Crowds came flocking back in force, we had the full complement of golf majors and tennis grand slams, and sport almost ran smoothly over the past 12 months.

To boot, there were sensational moments, featuring both the biggest names in sport and some that few had heard of at this time last year.

Here, Stats Perform looks back at some of the biggest stories of the year, and the numbers that made them so remarkable.

Jacobs, the shock Tokyo Olympics sprint king

Entering 2021, Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs had a career-best of 10.03 seconds for the 100 metres. By most standards that is staggeringly quick, but at the very elite level of sprinting it ranks as only middling. To put it into some context, 34 men ran quicker than 10.03 seconds in 2021. Jacobs finished only 19th at the 2019 World Championship and few outside of athletics circles knew the name. The former long-jumper grabbed a little attention when he produced a world-leading 6.47 seconds to win the 60 metres at the European Indoor Championships in March, then he ran 9.95 for the 100m in Savona in May, but he still headed to the Tokyo Olympics as a big outsider, not expected to be a factor. Jacobs made a mockery of his lowly billing, as he powered to personal bests in the heats and semi-finals before doing so again in the final, dashing home first in 9.80 seconds to grab gold and leaving rivals gasping in astonishment. He led Italy to sprint relay gold too, a glorious double in that country's remarkable year of success.

Emma Raducan-who? From A level exams to US Open top marks

Twelve months ago – no, make that barely six – London-based Raducanu was simply not a factor in grand slam discussions. Fresh out of school, she had to fight to earn a wildcard for Wimbledon when organisers initially baulked at the idea, but they were persuaded and Raducanu went on to reach the fourth round. The teenager who was born in Canada and has a Romanian father and Chinese mother had arrived, but it was at the US Open that she roared into the history books. There was no wildcard in New York for the British youngster, but Raducanu won three qualifying matches and then raced through the main draw, defeating 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez in the title match. She did not drop a set in 10 matches and became the first women in the Open era to win 10 main-draw matches in her first two grand slams. It made her the first qualifier to win a slam and the first US Open women's singles winner since Serena Williams in 2014 to triumph at the tournament without dropping a set along the way. The $2.5million in prize money was followed by endorsement offers from across the world as Raducanu became an instant superstar. The tennis world waits to see what comes next.

No country for old men as US win Ryder Cup

The youngest Ryder Cup team ever assembled by the United States torched European hopes at Whistling Straits in September, scoring a 19-9 victory. That was the widest margin of victory by either side since Europe, rather than Great Britain and Ireland, became the USA's opposition in 1979. Dustin Johnson bounced back from losing four of his five matches in the 2018 edition to finish with a 5-0 record, just the third player in US v Europe battles to finish with a perfect record (after Larry Nelson in 1979 and Francesco Molinari in 2018). Johnson, at 37, was the oldest player on the team. European veteran Lee Westwood matched Nick Faldo's record of 11 appearances in the match, while Sergio Garcia stretched his points record from 25.5 to 28.5 as he and Jon Rahm combined well, but it was emphatically an event that belonged to the host Americans.

Veteran Mickelson still had his day 

He might have been absent for the US team's Ryder Cup triumph, but Phil Mickelson's name was up in lights again as he became the oldest winner of a men's golf major, landing the US PGA Championship title in May. At the age of 50, Mickelson caused a huge upset at Kiawah Island, scooping his sixth career major when he held off Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen on the final day. It was his only top-10 finish of the year on the PGA Tour.

Federer bagelled, Djokovic denied Golden Slam

Strange things happened in men's tennis in 2021, not least the sight of Roger Federer suffering a 6-0 'bagel' at the end of a straight-sets Wimbledon quarter-final defeat. That happened against Hubert Hurkacz in July, and it was the last match Federer played in the year. He wants to play again, and the 40-year-old believes he can, but knee surgery will keep him out of action until mid-2022 at the earliest, by his own reckoning, and that Centre Court defeat to Hurkacz could turn out to be how his eight-title Wimbledon career ends. Novak Djokovic joined Federer and Nadal on a joint-record 20 grand slam titles by cleaning up at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, and he has now spent a record 353 weeks at number one, passing Federer this year. But Djokovic could not make it a Golden Slam, losing to eventual champion Alexander Zverev in the Olympic Games semi-finals, and a Grand Slam was just beyond him too, Daniil Medvedev winning his first major when he swept the Serbian in straight sets in the US Open final.

Another year, more records for Brady

At the age of 43, Tom Brady was MVP in the Super Bowl as he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in February. He now has seven Super Bowl wins behind him, another outright record, and has been MVP in the game on an unmatched five occasions. Brady, having turned 44 in August, is in the hunt for another Super Bowl ring and perhaps outright NFL MVP honours this season, although Aaron Rodgers will likely deny him the latter accolade. Still, the records keep coming for Brady. He has moved in front of Drew Brees to have the most pass completions in league history (7,200 and counting), become the first ever 15-time Pro Bowler, and in December became the first quarterback to throw 700 career touchdowns.

