The year that rallied
Roger Federer completed the most unexpected of sporting comebacks–andhe’s not done with yet.
If 2016 was the year of the drought-breaking underdog, then surely 2017 is the year of the sporting comeback.
The New England Patriots started the trend at the Super Bowl in February. Down 28-3 and seemingly out, Tom Brady and his team-mates rallied to stun the Atlanta Falcons in overtime – the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
Closer to home, Sally Pearson completed a stunning revival. The Olympic champion couldn’t get out of the starting blocks for three years because of ongoing injuries and coaching dramas. But at the world championships in London she crossed the line in first place, screaming “Oh my God!” as she realised her dream return to world athletics with a championship victory.
But not all comebacks are celebrated. At the same meet, two-time drug cheat Justin Gatlin denied Usain Bolt a fairytale farewell by winning gold in the 100m. It was 12 years his first world title but this time no one was cheering.
Gatlin wasn’t the only drug cheat to return to the spotlight. Maria Sharapova re-entered the tennis arena serving a 15-month suspension for taking a banned substance. But unlike the American sprinter, Sharapova had a stumbling start – French Open officials denied her automatic entry, she pulled out of Wimbledon because of injury and at the US open she lost in the fourth round.
There were comebacks of a different kind in basketball and rugby league. The Golden State Warriors and Melbourne Storm have been relentless winning machines in their codes but last year were eliminated at the final hurdle. This year they hit back in the most impressive fashion. The Warriors redeemed themselves against LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers. And the Storm thrashed the North Queensland Cowboys in the league decider. Order restored!
Of course, not every great story was a comeback story.The Matildas conquered the world during the Tournament of Nations, beating the United States for the first time. Backflipping star striker Sam Kerr has rivalled Pearson as the sportswoman of the year. While Jeff Horn went from Brisbane school teacher to boxing hero during 12 brutal rounds with Filipino great Manny Pacquiao. And in the AFL, the Richmond Football Club put their long-suffering fans out of their misery with a shock grand final win against the Adelaide Crows.
But, back to the comebacks: plenty of big names have attempted it over the years. AFL goal-kicking legend Tony Locked only lasted three games into his return with the Swans. Ian Thorpe failed to qualify for the London Olympics during his comeback bid.
Basketball icon Michael Jordan proved it can be done. He won three championships with the Chicago Bulls before his shock decision to quit and try baseball. A year later he declared "I’m back" and went on to win three more NBA titles.
But Jordan’s comeback may have been surpassed by an even more inspiring story of revival. Earlier this year, a 35-year-old Roger Federer arrived at the Australian Open ranked 17 in the world. He’d just spent six months on the sidelines knee surgery. He hadn’t won a grand slam in five years.
But his performance over the next fortnight was seemingly superhuman. Federer beat rival Rafael Nadal in five sets to secure an 18th grand slam title. Six months later he backed it up at Wimbledon to celebrate slam number 19.There will never be another athlete like him.
So as far as comebacks go, 2017 belongs to Roger. He completed the most unexpected of sporting comebacks – and he’s not done with yet. Next month, we might just see him do it all over again back here in Australia.
There will never be another athlete like Roger Federer.