of only having one other person with him at Flushing Meadows, while defending champion Rafael Nadal is not keen to travel to New York while the pandemic continues.

However, Patrick Mouratoglou, who coaches six-time US Open champion Williams, believes last year's runner-up in the women's final is keen to play.

Williams needs one more grand slam title to pull level with Court's record of 24.

"Of course, she would love to play," Mouratoglou told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.

"For a player to be out of competition is extremely difficult. She's definitely come back to tennis to win grand slams; that's her goal, so the US Open would be the first opportunity to win one.

"You know this US Open will be extremely special, there will be a lot of restrictions and I have to speak with her to see if she will be able to accept and manage those expectations."

Williams gave birth to a daughter – Alexis Olympia Ohanian – in September 2017 and Mouratoglou noted the possibility of her only having one other person at Flushing Meadows may impact him, as he joked the toddler might actually be a better coach for her mother.

"That's exactly what my thought is - I don't imagine her being three weeks without her daughter," he admitted.

"So, she might have a new coach for the US Open... [a] bit younger! Considering our record in the last grand slam finals, her daughter might be more successful than me!"

June 8 is likely to be a date forever remembered fondly by Rafael Nadal, who secured two of his historic 12 French Open titles on this day.

Serena Williams also twice had reason to celebrate on the clay of Roland Garros on this date, although one final was tinged with the regret of having beaten her sister.

The Golden State Warriors tasted glory once again in 2018, while there was truly a shock for the ages when Argentina faced Cameroon at the World Cup in 1990.

Going back nearly 60 years, there was also a moment of baseball history for the Milwaukee Braves.

 

1961 - Milwaukee Braves hit home-run record

There were six teams scrambling for top spot in the National League when the Braves met the Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field.

In front of a sparse crowd of just over 5,000 fans - many seem to have been exhausted by three previous night games in the series - the Reds claimed a 10-8 victory.

The Braves did at least make history with four consecutive home runs through Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron, Joe Adcock and Frank Thomas in the seventh inning.

 

1990 - Argentina shocked by Cameroon

Perhaps the biggest World Cup upset in history, the reigning champions were beaten 1-0 by Cameroon at Italia 90.

A solitary goal from Francois Omam-Biyik was enough for the Indomitable Lions to defeat Diego Maradona's Argentina at San Siro.

Cameroon progressed as group winners and reached the quarter-finals, where they lost to England. Argentina made it to the final again but were beaten by West Germany.

 

2002 - Serena wins all-Williams final in Paris

The first of Serena's three French Open singles titles came 18 years ago when she defeated sister Venus 7-5 6-3.

It was the first step in the American's path to winning all four majors in a row, which would become known as the 'Serena Slam'; she claimed Wimbledon and the US Open later that year before winning the 2003 Australian Open, defeating her sister in each of those finals.

Twelve years later, Serena would achieve the feat a second time.

This date also marks seven years since Serena beat Maria Sharapova in the final at Roland Garros.

 

2008 - Nadal equals Borg record with Federer thrashing

Nadal became the first man since Bjorn Borg to win four French Open singles titles in a row when he defeated Roger Federer in the 2008 final.

The Spaniard, a 12-time champion at Roland Garros, triumphed 6-1 6-3 6-0 in a decidedly one-sided contest against his long-time rival.

Six years later, Nadal won French Open number nine on the same date, defeating Novak Djokovic 3-6 7-5 6-2 6-4 to draw level with Pete Sampras on 14 major singles titles. He has won a further five since.

 

2018 - Warriors claim third title in four years

Inspired by NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant, the Warriors claimed their third NBA championship in four seasons on this day two years ago.

Golden State completed a 4-0 sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers with a 108-85 win at what was then known as Quicken Loans Arena.

It was the second time in his career that LeBron James suffered the ignominy of a Finals sweep, having also endured it against the San Antonio Spurs in 2007.

Rising United States tennis star Coco Gauff was more mature at 14 than other players at 25, according to Patrick Mouratoglou.