England's Ashes surrender calls for Root and branch review

Joe Root became the first England captain – or player, indeed – to suffer nine defeats in Tests starting in a single calendar year, in a strange 12 months for the Yorkshireman. His form with the bat has been up there with the best of his career, the 31-year-old scoring 1,708 Test runs to go third on the all-time single-year list, with only Mohammad Yousuf and Viv Richards ahead of him. Even in the Tests that England have lost, Root has made a number of handy contributions with the bat, scoring 648 runs at an average of 38.11. Overall he has scored 26 per cent of England's Test runs across the year, the highest proportion of any player for their respective team in 2021. Yet the Ashes were lost by lunch on day three of the third Test, an outrageously dismal result. Root top-scored in England's two innings in Melbourne, typically, but he cannot get a tune out of many of his team-mates, so ends the year with his future as skipper in doubt.

Curry still hot as NBA records fall

In January, LaMelo Ball became the youngest player to post a triple-double in the NBA, as the 19-year-old Charlotte Hornets prospect grabbed 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over the Atlanta Hawks. Come December, the Memphis Grizzlies set two records in the same game, scoring a franchise-high number of points and winning by the biggest margin in NBA history, as they handed out a 152-79 thrashing to the Oklahoma City Thunder. December was also the month when Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors set a new three-pointer record, becoming the first man to make 3,000 threes in a career after going past Ray Allen's previous NBA record of 2,973.

Rafael Nadal conceded that Novak Djokovic will likely end his career with the most grand slam singles titles in men's tennis history, ahead of the Spaniard and Roger Federer.

The so-called 'Big Three' of tennis have long dominated the ATP Tour, with all three sitting on 20 major titles after Djokovic collected three from a possible four in 2021.

Djokovic, who secured a year-end number one ranking for a record seventh time, would have completed a clean sweep if it were not for Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final.  

Nadal, by contrast, missed large parts of the season with a foot injury, while Federer was similarly ruled out for a substantial period after requiring a third knee operation in the space of 18 months.

Nadal could make a return for the Australian Open in January, an event that the world number one may miss due to a vaccine mandate, but he still expects Djokovic to hold the record for major titles when the trio has retired.

"Djokovic is best positioned to be the [men's] player with the most grand slams," Nadal said to Movistar.

"You don't have to fool yourself – Federer is where he is and I am where I am. However, Djokovic is playing well and in a good moment.

"That is the reality, and you can't ignore it. We don't know what is going to happen in nine months' time, but he is the favourite right now."

Nadal triumphed at Roland Garros in 2020 but has only appeared at two majors since, while Federer – who hopes to return to tour-level action in 2022 – last collected a grand slam title at the Australian Open in 2018.

Nadal is glad that the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Medvedev, who only dropped one set across the entire tournament as he denied Djokovic the perfect year, are taking over.

"They are no longer the Next Gen, we do not have to make it eternal," Nadal said of the new 'Big Three' in tennis.

"Players like Medvedev, Zverev or Tsitsipas have already passed that stage of the Next Gen, they are the current generation, the present."

Several newcomers including Justin Greaves, Gudakesh Motie and Odean Smith have been called to the West Indies squads that will play three One Day Internationals and three T20 Internationals in Pakistan from December 13-22 at the National Stadium in Karachi, Cricket West Indies announced today.

Meanwhile, Jason Holder is being rested for this tour due to workload management and Fabian Allen and Obed McCoy are unavailable due to injury and rehabilitation. Evin Lewis, Shimron Hetmyer, Andre Russell and Lendl Simmons are all unavailable due to personal reasons, CWI said.

Greaves, Motie and Smith have been called up for the ODIs along with middle-order batsman Shamarh Brooks.

Smith and Motie are also selected in the T20I squad for the first time, along with left-arm fast-bowling all-rounder Dominic Drakes. Motie was a travelling reserve for the recent ICC T20 World Cup, while Drakes and Smith were net bowlers before the start of the tournament

“There are a number of talented newcomers in each format that will have the opportunity to show what they are capable of at the international level,” said Chief Selector Roger Harper.

“Justin Greaves is a very talented player, had a good CG Insurance Super50 tournament and performed well in the President’s XI match against Ireland in 2020. Odean Smith really grabbed our attention in the last CPL. His pace was never in question, however, he has added greater control and has displayed the ability to be a wicket-taker.”

Brooks gets called after his performances in the last Super 50 Cup.

“Shamarh Brooks batted well in the CG Insurance Super50 Cup and followed that up with good performances in the CPL,” Harper explained.

“He will lend greater depth to the batting line-up. Gudakesh Motie has been rewarded for his outstanding performance in the CG Insurance Super50, followed up by his showing in the CPL. Dominic Drakes has the potential to be an outstanding all-rounder as he displayed during the last CPL.

 “The ODIs in Pakistan are part of the ICC ODI Super League where points gained work towards qualification for the ICC World Cup 2023. So these ODI’s are very important to us and are being treated as such.”

