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

By Sports Desk December 31, 2021

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

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

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

Jacobs, the shock Tokyo Olympics sprint king

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

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

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

No country for old men as US win Ryder Cup

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

Veteran Mickelson still had his day 

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

Federer bagelled, Djokovic denied Golden Slam

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

Another year, more records for Brady

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

England's Ashes surrender calls for Root and branch review

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

Curry still hot as NBA records fall

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

Related items

  • What’s next for new world number 27 Katie Boulter after San Diego Open success? What’s next for new world number 27 Katie Boulter after San Diego Open success?

    Katie Boulter has stormed into the top 30 of the WTA rankings for the first time after she claimed San Diego Open success.

    British number one Boulter recovered from a set down to beat Marta Kostyuk 5-7 6-2 6-2 to clinch a maiden WTA 500 title.

    Here, the PA news agency looks at the rise of the new world number 27 and what is next.

    Always destined for stardom?

    Boulter has been a prominent name in British tennis circles since her teenage years and followed in the footsteps of her mother Susan by picking up a racket to represent her nation at junior level. A breakthrough Wimbledon in 2018 – where she tested Naomi Osaka – appeared the catalyst for the tall right-hander to kick on in her development after she reached 82 in the world, but a serious back injury a year later curtailed her progress.

    Road to recovery

    The spinal stress fracture in Boulter’s back forced her to miss the majority of 2019 and when she was finally fit again, the coronavirus pandemic sent the world into lockdown. After the tennis season did resume, minor injuries halted the momentum of Boulter, who won a low-level ITF event in Grenoble at the start of 2022 before a leg issue saw her sit out the clay-court season.

    Second Wimbledon breakthrough

     

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    A post shared by Katie Boulter (@katiecboulter)

     

    Boulter recovered in time to achieve a grand-slam best result with a run to the Wimbledon third round after victory over former world number one Karolina Pliskova. The next big challenge was to improve the robustness of her body after she built a strong team around her, which included coach Biljana Veselinovic and she kicked off 2023 with a number of fine displays in ITF tournaments. She beat compatriot Jodie Burrage to seal Canberra success before she made another two finals in Japan in May.

    Maiden WTA title

    The 2023 grass-court season started with Boulter making the last four at the Surbiton Trophy before she beat a string of compatriots to seal Nottingham Open success for her first victory at WTA 250 level. It was followed by third-round showings at both Wimbledon and the US Open to cap off an excellent year. The 27-year-old’s new-found confidence was on display for Great Britain at the United Cup in December where she got the better of top-five player Jessica Pegula before going all the way in San Diego.

    Can she surprise at Indian Wells?

    There will be little time for Boulter to celebrate the biggest victory of her career or the Mexican Open success of boyfriend Alex De Minaur, with both set to play in the women’s and men’s editions of the WTA 1000 tournament BNP Paribas Open, which starts this week. British number one Boulter enters after beating five top-50 opponents in San Diego to take her season record to 11 wins in 14 matches. A key feature of her form has been the Briton’s composure in crunch moments after she recovered from a number of first-set double-faults to beat Kostyuk and she will fancy her chances of causing a splash in Indian Wells with her booming forehand a match for anyone right now.

  • Curry laments 'perfect storm' as Warriors demolished by Celtics Curry laments 'perfect storm' as Warriors demolished by Celtics

    Stephen Curry lamented a "perfect storm" as the Golden State Warriors were on the end of a 140-88 defeat to the Boston Celtics on Sunday.

    The loss at TD Garden was the fourth-worst the Warriors, who entered the contest in good form, have suffered in franchise history.

    It marks the third time this season the Celtics have won by 50 points or more, meanwhile, as they racked up an 11th victory in a row.

    "The way that they've been playing, they seem very sure of themselves in their identity and who they are," Curry said. "Give them credit. 

    "They came out and whooped us from the jump, and it was a perfect storm of a rough [day] on our end and them taking it to us."

    Curry played despite being questionable, but he did not feature in the second half as he finished with a season-low tally of four points.

    The Warriors will hope to have Curry back to full fitness for their return to action against the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday.

    "This was not a day off for Steph, though he probably could have used one," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said.

    "He's played so well and for so long this year. Hopefully the next few days he'll get it recharged."

    Jaylen Brown led the scoring with 29 points, while birthday boy Jayson Tatum had 26 in the Celtics' third-biggest victory in franchise history.

    Boston led by a franchise-record 44 points at the midway point and went on to extend their advantage to 51 before making some changes.

    "It feels great, but, at the same time, it's always within humility," Brown said. "We don't take the game for granted. 

    "We didn't come and mess around and that's just how we show our respect to the game, we handle business and take care of it.

    "It's a lot of respect for the Golden State Warriors, but we feel like it's our time now."

    The 48-12 Celtics lead the Eastern Conference, while the Warriors are ninth in the Western Conference with a record of 32-28. 

  • Katie Boulter thanks boyfriend Alex de Minaur after dash to watch San Diego win Katie Boulter thanks boyfriend Alex de Minaur after dash to watch San Diego win

    British number one Katie Boulter thanked boyfriend Alex de Minaur for racing over to California to watch her win a first WTA 500 tournament after his own success at the Mexican Open.

    The 27-year-old came from behind to claim the San Diego Open title with a 5-7 6-2 6-2 win over Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk and earn a second career title.

    Boulter’s victory was watched by De Minaur, who defended his Mexican Open title in Acapulco on Saturday before scheduling an early-morning flight to support her on Sunday.

    “I want to say a small special thank you to my boyfriend,” Boulter said post-match.

    “He finished last night at midnight and I really want to embarrass him. He got a 4.15 taxi this morning and six o’clock flight to be here today, so I do appreciate it.”

    After an even start to the match, Kostyuk began to get the better of Boulter and surged into a 5-2 lead.

    Boulter fought back to level at 5-5 but the sixth-seeded Ukrainian regained the momentum to wrap up the first set 7-5.

    Boulter then found her groove in the second, dominating on her first serve to clinch the set 6-2 and force a deciding third set.

    The Briton continued her ascendancy into the third, claiming the first break point of the set en route to opening up a 3-1 advantage.

    Boulter broke again in the seventh game and hit her first two aces of the match in the next to close out the victory in two hours and 13 minutes.

    The San Diego win is her second WTA title, adding to a maiden championship on grass in Nottingham last summer and Boulter reflected on a “special” week in California.

    “This week has been very, very special for so many different reasons,” she said post-match.

    “This one is pretty amazing, I’ve worked very hard for it, I played some incredible tennis all week.

    “Today was a complete battle, with myself as well because I was a little bit nervous. But I managed to get over the line and that I’m very proud of.

    “A lot of it was about me staying as tough as I possibly could mentally and I managed to keep my cool and actually kind of went within myself and calmed myself down a lot.

    “I think that really helped me and then I started to relax and play through shots a little bit more.”

    Boulter has had a flying start to the 2024 season and the victory over Kostyuk sees her break into the top 30 for the first time, now ranked 27th.

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