Gauff became an overnight sensation last year when, at the age of 15 and at her maiden grand slam, she defeated Venus Williams at Wimbledon and went on to reach the fourth round.

She also became the youngest WTA Tour singles title-holder since 2004 when she won the Linz Open in October last year.

Gauff has won praise for her efforts off the court too and delivered a powerful speech at a Black Lives Matter rally in Florida this week, which was held amid widespread protests following the death of George Floyd in police custody.

Mouratoglou, whose academy is affiliated with Gauff, says the youngster has an inner strength that sets her apart even from vastly more experienced players on the Tour.

"She's just different," he told the Guardian. "It's something I have known since I met her – she came to my academy at 10. I spoke to her, I had an individual one-on-one discussion with her. I said: 'Guys, she's different.'

"When you meet people who are exceptional, you know it. I feel it straight away. Since that day, she's been surprising me all the time, even though I know she's so special. At 14 she was more mature than women on tour who are 25. That's incredible.

"She has an inner strength that is completely unusual. She has a self-confidence that serves her in her tennis, but to be able to come and make a speech at 16 the way she did? You don't see that. Again, she surprised me. I'm not surprised that I am surprised, but I'm surprised."

Mouratoglou has been promoting his new Ultimate Tennis Showdown, an event geared towards filling the void of a season wrecked by the coronavirus pandemic while also attracting a new generation of fans.

Wimbledon was cancelled and the French Open moved to September, while the US Open has put forward strict new protocols in a bid to be given the go-ahead to take place from August 31 to September 13.

Players including Novak Djokovic have expressed concern around the plans, which include limiting the members in player support teams, using charter planes from a handful of cities and possibly scrapping the qualifying rounds.

Mouratoglou does not believe the big names will be put off from competing, though.

"I don't think any player will miss a grand slam if they can play," he said. "Especially at the moment, most of them would not have any competition until the US Open. If the US Open can take place, I think they will go. Whatever the conditions are."

Serena Williams, who has been coached by Mouratoglou since 2012, will be 39 in September and has not played since losing to Anastasija Sevastova in the first round of the Fed Cup qualifiers in Everett, Washington, in February.

But Mouratoglou has no concerns about her ability to come back and challenge for majors again.

"I don't think six months is gonna make a big difference," he said. "Six months ago, she was 38 and a half and she's going to be 39. I don't see any change. It's the same for her as for everyone: find the inner motivation to continue to grow. That's the challenge for everyone."

Shane Warne made an indelible mark on the Ashes on this day in 1993.

Naomi Osaka has surpassed Serena Williams as the world's highest-earning female athlete.

The two-time grand slam winner accumulated a total $37.4million combined from prize money and endorsements over the past year, according to Forbes.

Osaka, who won her first major title at the 2018 US Open where she defeated Williams, earned $1.4m more than the American great, who was top of the female rankings for the past four years.

Her accumulated earnings are the biggest total over a 12-month period for a female athlete, beating the previous tally of $29.7m Maria Sharapova achieved in 2015.

Osaka ranks 29th in the overall list, with Williams 33rd marking the first time since 2016 two women have made the 100 highest-paid athletes.

"To those outside the tennis world, Osaka is a relatively fresh face with a great back story," David Carter, a sports business professor at USC's Marshall School of Business, told Forbes. 

"Combine that with being youthful and bicultural, two attributes that help her resonate with younger, global audiences, and the result is the emergence of a global sports marketing icon."

After making her major breakthrough at Flushing Meadows, Osaka went on to win the next slam at the 2019 Australian Open but a dip in form has seen her slip from world number one to 10th in the WTA rankings.

Osaka has major sponsorship deals with the likes of Nike, Nissan Motors, Shiseido and Yonex.

Serena Williams is the greatest women's player of all time, says Boris Becker, who believes she can still equal Margaret Court's record of 24 grand slam singles titles.