The ODI Series will be West Indies fourth series of 12 in the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup Super League in which the top seven teams can secure automatic qualification for the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023 in India. West Indies currently lie in eighth position out of 13 teams and have the opportunity to move above Pakistan into seventh position.

The full squads are as follows:

One-Day Internationals: Kieron Pollard (Captain), Shai Hope (Vice-Captain), Darren Bravo, Shamarh Brooks, Roston Chase, Justin Greaves, Akeal Hosein, Alzarri Joseph, Gudakesh Motie, Anderson Phillip, Nicholas Pooran, Raymon Reifer, Romario Shepherd, Odean Smith and Hayden Walsh Jr.

 T20 Internationals: Kieron Pollard (Captain), Nicholas Pooran (Vice-Captain), Darren Bravo, Roston Chase, Sheldon Cottrell, Dominic Drakes, Shai Hope, Akeal Hosein, Brandon King, Kyle Mayers, Gudakesh Motie, Romario Shepherd, Odean Smith, Oshane Thomas and Hayden Walsh Jr.

TOUR SCHEDULE
December 13 – 1st T20I, Karachi
December 14 – 2nd T20I, Karachi
December 16 – 3rd T20I, Karachi
December 18 – 1st ODI, Karachi
December 20 – 2nd ODI, Karachi
December 22 – 3rd ODI, Karachi

 

Roger Federer has confirmed he will not participate at the Australian Open and said he would be "extremely surprised" if he is fit enough to play at Wimbledon.

The 20-time grand slam winner has played just 13 matches in 2021 as he recovers from a third knee surgery in the space of 18 months, with Federer's last appearance a disappointing straight-sets loss to Hubert Hurkacz in the quarter-finals at SW19 in July.

The Swiss great has now officially confirmed he will not be at Melbourne Park for the first grand slam of 2022, while it remains touch-and-go whether Federer will be back at Wimbledon this year.

"At the moment, I expect to be able to return in the summer of 2022," he told Tribune de Geneve having confirmed playing in Australia is out of the question. 

"The next four or five months are crucial. In the spring, I will already see things much more clearly. The truth is that I would be incredibly surprised if I were to play again at Wimbledon [in 2022]."

"When you get right down to it, it doesn't make much difference whether I return in 2022 or not until 2023, at 40 or 41. It doesn't matter. The question is rather will I manage to torture myself again day after day for my comeback?

"My heart says 'yes' today. So, I'm taking things step by step. I have experienced similar challenges many times in my career sometimes without the public being aware of it. Even though I know that the end is near, I want to try to play some big matches again. It won't be easy but I will try."

 

Now aged 40, Federer's latest injury setback led to suggestions he could call time on his glittering career, though his coach Ivan Ljubicic this week said he was not contemplating such a decision.

Federer accepts he may never play in a grand slam final again and is at peace with that fact, but still "believes in these miracles" as he aims to once again compete among the elite level.

"If I do my rehabilitation intensively, there is a chance that I will get back to a high level," he added. 

"If I do strength training, go on the bike, swim, do balance exercises, work on my upper body, then I believe in it.

"Will I return to the Tour for a smaller round or for something bigger? Nobody knows, neither the doctors nor me. But I'm fighting for it. To be clear, my world will not collapse if I never play another grand slam final.

"But it is my ultimate dream to return once again. And in fact, I still believe in it. I believe in these kinds of miracles. I have already experienced them. 

"Sports history sometimes writes such miracles. I am realistic – it would be a great miracle but there are miracles in sport."

Roger Federer is unlikely to compete at next year's Australian Open, but the 20-time grand slam champion is not yet thinking of retirement, so says coach Ivan Ljubicic.

Federer has endured an injury-hit two seasons. After reaching the semi-finals at the 2020 Australian Open, the Swiss star underwent knee surgery, with a complication in his recovery leading him to take the rest of the year off.

That prolonged rehabilitation, plus the strict COVID-19 regulations in Australia, meant he did not compete in Melbourne earlier this year, but Federer returned to the ATP Tour in Qatar in March.

He went on to reach the last 16 of the French Open, losing to Matteo Berrettini, and the quarter-finals at Wimbledon, where he went out to Hubert Hurkacz.

However, he has not featured since then after undergoing surgery for another knee problem sustained on the grass-court circuit.

With Australia's tight coronavirus restrictions still in place, it is unclear whether Novak Djokovic, who has tied level with Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 major wins, will compete in Melbourne early in 2022.

Nadal, too, has not yet confirmed his participation, and with Ljubicic suggesting Federer will not be fit in time, all three greats could be missing from next year's first grand slam.

"I think there are very few chances, he is still recovering and knowing him he wants to be sure he can play to win the tournament and be at 100 per cent," Ljubicic said.

"So I think Australian Open is not a real possibility right now. But he will go step by step because he is 40 years old and he needs to be patient. He cannot recover as quickly as he used to."

 

Despite doubts over his participation in Australia, and the time he has spent away from the court in the past two years, Federer is not considering retirement just yet.

