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Sports fans had a year to remember in 2018, with a number of thrilling events which left enthusiasts on the edge of their seats.
There was the best football World Cup in years (featuring a strong run from England!), the Winter Olympics and a brilliant Ryder Cup. Whilst none of these will feature in 2019, there is still plenty to whet the appetite.
In the world of cricket, there is both an Ashes series and a World Cup to look forward to. Even though England have a rookie Test opening pair, I’m confident at this stage that they will regain the Ashes in September: Australia’s batting will be fragile whereas England at least have a strong middle order.
The outcome of the World Cup is more uncertain. England have raised the standard of ODI batting but their record in knock-out games is second to everyone’s. Can they hurdle this barrier and win their first global one-day trophy in July?
The other major World Cup this year comes in rugby union, which signals a significant departure for the sport as the global tournament goes outside its traditional heartland for the first time, taking place in Japan.
The event is shaping up to be the most competitive ever held with the likes of Ireland and England closing in on back-to-back champions, New Zealand, at the top of the pile and the list of possible upsets along the way far greater than it has been. Japan’s victory over South Africa in Brighton on the opening weekend in 2015 set that tournament alight. Organisers will hope for similar David and Goliath feats next year.
In the ring, whilst not signed yet, the Deontay Wilder versus Tyson Fury rematch is mouth-watering, not least because we are likely to get the same or similar fight the second time around. The huge punching, stalking style of Wilder, and the elusive skills of Fury. The first fight was a thriller, and the second meeting could be even better. If it is in the USA, it could be in New York, or Las Vegas this time. There is even an outside chance that it could be in a stadium in the UK, hopefully with competent judges. Britain’s Anthony Joshua will also get involved in the picture at some stage, hopefully against the winner of the rematch.
On the road, after Geraint Thomas beat his Sky team mate Chris Froome in the Tour de France last year, all eyes are going to be on their friendship and rivalry in July. It promises to be absolutely riveting. Froome was clearly not at his best last time, having already raced and won the Giro in May. This time, one suspects, he will throw everything at trying to win what would be a record-equalling fifth Tour title. Thomas, though, has grown in confidence. He is a year younger. And he is demanding equal billing next summer. It could all come down to the summit finish in Val Thorens on the penultimate day.
On the track, thanks to an unusually lively driver merry-go-round, the Formula One grid for 2019 is the most intriguing in years. Two British teenagers make their debuts, with Lando Norris earning promotion to a race seat at McLaren and George Russell entrusted with reviving the fortunes of ailing Williams. Russell’s team-mate, Robert Kubica, has a powerful story of his own, as the Pole returns from a rallying crash that has left him with only partial use of his right arm. Combine this with another ferocious duel at the front between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, and the curtain-raiser at Albert Park ought to be a must-watch.
On the course, golf’s Open Championship has not been staged in Northern Ireland since 1951, meaning that its return to Royal Portrush is certain to yank at the heartstrings. Ulster has produced three major champions this decade and if you want to understand the magnitude of the locals’ pride just consider that the sold out signs are already up for the first time in the major’s 159-year history. Anyone who was at Portrush - that wonderful links not far from the Giant’s Causeway – for the 2012 Irish Open will be anticipating the most passionate Thursday the game has ever witnessed. It will be the biggest sporting event Northern Ireland has staged and, be sure, they will not disappoint.
On the court, the world of tennis is in transition. Whilst Novak Djokovic is admittedly the runaway favourite for the men’s titles, his rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are surely in the last ebbs of their career and will be dying to win one last major. But there are plenty of fascinating subplots, including the emergence of Alexander Zverev and other young talents including Karen Khachanov and Stefanos Tsitsipas.
From a British perspective, Andy Murray will be back on the comeback trail, while Kyle Edmund tries to take his mantle. Throw in Serena Williams’s first competitive tournament since the US Open farce on the women’s side, and it’s an intriguing line-up.
Finally, on the pitch, a compelling Premier League title race is sure to go down to the wire. Liverpool have been brilliant in their determination to try and take on Manchester City while others have wilted. It will be fascinating also to see how far an English club can go in the Champions League and whether England can win the Nations League to build on their World Cup success.
Of course, this is only scratching the surface of what’s on offer, with a host of other sports having their own thrills and spills. It’s promising to be another excellent year.