Williams has won 23 slams in an incredible career, but the 38-year-old's quest to catch and potentially overtake Court has been dealt a blow by the suspension of the WTA Tour due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The spread of COVID-19 has led this year's Wimbledon - where Williams has won seven singles titles - to be cancelled. The French Open has been pushed back to September but both Roland Garros and the US Open remain in doubt.

Williams' recent record in finals also throws her hopes of equalling Court into question. She has lost each of her last four grand slam finals since returning to the tour following the birth of her daughter.

However, Becker is confident Serena can still win slams, telling Laureus.com: "Can Serena equal Margaret Court? She is past 30 and she's become a proud mother.

"I'm sure she would love to play the US Open this year. They call her the greatest of all time on the women's circuit, and she certainly deserves the title.

"Me, being German, I still think of Steffi Graf as our queen, but Serena is certainly, certainly the greatest. Margaret Court is the most successful. Having said that, back in the day they played three of the four majors on grass, so it was easier if you're comfortable on grass to win more.

"I'm sure Serena wants to reach 24, I think that's the reason she's playing. You know, she's a role model for all the mothers out there who are professionally involved in sport. As long as she wants to play, I think she can win. So as long as Serena is good enough to reach a final, she's good enough to win.

"Having said that, the young generation won't sleep. You know once you are in a final you're not playing the name, you're playing the title. That was Bianca Andreescu at the US Open final or Simone Halep in Wimbledon last year. They didn't play the name."

Roger Federer says he is "devastated" while Simona Halep was left feeling "so sad" following the decision to cancel Wimbledon.

Organisers announced on Wednesday that the 2020 tournament will not take place due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The ATP and WTA Tours have also been further suspended, with top-level tennis now not expected to resume until at least July 13.

Federer, who has won a record eight Wimbledon men's singles titles, had been planning to return to action in time for Wimbledon and the Olympic Games after undergoing knee surgery.

With both events now not taking place in 2020, the Swiss great tweeted to say he was "devastated" alongside a gif displaying the text 'There is no gif for these things that I am feeling'.

Reigning women's champion Halep was disappointed at missing out on the chance to defend her title this year, writing on Twitter: "So sad to hear Wimbledon won't take place this year.

"Last year's final will forever be one of the happiest days of my life! But we are going through something bigger than tennis and Wimbledon will be back! And it means I have even longer to look forward to defending my title."

Angelique Kerber, the 2018 champion, was left saddened to not only see Wimbledon and the Olympics called off but also the grass-court season as a whole.

"It goes without saying that I'm heavy hearted that the cancellation of the grass-court season also means that I won't be able to play in front of my home crowd in Bad Hamburg and Berlin..." she said.

"It's disappointing for me but also for all those who put their heart and soul into these events and for the fans who love our sport and support us players all year round.

"But I also know very well that there are more important things that we have to focus on right now and that professional sports have to take a step back for a while."

Rising American star Coco Gauff tweeted she would miss playing at the All England Club, while Petra Kvitova, winner in 2011 and 2014, said it was "definitely a tough one to take".

"Not only is it a special tournament to me, but it's a tournament that has been part of history for so long that it will leave a big hole in the calendar," Kvitova said.

"I will miss playing on the beautiful grass and wearing my whites, BUT of course we know it will be back better than ever next year. And maybe we will all appreciate it even more!"

In a message shared by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), Milos Raonic insisted the decision was "the right thing we have to do with everything that's going on around the world right now".

Marin Cilic, finalist in 2017, added: "Enjoy yourself at home. Now is the time to do some things that you don't have so much time to do when you're not at home."

Wimbledon has been called off, a brutal blow to sport lovers, and its cancellation sends effects rippling through tennis.

The reality that Centre Court will lie empty through June and July will be a bitter pill to swallow not only for those with dreams of playing there for the first time, but to those who see it as a second home.

Superstars including Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Simona Halep and Serena Williams will feel its loss to the calendar.

Here is a look at those who may be hardest hit by the loss from the calendar of a flagship grand slam.