"We have spoken and I can guarantee he wants to return playing tennis," Ljubicic added. "When he will decide to stop, he will retire, but I don't think it's going to happen all of a sudden."

Ljubicic is only two years Federer's senior and, as a player, reached a high of world number three back in 2006. He has coached Federer since 2016, helping him to three grand slam titles.

"Many times I found myself wondering what am I doing here? But in the end I hope and I think I was able to help him in those few moments he needed in the right way at the right time," Ljubicic said.

"There's always a risk when you meet your idol in person, as you may discover something you don't like, but with him, it is not the case. With him, there are no risks, he really is an extraordinary person. 

"I have been lucky enough to live beside him in the past six years and I enjoyed it very much. I really have fun with him. Is it difficult? No, it's just beautiful. When we discuss tennis, I ask myself: why he is paying me?"

Daniil Medvedev says it is "logical" that the age of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic has made it easier to play against the 'Big Three' of men's tennis.

For so long, that triumvirate has dominated the ATP Tour, with Djokovic winning three of the four grand slams on offer in 2021 – denied only a clean sweep by Medvedev at the US Open.

Nadal has struggled with a foot injury for most of the year, though, a problem that saw him miss out on Wimbledon, the Tokyo Olympics and Flushing Meadows after losing to Djokovic in the French Open semi-finals.

Federer, similarly, has missed large parts of the 2021 term after requiring a third operation on his right knee in the space of 18 months.

Medvedev accepted Djokovic had proven "he can beat everyone" in another sensational season, but – while heaping praise on a golden generation of tennis – the Russian said it is natural that time has caught up with all three.

"It would be silly to deny it…[it's] logical," he told reporters about the prospect of younger players replacing the greats at the top of the men's game.

"It is something natural. It is not something that I decide. It is evidence. They get old and now it is easier to play against them."

Medvedev only dropped one set across the entire tournament en route to securing a maiden slam at the US Open.

However, Medvedev was reticent to say the shift in power has taken place.

"I do not dare to speak of a generational change in tennis," Medvedev said.

"It is the best generation in the history of tennis.

"Nobody can come close to the results they have achieved.

"We all want to defeat that troika. And they don't want to lose either."

 

Medvedev then focused on his own progress, having pulled out of the Kremlin Cup citing injury problems from an early exit in Indian Wells.

"I want to win more Grand Slams," he continued. "I also want to be number one and be at the top of tennis for many years. But you can't win every tournament, it's impossible."

Novak Djokovic may have missed out on completing a Grand Slam in 2021 but his "crazy" achievements across the year have received praise from Roger Federer. 

Djokovic fell at the final hurdle in his bid to secure a clean sweep of the majors, losing in straight sets to Daniil Medvedev at the US Open.

The Serbian's defeat at Flushing Meadows means Rod Laver remains the last man to claim all four majors in one year, the Australian doing so for a second time in 1969 having previously managed the feat seven years earlier. 

Neither Federer, who missed out on playing in New York due to knee surgery, nor Rafael Nadal have done so in their stellar careers, though the Swiss is certain a calendar slam is still possible.

"Will it actually happen again, that a player will win all four grand slams in their career? I think so," Federer said.

"We have seen with Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and of course with me as well that this is possible.  

"It is extremely hard, of course. But I have the feeling, more than ever, that we can dominate on all kinds of ground where we have all found our own game.  

"The problem is mentally and physically it is not getting any easier for any of us. So, what Novak was able to accomplish this year has to be highly rated. It was absolute top class. It was crazy." 

Federer confirmed he would be out for "many months" when revealing he would require a third procedure on his problematic right knee in the space of 18 months.

However, the 40-year-old – who sits tied with long-time rivals Djokovic and Nadal on 20 grand slam singles titles – has suffered no setbacks in his recovery so far, putting him on course for a competitive return to the ATP Tour in the 2022 season.

"I'm feeling actually really good, considering, you know, that things are not as I hoped they would be, but I'm recovering well and the rehab is going really good, I must say," Federer said. 

"I've had no setbacks. You know, every day is a better day. I'm feeling strong and excited for what's to come."

Federer has not played since losing in straight sets to Hubert Hurkacz in the Wimbledon quarter-finals back in July.

Novak Djokovic welcomed the ongoing 'GOAT' discussion alongside Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer after the world number one took another step towards an historic grand slam title at the US Open.

Djokovic, Nadal and Federer share the most men's slams in history with 20 but the former has the chance to break the record at Flushing Meadows, where the top seed dismantled unheralded Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor 6-2 6-3 6-2 in the second round on Thursday.

Serb star Djokovic is also bidding to become just the third man to complete a calendar Grand Slam and the first to sweep all four majors in a year since Rod Laver in 1969.

It is widely debated who is the greatest player of all time among Djokovic, Nadal and Federer – the latter two are both absent from this year's US Open due to injury.

After reaching the third round in New York, Djokovic was asked who the better player on a neutral surface is, given Nadal's clay-court dominance and Federer's grass-court expertise.

