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Sportspersons who shaped the decade

Last updated on: December 31, 2009 09:28 IST

Tendulkar and IPL left the world spell-bound

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As the decade draws to a close, a look at some memorable, defining moments and those who stamped their mark in sport.

Cricket

Player of the decade:

By the end of the decade, Sachin Tendulkar had scored a scarcely credible 88 international centuries (43 in tests and 45 in ODIs) and was still going strong after 20 years at the top.

Beautifully balanced, with a complete range of shots, the 36-year-old Indian succeeded in all conditions against all opposition. He reserved some of his finest performances for Australia, consistently the world's strongest side for the past 15 years.

Defining moment:

On February 20, 2008, eight Indian city-based franchises bid a total of $20 million for players to take part in the new Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 competition. Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni attracted the highest bid, emerging richer by $1.5 million before a ball had been bowled.

Cricket compressed into three hours has since become immensely popular with players and spectators alike. The pressing problem now for the game's authorities, who neither organise nor control the IPL, is the precipitous decline in attendances for five-day Tests outside grounds in England and Australia.

Match of the decade:

England travelled to the Oval in September 2005, needing a draw to seize the Ashes back from Australia after 16 fruitless years in a series unanimously acclaimed as the greatest ever.

Shane Warne threatened to win the match single-handed for Australia with the sheer power of his personality before a century of breathtaking audacity by Kevin Pietersen saved the day for the home side.


Image: Sachin Tendulkar
Photographs: Reuters
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Roller-coaster ten years for Ronaldinho

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Football

Player of the decade:

After a roller-coaster decade for Ronaldo de Assis Moreira of Brazil, Ronaldinho, as he is better known, emerged the best player of the first 10 years of the 21st century.

One of a handful of players to win both the World Cup (Brazil 2002) and the Champions League (Barcelona 2006) during the decade, he was FIFA's World Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005, European Footballer of the Year in 2005 and at his peak was almost unplayable, continually creating and scoring outstanding goals for club and country.

Defining moment:

FIFA's 2004 decision to award the 2010 World Cup finals to South Africa was not only a momentous one for soccer but also marked a huge turning point in the painful, troubled history of South Africa itself.

Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years under the apartheid regime before becoming the new "rainbow nation's" president, held the World Cup aloft in Zurich after FIFA president Sepp Blatter made the announcement. FIFA's decision to put their faith in Africa to host the finals looks like it will be repaid when they take place next June and July, although some sceptics remain unconvinced.

Match of the decade:

Thousands of dramatic matches were played throughout the decade but none matched that which unfolded on May 25, 2005, in Istanbul when Liverpool and AC Milan met to decide the 50th winners of the European Cup. It was the final of two halves played in the city that spans two continents and a match that began late on one day and finished in the early hours of the next.

Milan established a 3-0 lead at halftime and seemingly had the game won before Liverpool came back with three goals in six minutes early in the second half to force a 3-3 draw after extra time and then win 3-2 on penalties.


Image: Ronaldinho

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Super Schumi set track on fire

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Motor racing

Driver of the decade

With his astonishing seven Formula One championships, Michael Schumacher could be the driver of the century as much as the decade. He is poised to increase his tally still further after coming out of retirement in December 2009 to drive for Mercedes.

The German does have his rivals for the accolade, however. France's Sebastien Loeb has won six world rally championships in a row while in America Jimmie Johnson has racked up an unprecedented four successive NASCAR titles. And that's not counting the irrepressible showman Valentino Rossi in MotoGP.

Defining moment:

On September 13, 2007, then-International Automobile Federation (FIA) president Max Mosley assured reporters that justice had been done after McLaren were fined a record $100 million for a spying controversy involving leaked Ferrari data.

That fine, and the fact that McLaren could pay it without going out of business, was the high water mark of an era of massive and rampant spending by the major players in Formula One and heralded major changes in attitudes. Just over a year later, Honda kicked off a manufacturer exodus. When Renault were caught in a race-fixing scandal this season there was no question of such a fine. Nobody could take that kind of a hit now.

Race of the decade:

The day that Formula One commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone's dream came true with 23-year-old Lewis Hamilton, the sport's youngest and first black champion, taking the 2008 title with an overtaking manoeuvre on the last corner of the last lap of the last race in Sao Paulo.

The Briton had missed out on the crown by a single point the previous year, his rookie season, and was again seconds from failure at Interlagos before he swept past Toyota's Timo Glock for the crucial fifth place that dashed the hopes of Ferrari's Brazilian race winner Felipe Massa.


Image: Michael Schumacher

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Bolt struck viewers with lightning speed

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Athletics

Athlete of the decade:

If ever a sport needed a new hero it was athletics in the opening years of the 21st century and, in the most spectacular surroundings possible, Usain Bolt came roaring to the rescue. At the Beijing Olympics the Jamaican danced across the finish line to take 100 metres gold in world-record time and days later showed steely determination to win the 200 and beat Michael Johnson's "untouchable" 1996 mark. He added gold in the 4x400m relay, with a third world record.

A year later Bolt, still smiling, scooped all three golds again in the world championships with crushing world records in the 100 and 200m.

Defining moment:

Marion Jones was the golden girl and smiling face of the 2000 Olympics but instead came to represent all that was rotten in the sport when she was sentenced to six months in jail on January 11, 2008, for lying about using performance-enhancing drugs.

Jones won the 100m and 200m and ran an astonishing third leg to help the United States win the 4x400m relay in Sydney, as well as taking two bronzes, but, with former partners including convicted dopers CJ Hunter and Tim Montgomery, it was with disappointment but little surprise that the athletics world greeted the news that she too had cheated her way to glory.