Serena Williams

It seemed inevitable at one stage that Williams would catch and then pass Margaret Court's record haul of 24 grand slam singles titles, but she remains infuriatingly stuck on 23 majors, and the American all-time great will be 39 years old by the time she next gets the chance to challenge at Wimbledon.

The seven-time Wimbledon champion last reigned in SW19 in 2016, and her last singles slam came at the following year's Australian Open. Agonisingly, the prospect of Williams winning another slam has been immensely hit by this lay-off. Few can handle her grass-court game.

What too of sister Venus? The five-time Wimbledon singles queen will be 41 by the time next year's Wimbledon rolls around. Has she played her last match on grass?

Roger Federer

Federer gave himself an enormous chance in last year's Wimbledon final, when he failed to take two championship points against Novak Djokovic. It left him bereft in the aftermath, but this year Federer may have been able to feed off the knowledge he had been a whisker away, and another run deep into the second week was a realistic target for the eight-time champion.

It seems unimaginable Federer might have played his final match at Wimbledon - surely he will give 2021 a shot - but hopes of adding to his 20 slams have taken a clear hit. Like Williams, he will be 39 - and pushing 40 - by the time of next year's grass-court season.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal

Snapping at the heels of Federer are Djokovic and Nadal, with both men bidding to leapfrog him atop the list of all-time men's slam champions: Serbian Djokovic is three behind Federer on 17, and Nadal is just one adrift of the Swiss.

Losing Wimbledon, and having no certainty the US Open and French Open will take place later in the year, may ultimately end up hurting Djokovic and Nadal more than Federer. Djokovic turns 33 in May, Nadal will be 34 in June, and it is important to remember Federer's longevity is a rare thing in tennis.

With a young generation emerging, missing out on majors and momentum at this stage of their stellar careers may make it difficult for Djokovic and Nadal to rediscover their dominant best when tennis returns. Federer's haul - a record for the men's game - may yet beyond the reach of his two greatest rivals.

Andy Murray

Two-time champion Murray made an emotional return to Wimbledon last year when he played doubles - partnering Serena Williams in the mixed. Injury had ruled the Scot out of the 2018 tournament and threatened his career, but Murray was targeting a singles slam comeback in 2020 and to have that rug pulled from beneath him is a cruel blow.

He also turns 33 in May, and Murray has already toyed with retirement. He would be forgiven for questioning whether putting himself through another year of hard graft to remain competitive is worth the physical toll.

Reports in the UK this week suggested there is growing support to void the current Premier League season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Additionally, UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin admitted the 2019-20 campaign might have to be scrubbed from the records, after Euro 2020 was moved back 12 months.

Although the likes of runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool would understandably despair at such a prospect, there are other clubs enjoying seasons to forget who might enjoy the escape clause.

With that in mind, we took a look back at the teams and individuals who might like to expunge an ignominious season or period of time from history.

 

MANCHESTER UNITED 2013-14

The seven years since Alex Ferguson's retirement have not exactly gone swimmingly for United, but that ill-fated first season remains the real low point. 

David Moyes lasted just 10 months as Ferguson's replacement as the reigning Premier League champions finished seventh in 2013-14, suffering truly humiliating defeats to top two Manchester City and Liverpool along the way. A wretched 2-0 loss at Moyes' former club Everton proved the final straw.

At least they won the Community Shield in August 2013. 

NOVAK DJOKOVIC 2017

When Novak Djokovic defeated familiar foe Andy Murray to win the 2016 French Open, the modern-day legend was in possession of all of tennis' grand slams. The question was, who can stop this man? Well, the answer was actually himself.

A round-three exit at Wimbledon followed a month later and, although he reached the US Open final that year, a barren 2017 followed. Djokovic did not go beyond the quarters at any slam that year and reached just one final at the Italian Open, which he lost. Djokovic rediscovered the winning habit in slams at Wimbledon in 2018, beginning a run of five triumphs in the past seven at tennis' big events.