"It's difficult to say who is better. Three of us, we're all so different. We have different styles," Djokovic said during his post-match news conference.

"We have different trajectories or journeys to where we are at this moment. We all had tremendous success, some more particularly on one surface, some the other surface.

"We do complement each other. I think the rivalry between the big three, so to say, it's phenomenal for our sport.

"So the more traction, the more conversation there is around the three of us, the GOAT discussion, et cetera, the better in general for our sport. I hope people still keep on talking about it."

Djokovic added: "I think actually one of the best I think images that I've ever seen from tennis is them [Nadal and Federer] playing on a half-grass, half-clay court.

"I thought that was fantastic. Whoever came up with the idea was genius. As a tennis fan, I enjoyed that very much."

Djokovic hit 33 winners, fired down 13 aces and broke six times throughout a dominant performance against Griekspoor under the Arthur Ashe Stadium lights.

The 34-year-old also improved to 53-1 against non-top 100 opponents at majors, while he is now 13-0 against them at the US Open.

Kei Nishikori awaits Djokovic, who owns a 17-2 head-to-head record against the 2014 US Open runner-up.

"We played many times. I have very good score against him," Djokovic said of Nishikori. "I lost I think last time here in New York in semis in 2014. Historically I think his most successful grand slam is here. He's one of the quickest and most-talented players that I've seen in my lifetime, in my career.

"I think it's important for me to serve well and try to take off the pace a little bit because he likes the pace. He likes to hit the ball early, protect the line. But I know his game well. We played in Olympic Games. I know what's expecting me. I look forward to a good challenge."

Novak Djokovic has history in his sights as he begins his US Open quest; after three grand slam titles in 2021, a fourth beckons at Flushing Meadows.

Rod Laver was the last man to achieve a sweep of the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open singles in the same year, all the way back in 1969.

Steffi Graf won all four on the women's side in 1988, and it seemed a knock-in that Serena Williams would do likewise in 2015 when she headed to the US Open with three majors already bagged.

But winning any title at that level is never easy, and Williams famously came unstuck when she faced Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals.

Djokovic will be mindful that what seems an inevitability to the outside world remains very much still only a possibility. After his US Open tribulations last year, and a recent jolt at the Olympics, he will know anything can happen.

Here, Stats Perform looks at how Djokovic's situation at Flushing Meadows carries most of the hallmarks of Serena's own position as she headed into the tournament six years ago.

 

IT'S ALL ABOUT THE SLAMS

It was not always this way, but Djokovic has reached the point in his career when he can choose targets, decide which records he wants to break, and throw everything at those goals.

At the start of the year in Australia, he savoured triumphing at Melbourne Park for a ninth time and pointed to how Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Williams and Margaret Court had achieved so much.

"They've made history already," Djokovic said. "They made a tremendous mark in our sport. I'm trying to build that and develop that myself in a very unique, authentic way that is suitable to me.

"Whether I think about winning more slams and breaking records, of course. Of course, I do. And most of my attention and my energy from this day forward, until I retire from tennis, is going to be directed in majors, trying to win more major trophies."

It had very clear echoes of Williams in 2015, also in Australia, setting out her own ambitions for the year and specifically targeting the French Open and Wimbledon.

"Those are the two I really have my eye on, because I would like to do better at those. And I know I can do better," she said.

Williams set her heart and mind on that twin challenge and won both.

"I definitely am not going to play as much this year, and I'm just going to go for everything when I do play," said Williams.

 


BUILDING UP

When Williams reached New York in August 2015, she had delivered a 48-2 win-loss record for the season, landing each of the majors alongside the Miami Open and the Western and Southern Open. Petra Kvitova in Madrid and Belinda Bencic in Toronto had been the only two players to get the better of the 33-year-old Williams.

Djokovic has a 38-5 record for the year, albeit it has the feel of a more dominant year for the 34-year-old Serbian. Two of those losses came at the Olympics, in a semi-final and bronze medal match, and the other three came in his first three events on clay, losing to Dan Evans in Monte Carlo, Aslan Karatsev in Belgrade and Nadal in Rome.

When it mattered on clay, though, Djokovic majorly turned up in Paris, gutsily beating Lorenzo Musetti from two sets down in the fourth round, ending Nadal's streak of four Roland Garros titles by sinking the Spaniard in the semi-finals, and then leaving Stefanos Tsitsipas devastated in the final, with another fightback after dropping the first two sets.

Wimbledon followed, and Djokovic by then was openly targeting a Golden Slam – each major and the Olympic title.

Much like with Williams and her loss to Bencic in the Toronto semi-finals six years ago, however, Djokovic showed he was fallible as history beckoned. From a set up, he lost to Alexander Zverev at Tokyo 2020, a blow that was compounded by missing out on bronze when Pablo Carreno Busta sprang another shock.

 


HISTORY CAN BE A FIERCE OPPONENT

Williams and Djokovic have won non-calendar Grand Slams before, winning four in succession spanning two seasons.

