Monday, 20 June 2011

On thrashings

Sport! Last night the spirited young UK golfist (and 2011 BBC Sports Personality of the Year - you heard it here first) Rory McIlroy won the US Open golf by 8 strokes from whoever else it was who was playing. Because sometimes someone is so completely dominant it doesn't matter.

I love a tense and close sporting tussle as much as anyone else, but sometimes it's just as restorative to watch a complete demolition. Here are my four favourite sporting masterclasses.

1. Rafael Nadal wins the 2008 French Open tennis
Rafael Nadal winning at Roland Garros is rapidly becoming a non-news story, but his win in the 2008 event was completely extraordinary. He reached the final without dropping a set before facing his biggest rival, world number 1 and potentially the greatest player of all time Roger Federer. Nadal won 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. It was the first time Federer had lost a set to love since he was a junior. A month later Nadal defeated Federer on the Swiss' own stomping ground at Wimbledon in the greatest tennis match the world has ever seen.

2. Steffi Graf wins the 1988 French Open tennis
There may well be something in the water in Paris (just ask Arnold Bennett), but Roland Garros produces more than its share of shocks and surprises. Steffi Graf winning a Grand Slam isn't a surprise, but the manner of her victory in the 1988 event was definitely a shock. Graf - the reigning champion - was a week shy of 19 years old while her opponent, the Soviet Union's Natalia Zvereva, was 17. Graf won 6-0, 6-0 in 32 minutes. Zvereva went on to be one of the game's greatest doubles players but never made another Grand Slam singles final. Graf went on to win all four Grand Slams plus the Olympic gold medal in 1988. Roland Garros 1988 was the third of an eventual haul of 22 Grand Slam titles.

3. Michael Schumacher wins the 1996 Spanish Grand Prix
A double-World Champion, Schumacher made a switch to Ferrari for the 1996 Formula 1 season. Ferrari proceeded to reward him with the 310, a car with all the racing pedigree of an ocean liner. In a streaming wet race in Barcelona, though, he drove it as though he was a nymph riding a gazelle. He almost stalled on the grid, leaving him 11th at the end of the first lap. By the end of the thirteenth he was in the lead, lapping 3 seconds faster than everyone else. It was Schumacher's first of an eventual 71 wins for Ferrari and perhaps the first true indication to the Formula 1 world that he was a class apart.

4. Usain Bolt wins the 2008 Olympic 100 metres final
Usain Bolt isn't quite like the other sprinters. He's a good 6 inches taller, for starters. But then there's also this air of complete invulnerability. We all knew he would win the sprints at the 2008 Olympic games - earlier in the year he'd lowered the 100 metres World Record to 9.72 seconds. In Beijing, though, the manner of his victory was still enough to be stunning. He made a poor start from the blocks, but by 50 metres was streaking ahead. By 90 he was winding down and celebrating his triumph, a clear 5, 10 metres ahead of the rest. He crossed the line to record a time of 9.69 seconds. Bolt went on to decimate the field in the 200 metres, breaking Michael Johnson's 12-year old world record of 19.32 by two-hundredths of a second in the process. He then lowered the marks again at the 2009 World Championships to 9.58 and 19.19 as the world looked on in a rather stunned silence.

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