DETROIT LIONS – 2008

The Lions secured an unwanted place in history when they became the first NFL team in the 16-game season era to go 0-16. They went 7-9 in 2007 and were then undefeated in preaseason, meaning few would have thought a historically bad campaign was on the cards.

Detroit started three QBs over the course of the campaign - Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky and Daunte Culpepper - all of whom struggled with form and injuries despite the presence of star receiver Calvin Johnson, but worst of all was their woeful defense, which gave up 517 points.

Team president and CEO Matt Millen was fired after four weeks, while head coach Rod Marinelli was shown the door at the end of the season and has not led a team since.

TIGER WOODS - 2014-2017

Tiger Woods' standing as one the greatest, if not the greatest, golfer of all time is in no doubt. By the end of 2013, Woods was standing again atop the world rankings after winning five times during the year, earning the prestigious PGA Tour Player of the Year award. 

It would take five years for Woods to win again as the American great endured a horrendous time with debilitating back injuries and loss of form. At one stage it looked as though he may have to retire and his world ranking had plummeted to a scarcely credible 1,199th in December 2017. But just a year ago Woods was back in major-winning form as, at the age of 43, he became Masters champion for a fifth time.

BARCELONA 2002-03

Years of drift since the 1999 LaLiga title came to a head in 2002-03, as Barcelona endured a miserable season that saw Louis van Gaal sacked as coach and led to the departure of president Joan Gaspart. 

Barca ended up sixth in the league – their worst finish in 15 years – as the Real Madrid Galacticos ruled. They also exited the Copa del Rey in the first round and lost in the Champions League quarter-finals. 

After that season, in came Joan Laporta as president, Frank Rijkaard as head coach, and a certain Brazilian called Ronaldinho. And things got a bit better. 

ENGLAND – 2013-14 ASHES

England made it three Ashes victories in a row with a 3-0 home triumph in 2013 – the first time they had enjoyed such a run of success against old enemies Australia since 1977-1981. However, a rejig of the international cricketing schedule meant a swift return Down Under. The Mitchell Johnson-inspired hosts exacted brutal vengeance on their way to a 5-0 whitewash as a great England team fell to pieces.

Off-spinner Graeme Swann retired mid-series and Kevin Pietersen's tempestuous exit from the international stage was set in motion, while Andy Flower – the head coach he despised – stepped down. Of the XI that started the concluding 281-run loss in Sydney, Pietersen, Michael Carberry and debutants Scott Borthwick and Boyd Rankin would never play red ball cricket for England again.

REAL MADRID 2008-09

In Spanish football's great rivalry, Real Madrid or Barcelona doing well is only half the deal. Success is truly sweet if the other half of El Clasico's enduring grudge are having a tough time. Madrid won LaLiga in 2007-08, with Barca a distant fourth as the Rijkaard-Ronaldinho era disintegrated under the weight of its own excess.

However, the tables flipped spectacularly next time around – Barca stormed to an unprecedented treble under rookie coach Pep Guardiola, Lionel Messi leaped from exceptional talent to generational superstar as Madrid were walloped 6-2 by their sworn foes at the Santiago Bernabeu and a dynasty was born.

Madrid finished a distant second, were thrashed 5-0 on aggregate by Liverpool in the Champions League last-16 and coach Juande Ramos followed predecessor Bernd Schuster out of the exit door.

PAULA RADCLIFFE – 2004 OLYMPICS

After setting a new world record in London in 2003 and having won the 2004 race in New York, Radcliffe was favourite for marathon gold at the 2004 Olympics. 

However, after struggling badly to continue, Radcliffe withdrew 23 miles in and was taken for a medical check-up. She later competed in the 10,000 metres but again retired.  In a tearful appearance on British TV, Radcliffe refused to blame the heat and humidity in Athens and admitted she was "desperately trying to find a reason for what happened". 

A year later, she was back winning and breaking the world record at the London marathon - despite a brief toilet break by the side of the road - before taking gold at the World Championships in Helsinki.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS 2019-2020

After a fifth straight NBA Finals appearance in 2019, things went rapidly downhill for the Golden State Warriors. All-Star duo Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins left in free agency, while 'Splash Brothers' Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have been out injured – the latter is yet to play this season. 

