On Sunday night in Glasgow, 22-year-old PV Sindhu – India’s premier female Badminton Singles player – came second to (“lost” is a harsh term) the 22-year-old Japanese firebrand, Nozomi Okuhara, in the 2017 BWF World Championship Final. Sindhu took her second consecutive major Silver medal, after going down to Carolina Marin in last year’s Rio Olympics Final. However, this will perhaps go down as PV Sindhu’s best performance in a fiery career that is now threatening to become one of Indian sports’ finest ever.
The scoreline of the Badminton World Championship Final read 19-21, 22-20, 20-22 – a brutal, marathon match that fell only minutes short of the longest match ever played in this format. Somebody had to win the 110-minute thriller, eventually. This was Okuhara’s third consecutive three-setter in a row, after she defeated Marin in the quarterfinal and India’s Saina Nehwal in the semifinal.
This World Championship Final match will be etched in memory as perhaps the greatest of 2017, and easily one of the greatest finals ever played in the history of the sport. Everyone will talk about the legendary “22-21” point for years to come – a winning game point for Sindhu in the second set, a 111-second rally that ran for a breathless 73 shots before Okuhara dumped it into the net. Such was the no-holds-barred grit of the match that at one point, they were locked at 17-17 in the final set in the 100th minute, and 3-3 in career meetings before this one.
Okuhara controlled most of the rallies, but Sindhu’s spirit and energy rarely wavered, except for in the final few points after they were locked at 20-20. She dumped two feeble returns into the net, giving Okuhara – 10 inches shorter than Sindhu – her second major title after last year’s All-England Open. Sindhu had then defeated Okuhara in the Rio Olympics semifinal. Revenge for the World no. 12 came on the second biggest stage in the sport, with (new) World no. 4 Sindhu coming perilously close again to sealing her status as the best on the planet.
Over the years, very few contests have matched the intensity and prestige of this one. However, there have been a few timeless, eternal matches across arenas – ones that history will use as markers to advertise the thrill and essence of competition.
Here are five such G.O.A.T (Greatest Of All Time) matches across all sports:
THRILLA IN MANILA (1975, BOXING)
The Greatest defeated Smokin’ Joe over 14 grueling rounds, before Joe’s corner threw in the towel to avoid further punishment – or even death. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier squared off for the third time in four years in what soon got dubbed as the greatest Boxing match ever. Ali-Frazier III had some history behind it: the first one was held in 1971 at Madison Square Garden, known as “The Fight of the Century,” which Frazier won, retaining his heavyweight title. The second was held in 1974, when none of them were champions, which Ali won controversially over 12 rounds. The third – this match in Philippines – came on the heels of Ali regaining his heavyweight title after beating George Foreman. Ali admitted that this match was the “closest I had ever come to dying” in the 9th round itself, while Frazier said, “I want him, boss” despite his corner advising the referee to stop the match after the 14th (out of 15) rounds. By then, his gum shield had disappeared, and his face was virtually unrecognizable from the one that started the much-hyped championship match. What Frazier and co. didn’t know was that Ali, too, was planning to quit at the same time, and his order to “cut” off his gloves (because he was too tired to take them off) was ignored by his own corner. This spectacle became the universal advertisement of athletic strength, grit, endurance, passion and hunger – pushing the limits of human sport to a level it had never scaled before.
MIRACLE AT THE WANDERERS (2005, CRICKET)
Cricket might be an aggressive, overplayed and overworked sport today, but back in 2006, way before an onslaught of T20 cricket had made a mockery of bowlers and giant totals, two great teams played what is simply known as the Greatest ODI International Ever Played. We all remember it as the “438” game. We all remember where we were – irrespective of our nationality and loyalty – when the match concluded. Australia, led again by Ricky Ponting, broke the record for the highest team ODI score by scoring 434-4 in their 50 overs against South Africa in the 5th and final match of their ODI series locked at 2-2 before this one. It was a decider, and Australia had once again laid down the gauntlet. Less than three hours later, this stunning record was broken in the same match – by a South African team that chased it down with one wicket and one ball to spare. This was an unbelievable feat in context of where cricket was as a game 11 years ago – and holds even today, for these has been no higher ODI chase than this freakish night. Ponting and Herschelle Gibbs will be remembered as the centurions, but the bit-players like Mark Boucher, Graeme Smith and Van Der Vath will also be remembered for their timely contributions to a classic that will go down in history as limited-overs cricket’s finest hour.
