2015: A heady cocktail of events

It was a year (2015) of Novak Djokovic and Jordan Spieth, the All Blacks and Barcelona, Usain Bolt and Serena Williams. This was also a year of glorious underdogs — Brendon McCullum’s New Zealand, Leicester City, the Icelandic men’s football team, and Flavia Pennetta.

Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams... dominant in tennis.   -  AP

Jordan Spieth... just 22, and so good!   -  AP

Anirban Lahiri... some firsts by an Indian.   -  Getty Images

Pankaj Advani... lord of the green baize.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

Saina Nehwal... peak performance.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Sania Mirza teamed up wonderfully with Martina Hingis.   -  GETTY IMAGES

In a year when a dawn raid on a Zurich hotel saw seven FIFA officials make their way to police cars hiding behind bedsheets, there was never going to be any shortage of drama. Fortunately, though, 2015 in sport was not all about corruption and bribery and nauseating greed. This was a year of champion athletes and teams, those whose greatness the world was simply in awe of. A year of Novak Djokovic and Jordan Spieth, the All Blacks and Barcelona, Usain Bolt and Serena Williams. This was also a year of glorious underdogs — Brendon McCullum’s New Zealand, Leicester City, the Icelandic men’s football team, and Flavia Pennetta. There was a lot for India to celebrate as well — Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza, the men’s hockey team, Pankaj Advani and Anirban Lahiri. Here is a look back at the year that was, its highs and its inevitable lows.

1. Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams

Djokovic won three Grand Slam titles in 2015 and was only denied the fourth by an other-worldly Stan Wawrinka in the final of the French Open. The Serb’s U.S. Open victory gave him his 10th Grand Slam title, making him only the eighth man in the history of the sport to reach double digits. He also became only the third man to reach all four Grand Slam finals in a calendar year, after Roger Federer and Rod Laver. Djokovic still trails Federer’s record of 17 Grand Slam titles but at 28, there is still plenty of time left. This was a year when Djokovic truly bestrode the tennis landscape, winning a record six Masters tournaments. The world No.1 finished the year with an 82-6 record, reaching the final in 15 out of 16 tournaments.

Just as dominant was Serena Williams, who secured four Slams in a row but missed out on a calendar slam in the most staggering fashion, when she lost unexpectedly in the semifinals of the U. S. Open to Roberta Vinci. Williams now has 21 Grand Slam singles titles — behind only Margaret Court and Steffi Graf — and finished 2015 with five WTA tour titles. She was to nobody’s surprise, ranked No.1 every week.

2. Jordan Spieth

Twenty-two-year-old Jordan Spieth took the golfing universe by storm with his record-breaking victory at the Masters and his subsequent win at the U.S. Open. Spieth finished tied fourth at The Open and second at the PGA Championship. Spieth became the second youngest golfer to ever win the Masters, and the first to claim a wire-to-wire victory since 1976. He also tied Tiger Woods’s Masters score record of 18 under (after a bogey on the final hole) and set the record for the most birdies at the Masters (28). Spieth, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, who won his first major with a record score of 20 under at the PGA Championship, are all in their twenties and promise exciting years ahead for the sport.

3. Anirban Lahiri

While Day was tearing it up at the PGA Championship, Anirban Lahiri made history of his own, finishing tied-fifth to achieve the best-ever result by an Indian at a major. This was a great year for Lahiri, who won the 2015 Asian Tour Order of Merit, claimed two titles on the European Tour, became just the fourth Indian to have competed in all four majors, achieved a career-best ranking of 34 and became only the third Indian to secure a PGA Tour card.

4. Saina Nehwal

Saina Nehwal became the first woman badminton player from India to reach number 1 in the world. In what was a career-defining year for her following her shift to Bengaluru, Saina reached the finals of the All-England and World championships, losing to Carolina Marin on both occasions, and won two titles. Injuries took their toll, but Saina will be pleased with her achievements.

