Vinci stuns Serena in New York
Serena Williams looked almost certain to become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988, and just sixth player overall, to complete a calendar Grand Slam after reaching the semi-finals of the US Open. With Flavia Pennetta then dumping out second seed Simona Halep in the first semi, the odds on the American landing an historic title shortened further. Riding a 26-match win streak at Flushing Meadows, the world number one was overwhelmingly expected to sweep aside unseeded Roberta Vinci, the veteran Italian more renowned for her doubles success, and set up a showdown with eventual champion Pennetta, against whom Williams owned a 7-0 career edge. Instead her bid was crushed in stunning fashion as the 32-year-old Vinci rallied from a set down to claim a sensational 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 triumph, beating Williams for the first time to set up the first all-Italian women’s Grand Slam final in the Open Era.
Wawrinka downs Djokovic at Roland Garros
Novak Djokovic completed one of the most remarkable seasons in tennis history in 2015 with victory at the World Tour Finals, but the all-conquering Serb was denied a career Grand Slam at the French Open as he was beaten in the final by Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka. With clay-court Masters 1000 titles from Monte Carlo and Rome under his belt and Rafael Nadal’s Roland Garros reign ended by Djokovic in the quarter-finals, the world number one outlasted Madrid champion Andy Murray in five gruelling sets to move within sight of the one Grand Slam that still eluded him. All appeared to be going to plan as Djokovic grabbed the opening set 6-4, but a sublime show of stroke-making from the Swiss left Djokovic, renowned for his incredible powers of recovery, without any answers as Wawrinka wrapped up a famous 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 victory to secure his second career major after the 2014 Australian Open.
Payne makes Melbourne Cup history
Michelle Payne became the first woman to win Australia’s 154-year-old Melbourne Cup after riding 100-1 outsider Prince of Penzance to an historic victory in November. Those long odds were nothing compared to the obstacles 30-year-old Payne, the youngest of 10 siblings, overcame on the road to eventual success. She lost her mother, Mary, in a car accident when she was just six months old with her career then sidetracked by a litany of injuries — including a head-first fall from a horse when she was just 18 which left her with a fractured skull and bruising on her brain. However, none of that could prevent Payne, reportedly just the fourth female entrant in Cup history, from winning the world’s richest two-mile handicap race, as she held off Max Dynamite (12-1) by half-a-length with Criterion (18-1) close behind. “I thought a girl would win the Melbourne Cup but I didn’t think it would be one of mine,” said Payne’s proud father.
Japan spring mighty upset over South Africa
Japan caused the biggest shock in World Cup history as they stunned two-time former champions South Africa 34-32 in their opening pool match in Brighton. The Brave Blossoms had won just one of their 24 previous matches in the competition but the Asian champions, under the stewardship of Eddie Jones, signalled their intent early with captain Michael Leitch crossing to put the underdogs 10-7 up. However, the experienced Springboks, whose starting XV featured a combined 851 caps, went in with the half-time lead and appeared to have ended the plucky Japanese challenge when Adriaan Strauss ploughed over to make it 29-22. But full-back Ayumu Goromaru converted his own try to level the scores with 10 minutes to play. The Springboks responded with Handre Pollard slotting over a penalty to seemingly put them back on top for good. There was one final dramatic twist though as Japan, opting for a scrum rather than kicking a penalty as time expired, shifted play across the width of the field before finding replacement wing Karne Hesketh who touched down in the corner to seal an incredible victory.
Fury halts Klitschko’s heavyweight dominance
British boxer Tyson Fury registered one of the sport’s biggest upsets by outpointing long-standing heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko to end the Ukrainian’s nine-year reign in Dusseldorf. Manchester-born Fury, 27, handed Klitschko his first loss since 2004 after winning a unanimous points decision 115-112, 115-112, 116-111 as the self-styled ‘Gypsy King’ landed the WBA, IBF and WBO world title belts. Fury, whose biggest previous win was against fellow Briton Dereck Chisora, was undeterred by the step up in class and backed up his pre-fight promises by confounding his decorated rival as well as the doubters with a skilful, measured performance. Fury’s uncle and trainer, Peter, said his nephew’s victory was the greatest since Muhammad Ali “shook up the world” by beating Sonny Liston in 1964. Not to be outdone, Fury himself likened his “masterclass” performance to a “mongoose in a cobra’s nest, taking all the eggs home” in his first press conference as world heavyweight king.
