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Best (and worst) of world sport 2018

Newshub logoNewshub 24/12/2018
a man wearing a suit and tie: Australian cricket captain Steve Smith in tears during apology. © Image - AAP Australian cricket captain Steve Smith in tears during apology.

The Newshub panel of experts discuss which international sporting performances made headlines - for the right and wrong reasons - during 2018.


Grant Chapman: Roger Federer's 20th Grand Slam title at the 2018 Australian Open 

There's a reason this guy is commonly referred to as the GOAT (Greatest of All Time).

Wasn't it five whole years ago that so-called experts pleaded for the Swiss maestro to retire from tennis, because his skills had been diminished by injury and he was - basically - washed up.

True, his priorities have changed over those years - marriage and two sets of identical twins (phew) will do that to you.

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But just as he has proved ruthlessly efficient on the court, his off-court career management has added another dimension to his achievements. Bypassing the clay-court swing and French Open each year has obviously helped preserve his aging body for Wimbledon and the US Open campaigns.

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Now aged 37, he continues to set records, including the official record for setting records - his 27 is the highest number for any one discipline in the Guinness publication.

Those so-called experts are already forecasting the beginning of the end for Federer - again, still - just as they did five years ago.

Bookmakers predict Novak Djokovic will break Federer's two-year stranglehold on the Aussie Open next month.

They've all been wrong before. 

Ben Francis: Vegas Golden Knights reaching Stanley Cup, Washington winning the title 

This year's Stanley Cup playoffs were filled with memorable moments, but the final between the Vegas Golden Knights and Washington Capitals was special.

In their first season, the Golden Knights defied the odds to reach the Cup finals, determined to bring glory to the city, after the tragic Vegas shootings just before the start of the season, while Washington were hunting for their first title in the franchise's 42-year history.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd © Provided by MediaWorks NZ Limited

Washington fans had suffered through a Stanley Cup sweep, early-round exits and a superstar in Alexander Ovechkin, who just couldn’t get over the hump, but finally the drought was over.

Seeing Ovechkin lift the Cup with so much emotion after years of heartbreak was truly special and brought tears to people's eyes.

Luke Robinson: Tiger Woods winning 2018 Tour Championship 

Winning on the PGA Tour is hard at the best of times, but after anterior lumbar inter-body fusion surgery, it becomes very hard.

Tiger Woods has had a mountain of problems to overcome in recent years - personal issues, health issues and DUI charges - but he finally broke back to win the final event of the 2018 playoffs.

It may have been 1876 days in between trophies, but with the tour championship under his belt, the 'Big Cat' was finally back in the winner's circle.

Henry Rounce: Woods winning the Tour Championship 

Woods’ 80th victory on the PGA Tour was nothing short of spectacular.

His comeback had been bubbling along throughout the season, with a series of top-10 finishes, but without the victory he and the world so desperately craved.

As he strode to the 18th hole, the crowd surged after him, drawn to the man in the red like rampant moths chasing a beaming light.

a crowd of people watching a football game © Provided by MediaWorks NZ Limited

Woods was the modern day sporting Pied Piper, leading fans to a putt that capped off one of the most miraculous comebacks.

The intense following of the 42-year old’s every move is something that continues to amaze. Despite his indiscretions off the course, there is some mysterious pulling power around the American that draws millions of fans in. 

Although his back now resembles a steel dishwasher, Woods managed to complete his best year of golf for some time.

All that remains to be seen now is whether he can win a Major in 2019.

Richard Wain: Roger Federer wins back-to-back Australian Open tennis titles 

I was on holiday, staying one night in Kaikoura - and the only place airing the match live was... our motor camp!

There had been an alleged murder that morning, before we rolled in from down south.

Anyway, I commandeered the TV lounge off some obliging foreigners, drank many wines and with a very talkative Danish bloke, watched the Swiss great beat Marin Cilic in an epic five-setter.

Lurched back to my cabin in the early hours, I passed the policeman guarding the crime scene.

"Morning officer!" I slurred.

I was so happy.