5. Sania Mirza

Sania Mirza and Martina Hingis became the world’s No.1 doubles pair, winning nine titles in 2015, including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. They finished the year with a 55-7 record. It was generally a good year for Indian tennis. Leander Paes showed that the fire was still burning, claiming three Grand Slam mixed doubles titles in partnership with Hingis. Yuki Bhambri, meanwhile, broke into the top 100 in the men’s singles.

6. Indian hockey

The Indian men’s hockey team raised the sagging morale of their fans with a first medal in a major global tournament for 33 years. India clinched a surprise bronze medal in the World League Final in Raipur, defeating the Netherlands in a dramatic third-place playoff. India had not been hugely impressive in the league stages but played some fine hockey in the knockouts. This performance capped off a turbulent year, when the Dutch coach Paul van Ass was fired only five months into the job for reasons not connected to hockey. Roelant Oltmans, who had been serving as the High Performance Director, took over as coach, producing unexpected results.

It was a good year for India’s women too, who qualified for the Olympics for the first time after 1980, after their fifth-place finish at the World League Semifinal in Antwerp.

7. Pankaj Advani

Pankaj Advani completed a circle in a way, winning the IBSF World Snooker Championship (15-red) in Egypt. It marked Advani’s 15th world title, but also brought back memories of the same event in 2003, when he won his first ever world title. 2015 was another year of outstanding success for the 30-year-old, who also secured the World 6-Red Snooker and World Billiards championships.

8. The underdogs

Australia may have won the 2015 ICC World Cup, but people will remember the tournament more for the carefree, delightful fashion in which the co-hosts New Zealand played. Brendon McCullum’s men thrilled and inspired an entire nation on their way to the final, not least for their sportsmanship and amiability on the field.

Over in football, in the Premier League, Leicester City played with a similar cavalier spirit, storming to the top of the league table at Christmas — a turn of events even the most fervent supporter would not have predicted. Iceland, with a population of 329,000, became the smallest nation ever to qualify for a major tournament when they reached the finals of EURO 2016. Iceland finished second in their qualifying group, ahead of Turkey and the Netherlands.

In a tennis fairytale, Flavia Pennetta won her first Grand Slam singles title at the age of 33, defeating compatriot Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open final. She announced her retirement afterwards, convinced that there was no topping what she had achieved.

9. Russia’s doping ban

In November, the world athletics body, the IAAF, suspended Russia from all international competition for its alleged involvement in large-scale doping. The ban, which if not lifted will mean Russia’s track and field athletes missing the Olympic Games, came after the publication of a World Anti-Doping Agency report that alleged widespread, systematic, and state-sponsored doping.

10. The FIFA mess

In images that will never be forgotten, Swiss police raided a Zurich hotel and arrested seven FIFA officials in May as part of an investigation into bribery conducted by the U. S. Department of Justice. A total of 14 FIFA officials were indicted by U. S. authorities for corruption, including two serving Vice-Presidents of the body.

Further, the Swiss prosecutors’ office launched a criminal investigation into alleged corruption over the awarding of the 2016 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar. The scandal eventually claimed the FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who along with the UEFA boss Michel Platini, was in December banned from all football-related activity for eight years by FIFA’s ethics committee.

Other notable events:

1. New Zealand retained the Rugby World Cup, defeating Australia in the final at Twickenham. It was a record third World Cup for the All Blacks, who must surely be regarded as the greatest in the sport’s history. Shortly afterwards, though, New Zealand were plunged into grief by the death of Jonah Lomu, one of the finest players to have ever graced the game.

2. Usain Bolt answered all his doubters with a stunning sprint double at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, putting Justin Gatlin in the shade. He won the 100m by a hundredth of a second ahead of Gatlin, in many eyes the favourite to win that night.

3. The French Formula One driver Jules Bianchi died in hospital in July. The 25-year-old had been in a medically-induced coma after crashing in the Japanese Grand Prix eight months earlier.

4. Virender Sewhag and Zaheer Khan officially announced their retirements from international cricket.

5. After presiding over nine defeats in 16 Premier League games, a run of results that left the club one point above the relegation zone, Jose Mourinho was sacked as Chelsea manager.