Race of the decade:

Virtually any of Bolt's championship performances could take this accolade but for sheer dizzying quality his 2009 world championship 100 metres victory in a eye-popping 9.58 seconds is difficult to surpass.

Tyson Gay ran 9.71, a time bettered only by Bolt's Beijing world record, but the American was a distant second as Bolt's astonishing time launched a thousand "how fast can man go?" features.


Image: Usain Bolt

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Terrific Tiger

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Golf

Player of the decade:

Until his fall from grace late in 2009, Tiger Woods, had towered over his closest rivals since the dawn of the new millennium. The American World No 1, who structured his playing schedule around the biggest events, had piled up 12 majors since the end of 1999, a staggering nine more than anyone else during that time.

Renowned for his unblinkered focus and ability to almost will the ball into the hole, Woods triumphed 56 times on the PGA during the 2000s (Vijay Singh is next best on 26) while racking up tournament earnings of $76,349,910. Woods also won a remarkable 14 of the 29 World Golf Championships titles since 1999. However, a sex scandal led to him announcing, in December 2009, that he was taking an indefinite break from golf.

Defining moment:

Woods, at the age of 25, coolly sank a 15-foot birdie putt on the 18th green at Augusta National on April 8, 2001, to win his second Masters crown and put his name into the record books as the only player to hold all four of golf's major titles at the same time.

With a closing four-under-par 68, Woods outduelled fellow Americans David Duval and Phil Mickelson in a dramatic final-round shootout to add the prized Green Jacket to the US Open, British Open and PGA Championship titles already collected. After pumping his fist in celebration, he then pulled his cap over his face to hide tears of joy and relief, well aware he had achieved one of sport's rare moments.

Event of the decade:

The extraordinary playoff victory by Woods at the 2008 U.S. Open, where he defied intense pain in his left knee and a double stress fracture in his shinbone to beat Rocco Mediate at the 19th extra hole, ranks as one of the greatest golf triumphs of all time. Ignoring medical advice to rest, Woods arrived at Torrey Pines in resolute mood to claim his 14th major title.

He duly did so by repeatedly pulling off breathtaking shots and sinking clutch putts, ramming in a 15-foot birdie putt at the 72nd hole to take the tournament into a playoff after consistently playing down the level of pain he had experienced throughout the week. Woods revealed the full extent of his discomfort two days after winning the playoff, an achievement described by Arnold Palmer as remarkable and by fellow golfing great Jack Nicklaus as phenomenal.


Image: Tiger Woods

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Phenomenal Phelps

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Swimming

Swimmer of the decade:

Michael Phelps not only proved himself the swimmer of the decade but also claimed the title of the greatest of all time. He won an unprecedented eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, giving him a record total of 14 after his six golds from Athens four years earlier.

The American also collected 22 gold medals at five world championships from 2001 to 2009 and set world records in five different individual events -- 200 metres freestyle, 100m butterfly, 200m butterfly, 200m individual medley and 400m individual medley.

Defining moment:

Phelps's hopes of winning eight gold medals in Beijing were sinking fast when he trailed Serbia's Milorad Cavic by almost half a body length nearing the end of the 100 metres butterfly final. But the American took a calculated gamble on his penultimate stroke, rolling his enormous shoulders over once more with a short, sharp lunge that enabled him to get his fingertips on the wall first by one-hundredth of a second, the smallest possible margin in swimming. That victory gave him his seventh gold medal, equalling the record Mark Spitz set at Munich in 1972, and a day later he scooped up his eighth in the medley relay to set a new landmark.

Race of the decade:

It might have been prematurely billed as the "race of the century" but the men's 200 metres freestyle final at the 2004 Athens Olympics really did live up to all the hype and expectation. It was the only time the three best male swimmers of the decade, Michael Phelps, Ian Thorpe and Pieter van den Hoogenband, lined up on the blocks against each other and the trio provided an enthralling exhibition to match the occasion, leaving other rivals for dead as they fought out the finish. Thorpe won the gold with van den Hoogenband second and Phelps third with less than half a second separating them when they touched the wall.


Image: Michael Phelps

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Federer first

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Tennis

Player of the decade:

Since winning Wimbledon in 2003 Switzerland's Roger Federer has spent the rest of the decade ripping up the record books, winning a further 14 Grand Slam titles to surpass the total of Pete Sampras who dominated the 1990s.

Federer has taken men's tennis to astonishing heights with his effortless racket skills, silky movement and steely determination making him the benchmark for the rest to aspire to. In 2009 he reached every grand slam final and won the French

Open for the first time to erase any doubts about his greatness.

Defining moment:

In the Wimbledon fourth round, 2001, a 19-year-old Federer defeats Wimbledon king Sampras, champion for the previous four years, in five gripping sets to mark himself down as the man to take the baton from the American.

Although it took Federer two more years to click all the pieces of his game together and win his first grand slam title, nobody who watched him in action that day had any doubt that the outrageously gifted Swiss would rise to the top of the sport although few could have predicted the heights he has scaled.

Match of the decade:

Sport needs great rivalries and the epic 2008 Wimbledon final between five-times winner and defending champion Federer and Spain's Rafael Nadal encapsulated the flair, passion and athleticism the two players have brought to the game.

Nadal, who had looked like crushing Federer in straight sets, finally prevailed in near darkness after four hours 48 minutes of intense combat, punctuated by rain breaks and dazzling brilliance from two players at the peak of their powers. Nadal's victory prevented Federer becoming the first man since the 1880s to win six consecutive Wimbledon singles titles


Image: Roger Federer

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