Maria Sharapova and the sportspeople and teams who have lorded it statistically over the opposition
Maria Sharapova is statistically the most dominant woman ever to reach the semi-final of a Grand Slam. In progressing like a shouty steamroller to the semis in Melbourne, she’s won 60 games and lost just nine in her five matches. So, on average, she’s winning her sets by 6 games to 0.9. (She hasn’t serve-volleyed once, though, the scaredy-cat).
If you love sport and, like me, dwell on the nerdy side of the bleachers, you’ll love a good stat. Particularly one that highlights the complete dominance of a team, competitor or performance. Have a look at this lot, world beaters and statistical freaks all.
The late, lamented Sid Waddell called The Power “the greatest sportsman this country’s ever produced.” Leaving aside the argument about whether or not darts is a sport (it is, by the way, but we can decide that I’m right another day), it’s hard to quibble with Waddell’s assessment.
Taylor recently captured his sixteenth world championship crown. Nobody else has more than five. These sixteen titles have come from a total of nineteen finals; only Dennis Priestley, John Part and Raymond van Barneveld have managed to defeat the great man at the last. In world semi-finals, his record reads 19/19. That’s right. Unlike a teenaged boy whose mother bursts into his bedroom, Taylor has never lost a semi.
Consider, too, his consistent high scoring. Michael van Gerwen, the Dutch wunderkind whom Taylor defeated in this year’s final, last year broke the record for a three-dart average in a televised match, with a quite astounding 121.86. However, prior to that, Taylor held the top ten highest averages. He has nine televised nine-darters (van Barneveld is next on the list with five). I’d also be amazed if he didn’t hold the record for the number of 100+ finishes and the regularity with which he hits his cover shot of treble nineteen – perhaps someone out there can confirm…
Somebody cleverer than me should invent a statistical analysis whereby top performers from different sports can be compared to one another. A Champions’ Champions Index. Factors would include: dominance versus other competitors; longevity of achievement; number of awards/accolades/titles; historical standing; and consistency. I’d be willing to bet that Phil Taylor would emerge victorious on such an index, even against Sir Donald Bradman.
One measure by which Phil Taylor would lose out is the number of times he’s been champion. Anthony Peter McCoy – Tony or, more commonly, AP to the racing fraternity – has been champion Jump jockey for seventeen consecutive years.
For those not familiar with racing, this means he’s ridden more winners than any other jockey in each of the last seventeen National Hunt seasons. Next on the list is Peter Scudamore with eight championships. Unsurprisingly during that time, McCoy has smashed records left, right and centre. He’s closing in on 4,000 career wins, with his nearest pursuer on about two-and-a-half thousand. In 2001/2, he rode an incredible 289 winners, beating the record for Flat or Jumps that had been held by the legendary Gordon Richards since 1947.
But, as ever with statistics, the numbers only tell you the headline story. ‘Will to win’ is an oft-used phrase in sport. Well, McCoy’s is cast iron, as his body seems to be. On 12th January 2008, he fell at Warwick, fracturing one vertebra and shattering two others. One possible treatment was to wear a body cast for three months. That would’ve meant missing the Cheltenham Festival so McCoy opted instead for an operation to insert metal strips into his back and an intense course of cryotherapy; on the final day of his treatment, he endured temperatures of -150 degrees Celsius (breaking the previous ‘record’ of -145) and giving himself frostbite all over his body, “including the tender bits.” His remarkable comeback was completed when he partnered Albertas Run to victory in the Royal & SunAlliance Chase at the Festival. It was March 13th. Naturally, despite his two-month absence, he still won the jockeys’ title that year.
Spare a thought for Richard Johnson. In fourteen of McCoy’s winning seasons, Johnson has finished second in the championship; he also holds second place on the all-time winners list without ever being the champ.
Miami Dolphins – the perfect season
“That record will never be broken,” commentators and observers occasionally say. It’s nonsense, of course, because the nature of sport and human development means that constant improvement is always the most likely trend over the long term.
Which is probably why, legend has it, the surviving members of Don Shula’s 1972 Miami Dolphins team get together to share a toast as soon as the last unblemished record falls each season. They know their 17-0 (seventeen-and-o) season will be matched one day but, until then, they can bask in the glory of being the only ‘perfect’ team in NFL history.
Puts Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ of 2003/4 to shame, doesn’t it? With 12 draws, the Gunners failed to win about one-third of their games.
Not just one of the top dictators to walk the planet but, by a distance, the best golfer there’s ever been. According to North Korean media, the diminutive despot shot a round of 34 (38 under par), including 11 holes-in-one. And who are we to question the North Korean media?
One point, though. On the seven holes where he didn’t get an ace, he took 23 strokes. Plenty of room for improvement there, Kim. Your being dead surely won’t stop you.
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