Williams first achieved that from the French Open in 2002 to the Australian Open in 2003, and in 2015 she was aiming for five slams in a row at the US Open, having begun her dominant streak at her home grand slam the previous year.

She won the first set of the semi-final against Vinci, the world number 43, but was then second best to the Italian, with Williams saying her conqueror "played literally out of her mind".

But the disappointment was stark, underlined by Williams' terse response to the question of how disappointed she felt by the result.

"I don't want to talk about how disappointing it is for me," she said. "If you have any other questions, I'm open for that."

The four-in-a-row feat has only been performed once by Djokovic, from Wimbledon in 2015 to the French Open in 2016. Had he not been disqualified during the US Open last year for carelessly hitting a ball that struck a line judge, he would most likely currently be on a four-slam streak.

Those who win the first three slams of the year often do complete the set, but there are four instances of singles players falling one short by failing in the year's last major.

Before Williams, the most recent case was Martina Navratilova in 1984, when the imperious left-hander headed to the Australian Open – then played at the end of the year rather than the start – in pursuit of the Grand Slam. She lost to Helena Sukova in the semi-finals, and said: "If I'd have won, I'd have done it all. If I lost I had to start from scratch. Both are hard to cope with."

Navratilova had won 74 consecutive matches until that loss and ended the season with a 78-2 record.

In the men's game, Jack Crawford (1933) and Lew Hoad (1956) also fell short, both losing in finals of the US National Championships, the tournament that became the US Open. Don Budge (1938) and Laver (1962 and 1969) are the only men to have won a calendar Grand Slam in singles.

The weight of expectation is immense for Djokovic as he pursues what would be his crowning glory, not only sealing the Grand Slam but reaching 21 majors, one ahead of Nadal and Federer and into the outright lead in the men's game. The prospect cannot be ignored, and it will be a heavy burden to carry over the coming fortnight.

As Djokovic said on Friday: "I would be lying if I said that’s not something that I’m thinking about or that my attention is not going that way.

"I’m very motivated to play my best tennis. But I have to hit one ball at a time, as they say, try to be in the moment, have a guiding star in a way, a dream to win a slam here."

Rafael Nadal has curtailed his 2021 ATP Tour season due to a long-term foot injury but insists he is working towards a return.

Nadal, 35, has played only twice since losing the French Open semi-final to Novak Djokovic in May.

The Spaniard skipped Wimbledon and the Tokyo Olympics and had withdrawn from this week's Western and Southern Open before the US Open.

Nadal will not now compete in the final major of the season either, while great rival Roger Federer is also out for an extended period.

It clears a path for Novak Djokovic – the third man tied on 20 grand slam titles – to win a record-breaking 21st championship at Flushing Meadows while completing a remarkable calendar Grand Slam.

Djokovic could yet have competition again in the years to come, though, as Nadal is not yet calling time on a glittering career.

In making his latest announcement on social media on Friday, Nadal revealed he has been dealing with his injury since 2005 but has not let it halt him yet.

"Hello everyone," he wrote on his Twitter page. "I wanted to inform you that unfortunately I have to end the 2021 season.

"Honestly, I've been suffering a lot more than I should with my foot for a year and I need to take some time.

"After having discussed it with the team and family, this decision has been made and I think it is the way forward to try to recover and recover well.

"It's a year that I've missed things that matter a lot to me, like Wimbledon, like the Olympics, how the US Open is going to be now, like many other events that are also important to me.

"And in view of the fact that during this last year I have not had the ability to train and prepare and compete in the way that I really like to do it, in the end, I come to the conclusion that what I need is time to recover, change a series of things, try to understand what has been the evolution of my foot in recent times.

"It is not a new injury, it is an injury that I have had since 2005 and it has not prevented me from developing my sports career during all these years.

"If it is true that I have had a season where things are not going as they should, as we would all like, it is time to make decisions, seek a slightly different type of treatment to find a solution to this problem or at least improve it in order to continue to have options for the next few years.

"I have the maximum enthusiasm and predisposition to do whatever it takes to recover the best possible form to keep competing for the things that really motivate me and the things that I've done all these years.

"I am convinced that with the recovery of the foot, and obviously a very important daily effort, this can be achieved. I will work as hard as I can to make it happen.

"Thank you in advance for all the support, understanding and all your expressions of affection that are very important and more in difficult times like these.

"I promise you what I am going to do is work hard to try to continue enjoying this sport for a while longer. A big hug to all."

Nick Kyrgios, John Isner and Reilly Opelka have been named by Team World captain John McEnroe as his final three picks for the Laver Cup.

The trio join Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Diego Schwartzman for the team event which runs from September 24-26 at TD Garden in Boston.

Laver Cup newcomer Opelka rose to a career-high world number 23 ranking en route to his first ATP Masters 1000 final in Toronto and defeated world number three Stefanos Tsitsipas, who will play for Bjorn Borg's Team Europe.

