As we wind down on 2017 it is worth looking back at the high points of the past twelve months. We saw plenty of memorable championship moments ranging from massive comebacks to underdogs springing upsets and some fond farewells. We here at Ladbrokes decided that with so many highlights it would be good to go back and take you through the year that was.
Any other year and a Serena Williams-Roger Federer double at the Australian Open would have signalled a routine fortnight. However, the circumstances in which they claimed their titles made it a memorable end to the tournament.
Second seed Serena faced older sister Venus in a Grand Slam final since Wimbledon in 2009 and closed out the match in straight sets. What made this a truly remarkable victory however was the story which came out a few months after when it was revealed that Serena won the title while in the early stages of pregnancy.
The next night we saw a classic contest between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer which went the distance and capped a phenomenal comeback from injury for both men. Over three and a half hours the audience was captivated as the two warhorses battled back and forth and for a minute it looked like Nadal would capture it at 3-1 up in the final set. But as he has done to so many opponents in the past, Federer finished with the wettest of sails and captured his 18th Grand Slam.
February: Patriots Historic Super Bowl Comeback
Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are hardly a Cinderella story anymore however that did not stop them completing a miraculous comeback in Super Bowl LI. With six minutes left in the third quarter, Atlanta had a seemingly unassailable 28-3 lead and the Patriots on the ropes. From there New England scored 31 straight points to complete the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history and win the first title game to go into overtime. Running back James White was the hero of the day with three touchdowns including the game winner on the opening possession of the extra period.
March: Ange’s Formation Gamble
With five games left in the group stage of World Cup Qualification and on the back of three straight draws, Ange Postecoglou rolled the dice with one of the most controversial coaching moves of the year ahead of a game against Iraq. Gone was the formation with four defenders and in came the in vogue three at the back which had served European sides including Premier League leaders Chelsea so well. It was a move that was hotly debated and designed to take advantage of the plethora of midfield playmakers however performances and results were mixed. These results would lead to more drama later this year.
April: Garcia’s Major Drought Ends
Sergio Garcia falling short at Golf’s major tournaments was seen as a tradition unlike any other as the Spaniard was beginning his 74th attempt. Garcia was tied for the lead after round two although American Rickie Fowler was seen as a genuine contender after shooting the lowest score of the day with a -5 total of 67. By the end of round two it was Garcia and Englishman Justin Rose tied at -6 for the tournament and they would go head to head. On the final day, Garcia and Rose traded the lead before being all locked up going up to the final tee. With both missing birdie putts, the tournament would be decided by a sudden death playoff. Rose bogeyed after finding the trees with his drive giving Garcia two putts for the title and he only needed one to end one of golf’s most famous waits.
May: Sydney FC’s Double Joy and Arsenal Get One Over Champions Chelsea
Football competitions around the world finished up their seasons in the month of May both at home and abroad. Sydney FC claimed the domestic double with a tense Grand Final win over Melbourne Victory. From the start the game was played at a frantic pace and the Victory took the lead through Besart Berisha with tension threatening to boil over on more than one occasion. Sydney found a way back in the second half through Rhyan Grant. It came down to a penalty shootout with both sides out on their feet and Johnny Warren Medalist Milos Ninkovic slotted the decisive spot kick.
Chelsea won the Premier League (again) but Arsenal managed to win an intense FA Cup Final 2-1 on the back of a resolute performance by club captain Per Mertesacker, who only made his season debut a week earlier. Chelsea were heavy favourites but could not get by a motivated Arsenal side that showed an out of character resilience to win with an Aaron Ramsey header.
June: Thurston Shines in Origin Farewell
They did it again, New South Wales was half an hour away from sealing the 2017 Origin series and the Queenslanders mounted a miracle comeback. Jonathon Thurston was at the centre of the action in what would turn out to be his farewell Origin appearance. The shoulder injury which caused him to miss Game One was aggravated early on, but it added to the lore of one of the greatest Origin players of all time. With the Blues up 16-6 and time running out, Dane Gagai bagged a double and with seconds to go, Thurston nailed a sideline conversion to level the series at one apiece and send it to a decider.
July: Jeff Horn’s Stunning Upset
The undisputed highlight of July came at the start of the month and had one of the most disputed outcomes all year. Jeff Horn faced Manny Pacquiao in front of a packed and parochial Suncorp Stadium pulling off a huge upset in the process, claiming the WBO World Title through a unanimous decision. It looked like the fairy tale would not happen for Horn at one stage with the referee coming close to stopping the fight at the end of the ninth round but Horn would go on to take a hotly disputed decision. The reaction from some pundits was almost as much fun to watch as the fight itself.
August: Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor
The long awaited super fight between The Money and The Mouth finally took place in late August and mercifully it was not the one-sided beating many were fearing. With McGregor faltering badly in the later rounds it was eventually stopped by the referee in the 10th. McGregor got some good shots on Mayweather in the early stages but as the fight progressed past the 25 minutes he was accustomed to in the UFC Mayweather’s stamina won out. On top of the fight itself, the build up helped this occasion meet the hype.
September: Richmond’s Drought Breaker
On the final Saturday in September, the Tiger Army descended on the MCG for a day that they would never forget. In front of just over 100000 people, Richmond ended their Premiership drought thanks to a strong second half where they outscored favourites Adelaide 68-29. Dustin Martin capped a remarkable year with the Norm Smith Medal to go with the Brownlow Medal and the Leigh Matthews Trophy as well. It was the second year in a row where a club ended a lengthy drought following on from the Bulldogs in 2016.
October: Winx & Melbourne Storm Keep Winning
A year for the established dynasties continued into October when the Melbourne Storm closed out their Big 3 era with one last Premiership. It was a sense of fait accompli for most of the match as the injury ravaged Cowboys just could not match the ruthless execution of the Storm on the night. Even with the Cowboys reducing the deficit to two scores with half an hour to play they went down 34-6 after the Storm ran over the top.
Elsewhere the Winx juggernaut kept rolling throughout October with a win in the Turnbull Stakes before claiming her third straight Ladbrokes Cox Plate to close out the month. The Cox Plate certainly came with a scare as she ran a course record after Humidor gave her a massive scare coming down the home straight.
November: Rekindling Wins the Melbourne Cup & Socceroos Make the World Cup
Lloyd Williams claimed his sixth Melbourne Cup with the Joseph O’Brien trained British horse Rekindling. Best of all for the 24 year old O’Brien is that he won the biggest race in Australia ahead of his father’s horse Johannes Vermeer. Jockey Corey Brown claimed his second Melbourne Cup after winning on Shocking in 2009.
Later that month the Socceroos booked their place on world football’s biggest stage with a 3-1 win over Honduras in the final stage of World Cup Playoffs. It would not be an Ange Postecoglou side without doing things the hard way. After three scoreless halves, Mile Jedinak broke the deadlock with a deflected free kick before completing his hat-trick with two penalties. Elsewhere there was massive drama in Europe as Italy would lose its playoff with Sweden and join Chile, the United States and the Netherlands as notable absentees from next June’s tournament. It would not be the end of Socceroos drama this month however as Postecoglou would resign from his position and wind up taking a position with Japanese club Yokohama F Marinos.
December: Aussie World Champions
Rugby League’s World Cup concluded on the first weekend in December as the Australian side claimed another World Cup victory to bring their total to eleven. Having cruised through the group stage with an average winning margin of over 31 points before romping past Samoa and Fiji in the knockout stage, Australia were made to work by a disciplined and determined English side. Boyd Cordner’s try in the fifteenth minute was enough as the English could not find a way through a similarly defensively disciplined Kangaroos line.