The Year in Sports

Rafael Nadal, left, and Roger Federer after the Australian Open final.

Incredible comebacks, unbelievable shots and memorable performances in 2017.

Jan. 29: Australian Open

Credit...Dita Alangkara/Associated Press

How could a Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal final come as a shock? They had played 34 times, creating one of the chummiest great rivalries in sports, but not even the rivals saw this one coming. Injuries had spoiled their 2016 seasons. Federer, 35 years old, had not played an official tournament in six months. Nadal, 30 and with a suspect left wrist, had not reached a Grand Slam final in more than two years.

But their skills and, just as important, desire were still intact when they arrived in Melbourne, Australia, in January. Two weeks later, they met for the Australian Open title. It went the distance, and Federer prevailed, driving his one-handed backhand with new assurance and coming back from 1-3 down in the fifth set.

Long the sidekick in the rivalry, Federer went on to defeat Nadal three more times in 2017, but it would turn out to be both of their years. Each won two major titles, and they played their first doubles match together, representing Europe at the Laver Cup.

They won that one, too.

Feb. 5: Super Bowl LI

The American version of football is dealing with plenty of existential dread, but Super Bowl LI (51 for the non-Romans among us) was all about finding new life.

Down 28-3 to the Atlanta Falcons midway through the third quarter, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots looked set for another deflationary moment. In the history of the Super Bowl, no team had rallied to win from a 25-point deficit, but then no franchise has had the uncanny ability to recharge its batteries like New England under the grim-faced coaching genius Bill Belichick.

So much had to go right, and it did, including a catch by wide receiver Julian Edelman that came with three Falcons defending against him and the ball bouncing off legs and feet before Edelman grabbed it within an inch of the turf.

Destiny? So it seemed, as the Patriots tied the game at 28-28 in regulation and then drove 75 yards on eight plays on the opening possession of overtime, clinching the victory on James White’s 2-yard touchdown run.

“We never felt out of it,” said Brady, a Super Bowl M.V.P. once more.

March 8: Champions League

In any other year, the Patriots’ Super Bowl rally would have resolved any debate about the comeback of the year by February.

But Barcelona outdid them by early March after surviving the Champions League round of 16 and beating Paris St. Germain, 6-1. That result was never expected after Barcelona lost 4-0 to P.S.G. on the road three weeks before.

That deficit, despite Barcelona’s exceptional strike force, should have been insurmountable. No team had overcome it in the Champions League. P.S.G. would not allow more than three goals in any other game all season.

Against Barcelona, P.S.G. gave up three in the first 50 minutes before getting all the breathing space it appeared to need when Edinson Cavani scored in the 62nd minute to make it 3-1.

Barcelona now needed three more goals for a total of six to advance. But somehow it still had just enough time.

Neymar, who had given his team a “1 percent chance” of advancing after the first leg, scored the next two, the first at the 88th minute and the second one minute into stoppage time on a penalty kick.

He then conjured the game-winner a few minutes later with a chipped pass into the P.S.G. penalty area that Sergi Roberto stabbed into the net with a lunging right-footed volley.

“Ce n’est pas possible! Ce n’est pas possible!” shouted the French television commentator Stéphane Guy on Canal Plus.

In theory, Guy was right.

April 1: N.C.A.A. Tournament

Sixty points. That was the record margin of victory for the University of Connecticut when it thrashed Mississippi State, 98-38, in the round of 16 in the 2016 N.C.A.A. women’s basketball tournament.

One year later, UConn was less experienced yet still a juggernaut: 36-0 in the regular season and riding a 111-game winning streak that dated from 2014. The Huskies looked well on their way to a fifth straight N.C.A.A. title.

But for all the inequities, there is no script in sports, nothing preordained, and after hearing about and thinking about the number 60 for months, the Bulldogs used it for fuel.

This time, the final margin would be just two points, provided by a 15-foot pull-up jumper at the buzzer in overtime from point guard Morgan William.

