Agence France-Presse Sports looks back on some of the biggest sporting shocks of last year, with rugby union and tennis featuring.
JAPAN, SOUTH AFRICA
Japan caused the biggest shock in Rugby World Cup history as they stunned two-time former champions South Africa 34-32 in their opening pool match in Brighton.
The Brave Blossoms had won just one of their 24 previous matches in the competition, but the Asian champions, under the stewardship of Eddie Jones, signaled their intent early with captain Michael Leitch crossing to put the underdogs 10-7 up.
However, the experienced Springboks, whose starting 15 featured a combined 851 caps, went in with the half-time lead and appeared to have ended the plucky Japan challenge when Adriaan Strauss ploughed over to make it 29-22.
However, Japan fullback Ayumu Goromaru converted his own try to level the scores with 10 minutes to play. The Springboks responded with Handre Polland slotting over a penalty to seemingly put them back on top for good.
There was one final dramatic twist though as Japan, opting for a scrum rather than kicking a penalty as time expired, shifted play across the width of the field before finding replacement wing Karne Hesketh, who touched down in the corner to seal an incredible victory.
Serena Williams looked almost certain to become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988, and just sixth player overall, to complete a calendar Grand Slam after reaching the semi-finals of the US Open.
With Flavia Pennetta then dumping out second seed Simona Halep in the first semi, the odds on the American landing a historic title shortened further. Riding a 26-match win streak at Flushing Meadows, the world No. 1 was overwhelmingly expected to sweep aside unseeded Roberta Vinci, the veteran Italian more renowned for her doubles success, and set up a showdown with eventual champion Pennetta, against whom Williams owned a 7-0 career edge.
Instead her bid was crushed in stunning fashion as the 32-year-old Vinci rallied from a set down to claim a sensational 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 triumph, beating Williams for the first time to set up the first all-Italian women’s Grand Slam final in the Open era.
British boxer Tyson Fury registered one of the sport’s biggest upsets by outpointing longstanding heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko in Duesseldorf, Germany, to end the Ukrainian’s nine-year reign.
Manchester-born Fury, 27, handed Klitschko his first loss since 2004 after winning a unanimous points decision 115-112, 115-112, 116-111 as the self-styled “Gypsy King” landed the WBA, IBF and WBO world title belts.
Fury, whose biggest previous win was against fellow Briton Dereck Chisora, was undeterred by the step up in class and backed up his pre-fight promises by confounding his decorated rival as well as the doubters with a skilful, measured performance.
Fury likened his “masterclass” performance to a “mongoose in a cobra’s nest, taking all the eggs home” in his first press conference as world heavyweight king.
Semi-finalists at the 2014 Soccer World Cup, the Netherlands were expected to routinely qualify for the expanded 24-team European Championship finals and perhaps even contend for the title.
Placed alongside the likes of Czech Republic, Turkey and Iceland, their Group A draw was not overly complicated, but an opening defeat in Prague signaled the start of a disastrous campaign.
A pair of losses to Iceland were damaging, but not terminal, but just three days later a 3-0 defeat in Turkey left Holland’s fate out of their hands. Danny Blind’s men needed three points at home to the already-qualified Czechs coupled with a Turkey loss against Iceland from the final round of matches to rescue a desperate situation, but the Dutch succumbed 3-2, a comical Robin van Persie own-goal typifying their dire qualifying campaign, as the 1988 winners missed out on the European championship for the first time in 32 years.
Michelle Payne became the first woman to win Australia’s 154-year-old Melbourne Cup after riding 100-1 outsider Prince of Penzance to a historic victory in November. Those long odds were nothing compared with the obstacles 30-year-old Payne, the youngest of 10 siblings, overcame on the road to eventual success.
She lost her mother, Mary, in a car accident when she was just six months old, and her career was sidetracked by a litany of injuries — including a head-first fall from a horse when she was just 18 that left her with a fractured skull and bruising on her brain.
However, none of that could prevent Payne, reportedly just the fourth female entrant in Cup history, from winning the world’s richest two-mile (3.2km) handicap race, as she held off Max Dynamite (12-1) by half a length, with Criterion (18-1) close behind.
“I thought a girl would win the Melbourne Cup, but I didn’t think it would be one of mine,” Payne’s father said afterward.
Novak Djokovic completed one of the most remarkable seasons in tennis history last year with victory at the World Tour Finals, but the all-conquering Serb was denied a career Grand Slam at the French Open as he was beaten in the final by Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka.
All appeared to be going to plan as Djokovic grabbed the opening set 6-4, but a sublime show of stroke-making from the Swiss wrapped up a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 win.
Kamaru Usman put on a Fight Island masterclass yesterday to retain his UFC welterweight world title by grinding down a brave Jorge Masvidal in Abu Dhabi. “I’m at the top of the mountain and everyone’s looking at me,” said the 33-year-old Usman after scoring a unanimous points decision 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46 on the three judges’ cards. The Nigerian-American Usman (17-1) looked the fresher fighter, with Masvidal (35-14) having taken the UFC251 headline bout at just six days’ notice when Brazil’s Gilbert Burns (19-3) tested positive for COVID-19 and was unable to travel. The Las Vegas-based UFC pulled off a power-packed schedule with
MONKEYS ALSO WIN: The Rakuten Monkeys kept the Brothers from the first-half title as they dominated the Uni-President Lions, scoring four in the fourth The CTBC Brothers still need another win to clinch the first-half CPBL title, despite thrashing the hapless Fubon Guardians 17-0 yesterday, after the Rakuten Monkeys beat the Uni-President Lions 9-2. Fans of CTBC Brothers were hoping to celebrate the first-half title, with a crowd of more than 10,000 packed into the Taichung Intercontinental Stadium for their home game against the Guardians. The figure was an attendance record for this year, when baseball and most other major sports events worldwide have been played in empty venues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Entering the game, CTBC had pushed their magic number down to 2, meaning
Thailand international Pitsamai Sornsai, a new arrival for Inter Taoyuan, is to lead her team against Taipei Bravo tomorrow in the 10th round of the Taiwan Mulan Football League. Sornsai, who is nicknamed Pui, has attracted interest from media and fans as the first foreigner signed to play in Taiwan’s women’s league. Inter are among six teams battling for the title this year. The addition of Sornsai is a boost for the international profile of women’s soccer in Taiwan and elevates the competition. The 31-year-old brings a wealth of experience, including from the Asian Football Confederation’s Women’s Championship, the Southeast Asian Games and
Preparing to complete a ninth Serie A campaign without winning the scudetto, AC Milan decided that returning to the pinnacle of club soccer required a new approach. Roc Nation, the entertainment agency of US rapper Jay-Z is at the center of it, linking up with Milan to scour the world for sponsors, and use concerts and other high-profile events to attract new fans. And who better to ask about how to end a title drought than the team who just won their league for the first time in 30 years? “We have been talking to Liverpool, because they’ve been through the same path