GC: Billy Slater cleared to play the 2018 NRL Grand Final 

At a time when sport in general, but rugby league in particular, is waging war on concussion, allowing the Melbourne Storm fullback into the biggest game of the year sent all the wrong messages.

a group of people in uniform © Provided by MediaWorks NZ Limited

The previous week, the future NRL 'Immortal' was cited for a no-arms try-saving tackle on Cronulla wing Sosaia Feki during the preliminary final. Ironically, Feki left the field soon after, with a seemingly unrelated injury.

Under any other circumstances, that tackle would - and should - carry a multi-week ban for its instigator, but the NRL allowed sentimentality to intervene and cleared Slater to take the field for the final time, before retiring.

The fact so few within the game could see the double standard raised serious questions about how sincere the NRL was about protecting its players from themselves.

Where was that leniency when Kiwis hooker Issac Luke was suspended out of the 2014 Grand Final for a dangerous tackle. Obviously, he didn't command the same reverence among the powers that be.

The lesson learned from this incident - it's OK to endanger your fellow players' wellbeing, as long as you're a retiring, 300-game, future 'Immortal'.

BF: The Wallabies… need I say more 

The Aussies ended the 2018 season with a four win/nine loss record (31 percent) - their worst in a calendar year during the professional era and the worst Wallabies team since 1958.

Shakhriyar Mamedyarov wearing a suit and tie © Provided by MediaWorks NZ Limited

They beat Ireland at home in June (but lost the series), then South Africa and Argentina in the Rugby Championship, and their lone November tour win was over Italy. Other than the Irish win, there was nothing to boast about.

The Wallabies are probably fortunate they have only have Wales, Georgia, Fiji and Uruguay in their pool for next year's World Cup, because in any other, they would risk missing out on the quarter-finals.

Saying that, you couldn’t rule out Fiji or Georgia pulling off a massive upset.

RW: Serena Williams' meltdown at the US Open 

What did poor Naomi Osaka do to deserve this?

The young Japanese comprehensively outplayed Serena Williams in the Flushing Meadows final and the veteran American wasn't having it, lashing out at umpire Carlos Ramos, when he - quite rightly - docked her a game after several violations.

She was already losing, it was late in the match and her behaviour completely robbed Osaka, who was about to win her maiden Grand Slam, of her moment. 

Serena Williams holding a sign © Provided by MediaWorks NZ Limited

Then the US great blamed sexism! When Ramos had also pinged, for the same sorts of offence, oh, you know, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray... 

I'll be cheering for anyone else against Williams after that one.

LR: Sandpaper-gate rocks Aussie cricket 

The powerhouse of world cricket stooped to an all-time low, when Cameron Bancroft, with encouragement from captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner, was caught using a piece of what looked like sandpaper to rough a side of the ball during the third test against South Africa in Cape Town.

Following the day's play, the offending substance was found to be a piece of adhesive tape. Bancroft was given a nine-month ban for executing the plan.

Warner and Smith were handed a 12-month ban, and weren't able to play any first-class cricket - at international or provincial level - in Australia for a year. They were able to play for their clubs.

a man wearing a uniform © Provided by MediaWorks NZ Limited

Smith fronted the media in an emotional press conference that found little sympathy from rivals that suffered the Aussies' ultra-competitive approach to the game for years.

HR: WADA lifting Russia’s drug suspension 

The World Anti-Doping Agency’s controversial decision to reinstate the Russian Anti-Doping Agency was met with outrage around the world - and for good reason.

One of the lawyers for whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov described the move as "the greatest treachery against clean athletes in Olympic history".

a man standing in front of a screen © Provided by MediaWorks NZ Limited

Despite refusing to acknowledge their state-sponsored doping programme, which - according to the McLaren report - benefitted more than one thousand athletes, the former Soviet state is now allowed to test its own athletes again and issue Therapeutic Use Exemptions.

With the incredible money and prestige at stake in sport, the idea of the 'level-playing field' is becoming more and more of a myth.

WADA’s backdown against Russia showed its diminishing power in the face of political pressure and isn’t a good sign for the future of clean sport.


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