Oct. 10: World Cup qualifying

Despite its limitations and the doubts, the United States men’s national soccer team still needed only a tie to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

Trinidad and Tobago, already eliminated from contention, was the weakest team of the six in the final round of Concacaf regional qualifying. The United States had not missed a World Cup since 1986.

Final score: Trinidad and Tobago 2, U.S.A. 1.

At least the Americans would have illustrious company in misery. Italy did not qualify either, and the last World Cup it missed was 1958.

Aug. 5: World Track and Field Championships

Usain Bolt had won gold medals in world-record times. He had won them in much shakier form. But since he became an international star at the 2008 Olympics, he had never lost to any man at a global championships in a 100- or 200-meter final: His only setback was a false start that disqualified him from the 100 at the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, in 2011.

Surely, Bolt would find a way in his final individual race to keep grinning all the way to the finish line in London.

But this was Bolt’s season too far, and though he did his best to stick to the script — mugging for the cameras and waxing confident — the speed was no longer there. He lost to an old American rival, Justin Gatlin, and a new one, Christian Coleman: settling for an out-of-character bronze medal in his final individual 100 meters.

Gatlin, booed by the huge crowd before the race because of his history of doping suspensions, still took a knee on the red track, extended both arms and bowed to Bolt. But an era was officially over.

Sept. 13: International Olympic Committee

No, it was not the strange and oh-so-lucrative Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight, which at least lasted 10 rounds before the 40-year-old Mayweather confirmed the obvious, winning his supposed last fight (we’ll see) by technical knockout.

The real nonevent of 2017 was Paris versus Los Angeles. The two cities were supposed to lobby it out for the right to stage the 2024 Olympics.

P.R. firms were mobilized. So were French presidential candidates, including the eventual winner, Emmanuel Macron. But in the end, the International Olympic Committee, concerned about the declining interest in Olympic hosting, decided there would be no duel at all. Paris got 2024. Los Angeles got 2028.

There were hugs all around. The beleaguered I.O.C. president, Thomas Bach, could use a few.

Jan. 28: Australian Open

Federer and Nadal deserve support. Martina Hingis and Chan Yung-Jan merit a few votes, too: They won the United States Open, finished No. 1 on the women’s tour and almost certainly will never play together again now that Hingis has retired for the third and surely final time.

But the most remarkable doubles team of 2017 was the one that nobody except a very select few even knew was a doubles team.

In January, when Serena Williams won her 23rd Grand Slam singles title at the Australian Open, she did so while two months pregnant with her daughter, Alexis Olympia.

Those initials — A.O. — are no coincidence.


The surge in sports hijabs, including one created by Nike that was released in December, was a fine sign of progress, allowing more Muslim women to compete in comfort while conforming to their religious practices. But sports hijabs have actually been around for years. Until 2017, though, no one had ever placed four stationary bicycles on the deck of an America’s Cup yacht and had the crew use pedal power to generate hydraulic pressure instead of using the customary hand-operated grinding pedestals.

The cycling sailors, or cyclors, were not the only reason Emirates Team New Zealand upset the better-funded holders of the Cup, Oracle Team U.S.A., to win one of the oldest major sporting events. But the bikes were certainly one of the reasons, and they were doubly clever not only because they produced more power. They also allowed some of the cyclors to have their hands free to perform other navigational tasks.

Distracted sailing, in this case, paid off.

May 25: N.H.L. Playoffs

Sidney Crosby’s goal in March versus the Buffalo Sabres was performance art: he beat two defenders and scored with a one-handed backhander over the glove of the goaltender Robin Lehner. But on the goal that mattered most for the Penguins in 2017, Crosby played only a supporting role. He passed to his fellow Canadian, Chris Kunitz, who one-timed a slap shot that won Game 7 in double overtime against the Ottawa Senators and put the Penguins back in the Stanley Cup finals.