Rousey reign ended by ex-boxer Holm
Holly Holm pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the Ultimate Fighting Championship when she knocked out previously unbeaten Ronda Rousey in their bantamweight title fight in Melbourne. Rousey, unbeaten in 12 previous fights, touched down in Australia having won her last three bouts in just a combined 64 seconds, but Holm’s second-round head kick sent Rousey crashing to the canvas, ending her reign as the golden girl of mixed martial arts. Holm, the 34-year-old boxing champion turned MMA fighter, had entered the November showdown unbeaten herself but as a huge underdog. However, her combination of straight lefts and oblique kicks laid the foundations for the knockout blow, following it up with several blows to the head before the referee intervened, to record one of the sport’s most monumental shocks.
Dreadful Dutch miss out on Euro 2016
Semi-finalists at the 2014 World Cup, the Netherlands were expected to routinely qualify for the expanded 24-team European Championship finals and perhaps even contend for the title. Placed alongside the likes of Czech Republic, Turkey and Iceland, their Group A draw was not overly complicated but an opening defeat in Prague signalled the start of a disastrous campaign. A pair of losses to Iceland were damaging but not terminal, but just three days later a 3-0 defeat in Turkey left Holland’s fate out of their hands. Danny Blind’s men needed three points at home to the already-qualified Czechs coupled with a Turkey loss against Iceland from the final round of matches to rescue a desperate situation, but the Dutch succumbed 3-2, a comical Robin van Persie own-goal typifying their dire qualifying campaign as the 1988 winners missed out on the European championship for the first time in 32 years.
Team GB end long wait for Davis Cup title
Great Britain ended years of Davis Cup irrelevance as Andy Murray spearheaded the country to a first title in 79 years following a 3-1 victory over Belgium in November’s final in Ghent. When Leon Smith was appointed captain in 2010, Team GB were facing relegation to the competition’s lowest tier but a 5-0 win over Turkey marked the start of a slow, but steady climb towards the pinnacle of team tennis. Having reached the quarter-finals on their return to the World Group in the 2014 season, the British team saw off record 32-time champions the US, which included James Ward’s epic five-set win over John Isner, France and Australia on home soil to reach this year’s final. Team GB then came full circle as world number two Murray clinched the winning point in the fourth rubber against David Goffin with a sensational lob to seal a 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 win and Britain’s 10th Davis Cup crown.
Bradford give Chelsea FA Cup blues
Two years on from their stunning run to the final of the League Cup, Bradford City again sent shock waves through English football with a remarkable 4-2 FA Cup fourth-round victory over a Chelsea side that would go on to seal a fifth league title just a few months later. Jose Mourinho’s side appeared to be cruising at Stamford Bridge after first-half goals from Gary Cahill and Ramires put them 2-0 up, but Jon Stead pulled one back just before the break to give the Bantams renewed hope. Mourinho had said it would be a “disgrace” if Chelsea lost to third-tier opposition, but despite the introduction of Cesc Fabregas, Willian and Eden Hazard the Blues crashed to a humiliating defeat as Bradford netted three times in the final 15 minutes through one-time Chelsea player Filipe Morais, Andy Halliday and Mark Yeates. Former Liverpool striker Robbie Fowler called the result the “biggest shock” in FA Cup history.
Leicester City’s remarkable rags-to-riches revival
Leicester City appeared destined for an immediate return to the English second tier as they entered New Year’s Day marooned at the foot of the Premier League table, with just 13 points from 19 matches. It was by no means an immediate fix either as the Foxes collected just a further six points from 10 games before Nigel Pearson’s side embarked on their great escape, winning seven of their final nine outings to complete a scarcely believable recovery. With Pearson then unceremoniously sacked after a breakdown in his relationship with club owners, Leicester were again expected to be embroiled in another relegation scrap, but the surprise appointment of experienced Italian coach Claudio Ranieri has instead transformed the modest Midlands outfit into improbable league leaders heading into Christmas.