Isner, who has featured for Team World since the inaugural event in 2017, reached the semi-finals in Toronto and claimed his 16th ATP Tour title in Atlanta at the start of August.

He described the Laver Cup as "a highlight of my year", adding: "To be on a team with guys we're normally competing against is so different and so much fun. We come together so well as a group, the chemistry is awesome and it's such a great environment to be part of."

Australian firebrand Kyrgios is a striking inclusion in Team World's roster, while Team Europe will be without their big three: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Federer and Dominic Thiem were expected to take part in this year's event, though both were forced to withdraw with injuries.

However, Borg's men still boast six of the world's top 11. World number two Daniil Medvedev leads the line-up, with Tsitsipas and Tokyo Olympics gold medallist Alexander Zverev for company.

Casper Ruud, who collected a 14th win in his last 15 completed matches on tour when he beat Opelka on Wednesday, will feature, while Andrey Rublev and Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini complete the six-man team.

Team Europe have landed the title in each of the three editions of the tournament so far, with Prague, Chicago and Geneva having served as hosts.

Roger Federer will not take part in the upcoming US Open after the 20-time grand slam winner announced he is to undergo knee surgery that will rule him out for "many months".

The 40-year-old has not been in action since losing to Hubert Hurkacz in a Wimbledon quarter-final in July and has completed only five events this year.

Federer underwent two operations on his right knee in 2020 and requires another procedure that the legendary Swiss hopes will give him a chance to return to the court.

"I just wanted to give you a bit of an update on what's been going on since Wimbledon," Federer, who won the most recent of his five titles at Flushing Meadows in 2008, posted in a video message on his Instagram page on Sunday.

"As you can imagine, it's not been simple. I've been doing a lot of checks with the doctors as well on my knee, getting all the information as I hurt myself further during the grass-court season and Wimbledon.

"That's just not the way to go forward, so unfortunately they told me for the medium to long term to feel better, I will need surgery. I decided to do it.

"I'll be on crutches for many weeks and also out of the game for many months, so it's going to be difficult of course in some ways.

"But at the same time I know it's the right thing to do because I want to be healthy, I want to be running around later as well again and I want to give myself a glimmer of hope to return to the tour in some shape or form."

 

Federer, now ranked number nine in the world, missed more than a year of action after first having his knee operated on shortly after the 2020 Australian Open.

"I am realistic, don't get me wrong," he said. "I know how difficult it is at this age right now to do another surgery and try it. 

"But I want to be healthy, I will go through the rehab process I think also with a goal while I'm still active, which I think is going to help me during this long period of time."

Federer added: "Also a big thank you already now for all of your messages that are going to be coming in because you guys are always incredible. 

"You always think of me. Some of you suffer with me. I'll update you as I move along with my rehab. I wish you all the best and I'll check in with you soon."

The US Open in New York begins on August 30, with Dominic Thiem looking to retain his title.

Roger Federer "is a little uncertain" when he will be back in action just over a fortnight before the US Open gets under way.

The 20-time grand slam winner withdrew from both the Canadian Open and Cincinnati Masters this month as he continues to recover from a knee injury.

Federer has not played since losing to Hubert Hurkacz.in a Wimbledon quarter-final in July and has completed only five events this year.

The legendary Swiss, who underwent two operations on his right knee last year, is unsure if he will feature at Flushing Meadows.

He told Swiss newspaper Blick: "I haven't done anything for a long time because of my knee. After Wimbledon, I had to let everything sink in first.

"This week I'll meet my doctors and my team and then we'll see what happens next. At the moment everything is still a little uncertain."

Federer, who celebrated his 40th birthday last Sunday, remains upbeat despite such uncertainty.

 

He said: "You have to adapt. It has always been like this in my career. Factors change: degree of awareness, successes, experiences, identity and now just that.

"I'm a quiet guy who takes things with a sense of humour. I always see the good in every situation. If it's not good right now, I know it will get better and it could be a lot worse.

"I am doing very well. My family is healthy. I just turned 40 and I'm still active. Who would have thought it? Certainly not me. I am totally at peace with myself and I am sure that there will be a lot more beautiful things to come."

Novak Djokovic drew level with Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 major singles titles by winning Wimbledon and the world number one will be bidding to complete a calendar Grand Slam in New York.

Roger Federer turned 40 on Sunday amid uncertainty over whether he will grace the stage of a grand slam again.

Both he and Serena Williams, who reaches the same birthday landmark in September, have kept their future plans under wraps.

However, it would come as no surprise now if one, or both, were to retire by the end of the year.

Injuries are taking their toll, and even the greatest champions cannot go on forever.

Stats Perform looked at both Federer and Williams, considering what they may still want to achieve, and their prospects of attaining those remaining goals.

 

Federer's final fling?

Ahead of his 30th birthday, Federer was asked what it felt like to hit such a milestone.

"Birthdays happen. They're part of life," Federer said. "I'm happy I'm getting older. I'd rather be 30 than 20, to be honest. To me it's a nice time."