It was not the cleanest strike — the puck spun end over end — but it was the most timely strike, and the Penguins went on to repeat as champions in much less dramatic fashion, defeating the Nashville Predators in six games.

Jan. 1: Premier League

It was Jan. 1 in Britain and the Frenchman Olivier Giroud kicked off the new year in style.

His backheel pass helped start a counterattack by Arsenal against Crystal Palace. Giroud then sprinted 70 meters and was in not quite the ideal spot for Alexis Sanchez’s cross. With the ball behind him, Giroud reached back with his left foot and volleyed the ball with his heel into the upper left corner of the net.

It was a scorpion kick to savor, and it had taken less than 24 hours of 2017 to determine the goal of the year.

May 12: Madrid Open

Pablo Cuevas will likely never win a Grand Slam title or reach No. 1, but the flashy Uruguayan will always have the second game of the second set of his quarterfinal at the Madrid Open.

The opponent was the young and uber-talented German, Alexander Zverev, who was up a set and serving at 0-1. The rally was a typical clay-court tussle with the men trading drop shots and Zverev hitting a backhand lob volley that sent Cuevas scurrying back to the baseline.

A tweener, a shot between the legs, would have been Cuevas’s logical next move. Instead, he produced something much more original with his back to the net: a no-look flick with a backhand grip that zipped past the stunned Zverev for a winner.

Cuevas came back to win the match, but that is not what sticks with you.

Nov. 26: N.F.L.

The No Fun League no more, the N.F.L. took the shackles off its players in the end zone in 2017, and the post-touchdown creativity flowed freely. Pantomime was the entertainment vehicle of choice, and though Packers became bobsledders, Eagles became baseball players and Vikings took part in a game of “Duck, Duck, Goose” (or, in the Vikings’ home, Minnesota, “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck”), the vote here goes to Julio Jones, the Falcons receiver who made for a very convincing fencer and delivered the coup de grâce to his teammate Justin Hardy.

Oct. 24: Thailand U-18 Cup

The Thailand U-18 cup semifinal in October had gone to penalty kicks, and it was 19-19 when a player for Bangkok Sports Club shot with his left foot and hit the crossbar. The ball rebounded high in the air.

As the shooter put his hands to his face, the goalkeeper for Satri Angthong raced toward his teammates, punching the air exultantly. But then the ball finally bounced. With the backspin, it headed toward the goal and bounced again and then once more before crossing the unguarded goal line with Satri’s keeper giving chase too late but just in time to become a global cautionary tale.

June 25: Travelers Championship

It was not Jordan Spieth’s most significant victory of 2017. That would come a few weeks later at the British Open, where he joined Jack Nicklaus as the only men’s golfer to win three major championships before his 24th birthday.

But for dramatic flourishes, there was no topping Spieth’s final shot of the Travelers Championship in June in Cromwell, Conn. On the first hole of a playoff with Daniel Berger after letting a lead slip during regulation play, Spieth hit his second shot into a bunker while Berger found the edge of the green on the par-4 18th.

Realistically, Spieth had to get up and down and make par to keep his chances alive. He did better than that. After blasting out of the sand, his ball bounced three times and then rolled into the cup.

After Spieth’s airborne back-to-chest bump with the caddie Michael Greller was complete, Berger missed his long birdie putt.

Berger’s conclusion: “Jordan does Jordan things.”

March: Eagles Landing Middle School

Jamarion Styles lost his hands and most of both arms to a bacterial infection before his first birthday. That has not kept him from playing basketball. After joining the team at Eagles Landing Middle School in Boca Raton, Fla., Styles, now 13, made two three-pointers to finish off one of his team’s victories in March.

Video of the shots went viral and hopefully the message of resilience did, too.

“If I could wave a magic wand right now and give you your arms back, would you want them?” Styles was asked by a CBS reporter.

“I don’t need them,” he answered.

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