The year 2022 is one that will long live in the memory of the world’s sports aficionados.
It was a year in which legends bid farewell and new stars emerged, of story-book endings and of poignant displays of respect between rivals. It was also one of glorious triumphs, of bitter disappointments and of career-defining achievements.
For raw emotion, there are few, if any, sporting moments in recent history that could surpass the farewell match of tennis great Roger Federer in September.
The Swiss maestro’s trophy-laden career ended with defeat as he and long-time rival Rafael Nadal lost to Jack Sock and Frances Tiafoe in their Laver Cup doubles tie at London’s O2 Arena.
The 41-year-old Swiss, who had not played for more than a year because of a knee injury, thrilled the sell-out crowd with moments of brilliance alongside Nadal before Tiafoe and Sock ruined the script.
After the match, tears flowed as Federer thanked his wife, Mirka, for her unyielding support over more than two decades.
“She could have stopped me a long, long time ago but she didn’t. She kept me going and allowed me to play, so it’s amazing. Thank you,” he said.
Nadal also dedicated heartfelt words to the 20-time Grand Slam champion, a gesture that showed how friendship and respect can transcend sport.
“An important part of my life is leaving too because of all the moments he has been next to me or in front of me in important moments of my life,” the Spaniard said. “It has been emotional to see his family, to see all the people. It’s difficult to describe.”
While Federer said goodbye, Spanish teenager Carlos Alcarez showed that the future of tennis remains bright as he earned his first Grand Slam title by overcoming Norway’s Casper Ruud 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-3 in the US Open final.
Arguably the most touching display of sportsmanship came at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
Xu Mengtao won China’s first-ever Olympic women’s aerial skiing title by beating Hanna Huskova of Belarus and United States pair Megan Nick and Ashley Caldwell for the gold medal.
It was the culmination of years of dedication for 31-year-old Xu, already a six-time world championship medalist and five-time World Cup crystal globe winner.
But the event’s truly memorable moment came after the medal was decided. Caldwell, who led after the first round of the final before botching the landing of her last jump, rushed across to hug and congratulate her rival.
“I respect her so much and I hope that our friendship inspires great sportsmanship among other competitors around the world at every level of competition,” Caldwell said afterwards.
Golf also threw up its share of entertaining battles. In April, Scottie Scheffler secured his first major title when he won the US Masters with an overall tournament score of 10 under par.
But he had to withstand a stunning late charge from Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy, who finished second after a superb 64 to match the lowest final round ever recorded at Augusta National.
It was a year of tragedy and triumph in international cricket. In March, legendary Australian leg-spinner Shane Warne died suddenly of a suspected heart attack at the age of 52 while on holiday in Thailand.
In November, England became the first team to simultaneously hold the T20 and One Day International titles when they beat Pakistan by five wickets in the final at the MCG.
For fairytale endings, surely nothing can eclipse this month’s FIFA World Cup final between France and Argentina in Qatar.
Argentina captain Lionel Messi had said before the tournament that this would be his last shot at World Cup glory; the trophy that he has so desperately craved over an international career spanning more than 16 years.
He looked set to fulfill his dream when Argentina raced to a 2-0 lead after 36 minutes in Lusail, courtesy of goals from Messi and Angel Di Maria.
But a late brace from Kylian Mbappe saw Les Bleus draw level as a wearying Argentina were in danger of being overrun. Messi restored Argentina’s lead in extra-time before Mbappe equalized again from the penalty spot to force the match into penalties.
Messi converted his spot-kick and Aurelien Tchouameni and Kingsley Coman missed theirs as Argentina secured their first World Cup title in 36 years.
“I dreamed of it so much that it still hasn’t hit me, I can’t believe it,” Messi said in a social media post after the game. “Thank you so much to my family, to all who support me and also to all who believed in us.”
Messi was named player of the tournament with seven goals and three assists, emulating the exploits of his boyhood idol Diego Maradona in 1986.
Apart from being the best World Cup of his career, Qatar 2022 guaranteed Messi’s place in football’s pantheon alongside Maradona and Brazil icon Pele. ■