Brilliant Brady, Mickelson's major – 2021 in numbers
Roger Federer had to swallow a first Wimbledon bagel, while Tom Brady lit up another Super Bowl and there was a huge Tokyo Olympics upset.
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: 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.