A decade on, Federer has good reason to be satisfied with life as he chalks up another decade. Family life is good, he'll never need to borrow a dollar, and he has advanced from 16 grand slams to 20.

But the knees would sooner be 30 than 40, and Federer, remarkable sportsman though he is, looks to have entered the lap of honour stage of his career – if he can even complete such a lap.

Two knee operations in 2020 were followed by a setback that ruled him out of the Olympics and will also keep him sidelined for the Toronto and Cincinnati tournaments before the US Open.

Will Federer make it to Flushing Meadows, where he won five successive titles at the height of his career? There has to be doubt over that, and should he indeed be an absentee in New York, what is there left to target? The Laver Cup, perhaps, a tournament in which he is financially invested and which is due to be played in Boston in late September.

Would he play on in 2022? Could he tolerate more long road trips without his family, living in a tennis bubble?

Target: Federer has never settled for second best, and it may have dawned on him at Wimbledon that in all probability he no longer can win a grand slam. Losing a 6-0 set to Hubert Hurkacz on the way to a quarter-final exit would have hurt. The hunger does not go away after 20 grand slams, but Federer's battle-weary body is sending him messages. He will want to go out on his own terms, which means getting fully fit.

Prospects: Assuming the knee issue is not a major problem, and more of a niggle, then Federer could still play the US Open, Laver Cup, Indian Wells and Paris Masters this year. If the mind is willing but the body does not comply, however, then it would not be a shock to see him call time before the Australian Open comes around in January.


Serena still one short of Court

From precocious teenager to queen of the tour, Williams' tennis journey has been a 25-year odyssey and there is nobody more driven to succeed than the great American.

It is an intense frustration that she remains rooted on 23 grand slams, one short of Margaret Court's record haul, and the four grand slam final losses she has suffered while on that mark have been cruel blows.

As her 40th birthday approaches on September 26, prospects of matching Court are fading. The leg injury that cruelly forced her out of Wimbledon in the first round was a harrowing turn of events, given she looked primed to be a big title challenger in London.

She is becoming less of a factor when looking at title favourites, but Williams is still capable of beating top players, still a threat wherever she shows up. It comes down to whether the body lets her chase her goals, and whether the pain of so many near-misses in recent years persuades this great champion the exertion is no longer worth prolonging.

Target: The 24th slam has been the must-have for Williams. Tour titles feel like an irrelevance, and Williams has won just one of those since January 2017, her calendar built around peaking for the majors since returning from giving birth to daughter Olympia.

Prospects: Beating Aryna Sabalenka and Simona Halep at the Australian Open demonstrated Williams still has the game for the big stage, and a semi-final defeat to Naomi Osaka, to whom she has now lost in three of four encounters, should not particularly detract from that. Wimbledon felt like a golden opportunity, with a host of major rivals absent and others struggling for form. There is no doubt she felt that way. Getting to 24 – and beyond – has shifted from feeling like an inevitability to being an odds-against chance now.

Novak Djokovic led the ATP Tour's birthday message to Roger Federer, as the Swiss star celebrated his 40th on Sunday.

Federer, ranked ninth in the world, made his professional debut in 1998. He has gone on to win 20 grand slam titles, a feat matched by only Rafael Nadal and Djokovic, who tied his rivals with his triumph at Wimbledon in July.

His first grand slam title arrived at Wimbledon in 2003, when Federer was aged just 21. In 2004, 2006 and 2007, he won three out of the four majors on offer.

Federer has six Australian Open titles, eight Wimbledon triumphs, five US Open wins and one French Open success to his name, while he has also won six ATP Tour Finals.

Djokovic and Federer have met 50 times on the ATP circuit, with the Serbian shading their head-to-head record with 27 wins – their most recent encounter coming in the semi-finals of the 2020 Australian Open.

Yet it was he who led the tributes to a true great.

"Hey Roger, happy 40th birthday – 40th, wow, what a milestone! You still keep on inspiring and thriving on the court, off the court, inspiring all of us," Djokovic said in a video posted to the ATP Tour's official Twitter account.

"It's been a huge honour to share the tennis court and the tennis circuit with you in the last 15 years.

 

"Hopefully you can still keep on playing. The sport needs you, of course, and thanks for everything you have done and thanks for showing us that even at that age we can play at a very high level.

"All the best, I wish you health and love and happiness with your close ones and thanks again for everything."

Kei Nishikori, who has beaten Federer three times and suffered eight defeats to the Swiss, was next up.

"Roger, happy 40th birthday!" Nishikori said.

"You are still my idol, I always looked up to you and I hope we can play a couple more times and I hope you can still keep going and win grand slams."

World number 15 Felix Auger Aliassime shares his birthday with Federer, though the Canadian is some 19 years junior.

"Hey Roger, the big 40, while I'm just turning 21," he said. "It's amazing for the sport that I'm playing and you're still playing at the same time.

"I hope I'll still be playing when I'm 40 as well. Thank you for everything you've been doing for tennis, it's so good to still have you around, I hope you have a great birthday."

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