The Warriors sit bottom of the Western Conference and have the worst overall record in the NBA at 15-50. An improved chance of getting the first pick in the 2020 draft is their only solace.

MANNY PACQUIAO 2012

After losing to Erik Morales in 2005, Manny Pacquiao went on sensational 15-fight winning streak that established him as an unprecedented seven-division world champion. The Morales loss was twice avenged via stoppage, with the likes of Oscar De La Hoya, Ricky Hatton and Miguel Cotto similarly dispatched. A mega-fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr awaited, only for the wheels to fall off in 2012.

Timothy Bradley halted Pacquiao's streak when he was – somewhat farcically – awarded a split-decision verdict over the Filipino great. Juan Manuel Marquez knew all about scorecard controversy from his previous three meetings with Pacquiao and duly took them out of the equation, chillingly leaving his rival face down and motionless on the Las Vegas canvas that December. The Mayweather bout had to wait until 2015, but that is one of only two losses suffered since by Pacquiao, who reigns as WBA welterweight champion at 41.

CHELSEA 2015-16

Chelsea won the Premier League title in 2014-15 and 2016-17. What came in between was nothing short of a complete shambles. Jose Mourinho had returned for a second spell in charge and collected a third winners' medal in England's top flight but the Portuguese's famously abrasive tendencies then appeared to wear his players down at an alarming rate.

Beginning with the 2-2 draw against Swansea City that ignited Mourinho's sapping spat with club doctor Eva Carneiro, Chelsea won only one of their opening five Premier League fixtures. That form was far from a blip and they were 16th when Mourinho was sacked in the wake of a 2-1 December loss to would-be champions Leicester City. Caretaker boss Guus Hiddink restored a modicum of respectability with a 10th-place finish before Antonio Conte arrived and the Stamford Bridge faithful were soon wondering if it had all just been a bad dream.

SERENA WILLIAMS 2006

Williams started the year by losing her Australian Open crown with a third-round exit to Daniele Hantuchova, before injuries forced her to miss tournaments in Tokyo and Dubai. Come April, she had dropped out of the WTA top 100 for the first time since November 1997, and it came as little surprise that she competed at neither the French Open nor Wimbledon. 

After a fourth-round exit at the US Open, Williams ended a title-less year 95th in the world. It meant she returned to the Australian Open in January 2007 as an unseeded player. She won it. 

The coronavirus pandemic has put a stop to practically all elite sport across the globe.

From the Premier League to the French Open, the Masters to the NBA, teams and sports stars are having to contend with postponements and even cancellations. 

While potential dates for action to resume have been announced across some sports and events, they are at best speculative. Nobody can say for sure when normal service will resume this year.

This unprecedented state of affairs has left the world of sport in limbo, but there are some who will be more anxious to get back to business than others.

Here, we take a look at some of those clubs and individuals who were on the brink of achieving long-pursued dreams before a global health crisis brought things to a grinding halt.

 

LIVERPOOL'S 30 YEARS OF HURT

There was a time when Liverpool were the dominant force in English football.

When, in 1990, the Reds were crowned champions of England for the 18th time, few could have envisaged the drought that would follow.

The Anfield club have not finished top of the pile since, yet looked destined to end that barren spell after their phenomenal charge to the summit this season. Not even Pep Guardiola's Manchester City could keep up.

With Jurgen Klopp's side sitting 25 points clear and requiring just two more wins to seal the Premier League title, their pursuit of glory has been suspended indefinitely. How much longer will the red half of Merseyside have to wait?

BUCKS' LUCK IS OUT

The Milwaukee Bucks were crowned NBA champions in 1971 and since then... nothing.

That was just the Bucks' third season in existence, but they have not managed to scale those heights in the following 49 years.

It is not like they have failed to challenge, though, as Milwaukee have won their division 13 times during this title drought, including last year.

