Quintessential 2013!

Sachin Tendulkar... leaving a void bigger than the Grand Canyon.-K.R. DEEPAK

There is usually something underwhelming about a post-Olympic year in sport, but 2013 has had its momentous evenings. The retirements of two sporting giants in Sachin Tendulkar and Alex Ferguson; the arrival of a new world champion in chess; the same young name at the top of Formula One; a British men’s champion at Wimbledon (finally); Bayern’s glory; India’s Champions Trophy triumph — a few new dawns, many corners turned; enough written into history. By Shreedutta Chidananda.

Carlsen dethrones Anand

Magnus Carlsen is young, bullish, marketable, and flies in the face of the stereotype of a chess player, but he’s also relentlessly good. The Norwegian became World Champion with a 6.5-3.5 victory over Viswanathan Anand in Chennai in November but the outcome put the stamp on what most people had believed for some time: that he was simply, as his ranking already suggested, the best in the world.

By most accounts, Anand was spooked by Carlsen and failed to take the chances he had. “My mistakes did not happen by themselves,” Anand said later. “Clearly he managed to provoke them.”

Carlsen’s success is also being hailed as a new era for chess, not just for the shift in image, but the manner in which the game is played. At 22, Carlsen looks set for a long reign over the chess world. It can’t be a bad thing.

The end of Fergie Time

While Manchester United supporters wiped away tears at Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in May, fans of other clubs sighed in enormous relief. Without his towering influence, United would finally understand what the rest felt like. ‘Welcome,’ was the sentiment, ‘to our world.’ It was a reflection of Ferguson’s success and the aura of fear and invincibility he managed to erect around United.

Ferguson retired as the most decorated manager in British football, with 38 trophies — including 13 league titles — in his 26 years at the helm. He may have had flaws as a human being, but the Scot knew how to build teams and win trophies. He left after delivering United its 20th league title. Already, a 21st looks a mountainous task.

Tendulkar calls it a day

The dust on Sachin Tendulkar’s monumental career may never completely settle. Like a radioactive element that decays exponentially, his influence will wane and the sense of loss grow dimmer with time, but those quantities will never sink to zero.

For Tendulkar’s contribution cannot be measured by his colossal numbers alone. Cheteshwar Pujara said he turned the TV off when Tendulkar got out; Virat Kohli said Tendulkar’s Sharjah hundreds filled him with the desire to win matches on his own. To the millions of us who watched — and frequently despaired over — Indian cricket, he brought endless joy.

However contrived the scheduling of his farewell series may have felt, however cloying all the fawning may have been at times, it was difficult not to feel any emotion when he walked off. Tendulkar’s speech at the Wankhede Stadium that November afternoon was stirring for its heartfelt humility. The cricket firmament — and we forget he belonged to the game as much as he did to its fans — will perhaps never see another like him.

At number four, the national team will find someone to do a decent job; in Indian hearts, there will be no replacing him.

Rafa’s comeback

In February, Rafael Nadal returned to competitive tennis after 222 painful days out. After his opening game, a doubles tie he won partnering Juan Monaco, he sounded more phlegmatic than optimistic. “My knee keeps hurting,” he said. “But the fact I am playing here is a thing of joy. If it hurts, it hurts and we’ll put up with it. I am here to play tennis, with or without pain.”

It seems even Nadal, at that stage, did not believe that his return from tendonitis and then an ill-timed stomach virus would yield any great success.

By the end of the year, he had racked up 10 titles, including a record eighth French Open and the US Open, and reclaimed the number one ranking from Novak Djokovic. He beat Djokovic in the final of the US Open, before the Serb bounced back to defeat Nadal in the ATP World Tour Finals in November. A rivalry that had begun to fade has been thrillingly rekindled.

“In terms of results, I don’t know if 2013 was the best year of my career,” Nadal said recently. “But certainly it was the most emotional of my career.”

Vettel wins another world title

Sebastian Vettel may never be a popular driver, but it will not — at least in the current climate — stop him winning races. With victory in the Indian GP in October, the German joined Juan Manuel Fangio, Alain Prost, and Michael Schumacher as a four-time world champion. To add to the heap of records he already has to his credit, Vettel naturally became the youngest to win four world titles. In a measure of his dominance with Red Bull, the 26-year-old also equalled Schumacher’s record of 13 race wins in a season. But this continued superiority — his perceived cockiness also has something to do with it perhaps — has not won him fans outside the paddock. Calls to make Formula One more competitive have grown louder while Vettel was booed at several races. It hurt him, he admitted. But the last thing it is likely to affect is his driving.

Cricket dragged through the muck again

In a carefully planned operation during the IPL, the Delhi police arrested three Rajasthan Royals players, having conducted telephonic surveillance for a month, for spot-fixing. S. Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila were alleged to have collaborated with bookies and fixed parts of IPL matches. Although all three were subsequently released on bail, the BCCI banned Sreesanth and Chavan for life while Chandila’s fate continues to hang in the balance.

The rot, it seems, extends deeper with Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra — team officials associated with Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals respectively — alleged to have betted on matches.

That the IPL was an avenue for a variety of murky dealings was no secret but this still came as a shock.

A rebuilt India wins the Champions Trophy

Although the final descended to a 20-over game, India’s triumph in the Champions Trophy must rank as a genuine success story. Only three members from the side of the 2011 World Cup final featured in the tournament. This was a rebuilt, young team that swept opponents aside in a manner befitting its number one status.

Shikhar Dhawan batted with a freedom that would astonish ‘maidan’ cricketers; Ravindra Jadeja took wickets when it mattered; and Bhuvneshwar Kumar proved terrific with the new ball. With Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and M.S. Dhoni already established one-day cricketers, the Champions Trophy demonstrated that India was on track to defend the World Cup.

In other news

1. Andy Murray became the first British player to win the men’s title at Wimbledon since — it has been persistently drummed into our heads — 1936.

2. After the heartbreaking meltdown at the Open in 2012, Adam Scott, it was thought, was never destined to win a major. But he recovered spectacularly this year, defeating Angel Cabrera on the second play-off hole at Augusta to become the first Australian to win the Masters. The gods smiled on other golfers in similar circumstances this year: Justin Rose (US Open) and Jason Dufner (PGA Championship) sealed their first majors, while Phil Mickelson finally got his hands on the Claret Jug.

3. Bayern Munich completed a quintuple of trophies in 2013 — the German league and cup, the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Super Cup, and most recently the Club World Cup.

4. A total of six Jamaican athletes, including the former 100m world record holder Asafa Powell and the former Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown, failed drug tests in 2013, prompting a visit from WADA and criticism of the country’s anti-doping programme.