THAT WIMBLEDON FINAL (2008, TENNIS)
While I’m tempted to put down the lesser-heralded John Isner-Nicholas Mahut 11-hour long 1st round Wimbledon match (2010) in this list, it’s the 2008 Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal that is closer in spirit to the importance and “legacy” of Sindhu’s gut-busting Sunday effort. At 4 breathless hours and 48 magical minutes, the two played out what is widely regarded as the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played in fading light over 5 sets that signaled the peak of a storied rivalry between two of tennis’s greatest ambassadors. Nobody will forget Federer’s running backhand passing shot match point down in the fourth set tiebreak, and nobody will forget Nadal’s blazing forehand down the line at break point in the fifth set. This match has an identity and mood of its own – and connected and defined an entire generation of fans and aspiring players. Nadal won his first Wimbledon trophy after winning the fifth set 9-7, and snapped Federer’s streak of 5 consecutive titles. That they’re still at it in 2017, sharing the year’s first three Grand Slam titles, only goes to show how everything – and yet nothing – has changed in their pursuit of sporting immortality.
THE MIRACLE IN ISTANBUL (2005, FOOTBALL)
On May 25th in 2005, at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, perhaps the greatest football match of all time was played – on the biggest club stage of them all. The UEFA Champions League Final between Italian giants AC Milan and English powerhouse Liverpool almost made Manchester United’s 2-1 extra-time win over Bayern Munich in 1999 seem pale in comparison. It was made even more significant by the fact that Liverpool had finished the domestic season fifth in the league, out of the Champions League Qualification spots, and had to win this final to play in competition next year. Down 0-3 at half-time and completely outclassed, Steven Gerrard’s team hit back in “seven minutes of madness” in the second half. Gerrard, Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso scored to level, and bring down the house as both teams missed chances heading into extra-time, and then penalties. The name “Jerzy Dudek” then became etched in the annals of history, as the Liverpool goalie made two saves – including top scorer Andriy Shevchenko’s penultimate effort down the middle – to hand underdogs Liverpool their fifth European title. There had never been a greater comeback than this one on the most popular sport in the world’s biggest stage.
THE GREATEST RELAY EVER (Beijing Olympics 2008, Swimming)
Jason Lezak – remember the name. Rarely have the American swimmers ever entered an event as the “underdogs”. Yet, in 2008, at the momentous Beijing Olympics where Michael Phelps broke Mark Spitz’s record of 7 gold medals to get a perfect 8, it was this one particular race that might have gotten lost in the slipstream of world records. Phelps’ second gold medal was perhaps his most important – it kept alive his hopes to go for the perfect haul. He had to depend on his team for this one. In the 4x100m freestyle relay final, the Americans entered as third favourites to France (with 100m freestyle World record holder Alain Bernard set to swim the anchor leg) and Australia. They hadn’t won the gold in this previously dominated event for the last two Olympics. Two 100m relay split World Records were broken individually by two separate swimmers in this same race – first it was Australia’s Eamon Sullivan (47.24, beating Phelps’ American record of 47.51 in the same leg), followed by the greatest last leg to a relay ever: Jason Lezak’s insane 46.06 in the last leg. Nobody expected the experienced 32-year-old to do what he did. He had always been close to the top, but this was the defining moment of the 2008 Olympics – in terms of skill, quality, inspiration and pure magic. Lezak started in third, a body length behind, and had to overtake Bernard in the last 25m in perhaps the fastest relay leg of all time to win USA the gold medal ahead of France. Nobody was happier than Phelps, of course.