They crashed out to the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals to prolong the heartbreak, surrendering a two-game lead to lose 4-2 in the series, but the Bucks were leading the way in the standings before the pandemic-enforced postponement of the season.

 

NADAL CAN'T CATCH FEDERER... YET

Rafael Nadal needs one more grand slam victory to move level with Roger Federer, and potentially swing the debate over the greatest tennis player of all time.

The Spaniard is on 19 and would have been the clear favourite to win a 13th French Open title before the tournament was delayed until September.

What's more, Federer was initially set to miss out on competing at Roland Garros through injury.

It appears his status as the putative GOAT of the men's game is safe - for the time being at least.

SERENA CAN FEEL NADAL'S PAIN

For Serena Williams, the wait to join Margaret Court on 24 slams has been long and painful enough.

Attempting to equal the record is a long-held goal for the American, who nonetheless faces scant opposition to claim the crown of the GOAT of the women's game.

She last triumphed in one of the sport's four headline events in 2017, claiming the Australian Open.

However, she has since lost four finals and, at 38, the uncertainty over the schedule means time is ebbing away. 

 

TIGER STILL CHASING NICKLAUS

There was a time when it seemed certain Tiger Woods would overtake Jack Nicklaus' major tally.

Woods reached 14 – four behind Nicklaus – in 2008, but injuries and personal issues forced his life and career off the rails.

He ended his lean run in 2019 with victory at the Masters, but this year's tournament at Augusta has fallen victim to the pandemic.

Now 44, Woods is facing a battle to hold off Father Time and chase down that elusive tally of 18 major triumphs.

Serena Williams suffered the first singles loss of her Fed Cup career, but the United States overcame Latvia to book their spot in the Finals on Saturday.

Trailing 2-0 in Washington, Latvia's fightback started with Jelena Ostapenko's win over Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.

Williams' unbeaten record in singles was then ended by Anastasija Sevastova, who recorded a shock 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 7-6 (7-4) victory over the 23-time grand slam champion.

But USA moved into April's Fed Cup Finals thanks to Kenin and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the duo winning the doubles over Ostapenko and Sevastova 6-4 6-0.

Belarus needed a thrilling doubles rubber to overcome the Netherlands 3-2.

Aryna Sabalenka and Aliaksandra Sasnovich edged Kiki Bertens and Demi Schuurs 4-6 6-3 7-6 (10-8).

Russia survived a test against Romania to prevail 3-2, Switzerland claimed a 3-1 success over Canada and Slovakia beat Great Britain 3-1.

Germany swept Brazil aside 4-0, Spain were too strong for Japan 3-1 and Elise Mertens led Belgium past Kazakhstan 3-1.

Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and Serena Williams gave the United States a 2-0 lead over Latvia in their Fed Cup qualifier on Friday.

Kenin blitzed Anastasija Sevastova 6-2 6-2 to get the USA up and running in Everett, while Williams battled past 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-3).

Barely a week after breaking through for her first grand slam title in Melbourne, Kenin was in the American state of Washington to represent her country.

The world number seven and 21-year-old surged past Sevastova before 23-time major winner Williams eventually saw off Ostapenko in the second rubber to improve her win-loss record at the Fed Cup to 14-0.

"It's been a long journey. It wasn't easy," Kenin said. "But I was super happy to come here and play with the team."

It was a tough day for former world number one and two-time grand slam champion Naomi Osaka, who was reduced to tears after losing to unheralded Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo.

Osaka, whose title defence at Melbourne Park was sensationally ended by teenager Coco Gauff in the third round, was swept aside 6-0 6-3 against Sorribes Tormo.

Japan trail Spain 2-0 in the tie after Carla Suarez Navarro accounted for Misaki Doi 6-3 6-4.

Switzerland, led by Belinda Bencic, Germany and Slovakia also boast 2-0 leads against Canada, Brazil and Great Britain respectively.

The other ties – Netherlands against Belarus, Romania versus Russia and Belgium against Kazakhstan – are deadlocked at 1-1.

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