The biggest sports comebacks in 2017 have been twofold – some during a particular match or series, while some over the course of a year after a long layoff or bad phase. It’s always good to see the underdog in every athlete. They often make for the most inspiring stories, irrespective of whether they finished on top or not. Sometimes, coming back is a victory on its own.
Here we go! The best sporting comebacks of 2017 across all fields:
5. FIGHTING AGAINST HISTORY
On 23rd February 2017, the Indian Men’s Cricket team came in for a rude shock. On home soil, against an opposition who had lost pretty much everything in India in the last decade. Steve Smith’s Australia shocked India on a turning, low Pune pitch, and India continued their torrid affair with strange spinners who would terrorize them for exactly one series before disappearing into the wilderness. This time it was Steve O’Keefe, who took 12 in the match, giving Australia a massive 333-run victory. Australia took a stunning 1-0 lead in the 4-match series, only two years after they were demolished 4-0 in India. But Virat Kohli’s India is a different animal. They didn’t capitulate despite three bad days. They hit back at the Chinnaswamy in Bangalore in one of the best Test match comebacks of the year. Australia took an 87-run lead in the first innings, and India could only manage to set them a target of 187 in the second. This was Australia’s chance to shock the world and win a series overseas in probably the toughest conditions known to visiting squads. The target seemed tricky but very doable. But Ravichandran Ashwin had other ideas. A few hours later, Australia succumbed to 112 all out. They had blown it – a chance at immortality. Kohli’s India woke up at the right time. The third test at Ranchi was a boring draw, but the fourth test in Dharamshala, where Ajinkya Rahane captained the side, became an enthralling contest again. It was head to head for an innings, before Australia collapsed again, and handed India a simple 105-run target. India had come from behind in a series they were initially expected to win but found themselves losing badly, before staging a comeback not familiar with Indian Test cricket.
4. CREATING HISTORY
A few months later, in cold England, an Indian cricket team made the nation proud. But this wasn’t Kohli’s men, who reached the Final of the Champion’s Trophy. It was Mithali Raj’s women, who reached the Final of the Women’s World Cup, eventually losing an agonizingly close match to hosts England. If it were the men’s team, this wouldn’t be a “comeback”. But this women’s team was written off even before the tournament started. India has never won the tournament. Raj’s players lost both their warm-up games against New Zealand and Sri Lanka – traditionally weaker teams in international setups. Their first group match was to be against the hosts, who were overwhelming favorites. But India stunned them by 35 runs, with the openers taking the English to the cleaners. The floodgates of upsets had opened. India won their first four matches against all odds and predictions – defeating West Indies, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka comfortably. They then collapsed against South Africa, before being demolished by reigning champions, Australia. Old doubts resurfaced. Cynical whispers spread. Their run seemed over. But India defeated New Zealand to qualify for the semifinals as one of the top four teams. They then defeated Australia in the semifinals in one of the greatest performances of the year, before finally falling just short by 9 runs in the Final. Raj’s women did everything possible to prove that gender played no part in the religious popularity of this game. And they became the “mother” of all comebacks to back them.
3. THE FINAL DERBY
IPL 2017 was an interesting affair. But it wasn’t until the last ten minutes of the tournament that fans realized what the initiative means to world cricket. International stars like Steve Smith and Ajinkya Rahane and MS Dhoni were found on their knees, almost in tears, while others like Rohit Sharma, Kieron Pollard, and Mitchell Johnson were celebrating as if the World Cup to end all Cups had been won. And it had, in a way. The Mumbai Indians team is known to step it up when it matters the most. They start weak but end strong. This time, however, they were strong through most of the group stages – and were in danger of ending with a whimper. They lost their first playoff match against bogey team and rivals Pune Supergiant, who wouldn’t be appearing in 2018 after the return of old warhorses CSK and RR from their bans. Smith’s Supergiant team, which included Dhoni, had impressed with their reliance on young Indian bowlers and batsmen. Guys like Rahul Tripathi, Washington Sundar, and Jaydev Unadkat were thriving and winning matches. In the Final, Mumbai again came up against Pune, the fourth time they would be doing so, after losing all the other three matches in the season. They were 79/7 at one point before Krunal Pandya took them to a paltry 129 – the lowest ever in an IPL final. With guys like Dhoni and Smith, this wasn’t going to be a challenge. But Hyderabad witnesses a modern-day miracle. With bowlers like Lasith Malinga, Mumbai was bound to be a force while defending. Yet, Pune at one point were 98-2, easing to a target, needing only 7-8 runs an over in the last four. Plenty of wickets in hand. Dhoni still batting. It all changed when Johnson and Bumrah bowled the last two overs. With Dhoni gone, captain Smith found it hard to accelerate in a format that didn’t come naturally to him. He fell with 7 needed off 4 balls in Johnson’s final over. With three required off the final ball, Daniel Christian only managed one before getting run out going for a non-existent second. He couldn’t connect, and Mumbai had pulled off the greatest escape in IPL history. They had won their third title, by ONE run.
2. THE RESURGENCE OF RAFAEL NADAL
Nadal hadn’t won a Grand Slam title since the 2014 French Open, and he ended 2016 with another ankle injury that forced him to terminate well before the last month. He ended the year as World No. 8 – a spot alien to him. Yet, exactly a year later, Nadal ended as World No. 1 – the fourth time he has finished the season on top. At age 31, he is the oldest in the Open era to do so. He started 2017 with a bang, reaching the Australian Open Final and almost winning it. He then reached the Final at Miami, again losing to a hard-court-loving Federer. Once clay court season began, Nadal went on a familiar tear. He won two Masters titles, a tenth Barcelona Open title, and then the biggest: his 10th French Open title. He had ended the draught. He was the King of Clay, and almost everything else, again. He had an ordinary Wimbledon before stunning everyone with a title-winning US Open performance – something unexpected by even his most ardent fans. Nadal won in New York for the first time since 2013 and ended the year with 6 titles, two of the Grand Slams. His tally is now on 16. And he is World No. 1. Is that a comeback or what?
1. THE RISE AND RISE OF ROGER FEDERER
Federer, like Nadal, had a torrid 2016. He didn’t even play after Wimbledon in July, ending his year to recuperate from surgery and take a 6-month break from the game he so dearly loved. He ended 2016 as World No. 17 – an anomaly if there were ever one. He came into Melbourne with no tournament time before that. But this was a new, fitter and improved Federer – with a backhand as his secret weapon. He defeated three top-10 players on his way to an unprecedented 18th Grand Slam title – his first since Wimbledon 2012. He was 35. He won two Masters titles at Indian Wells and Miami and skipped the claycourt season to preserve his aging body. He then won Halle on grass and entered Wimbledon as a favorite on the eve of his 36th birthday. He became the oldest Grand Slam winner in decades by winning Wimbledon without dropping a single set. It was number 19. By now, he was locked in a No. 1 ranking battle with an old rival, Nadal. In the end, the US Open loss to Juan Martin Del Potro ended his hopes to overtake Nadal. But he had come close, almost five years after he previously held the spot. Federer ended with a strong performance at the World Tour Finals, where he lost to David Goffin in the semifinals in a massive upset. But he was fitter than Nadal by November and joined his mate at the top of the rankings for the first time since 2010. The old guard is back. Could Murray and Djokovic be part of this “comeback” list next year?