Sports is truly an amalgamation of pleasant surprises and heart-wrenching setbacks. Every year brings with it a series of intriguing moments in sports that catch the world unaware. The year 2019 wove some of the biggest moments, heartbreaks as well as unexpected comebacks in Indian sports. Whether it is an underdog knocking off an established champion, or an unheralded athlete pulling off a massive upset over what looks like an unbeatable opponent, improbable achievements or failures in sports can resonate for months, years, and decades. With the year now coming to a close, The Bridge has picked out ten of such sporting moments that were deemed impossible at one time.
#1 Gurpreet's hands hold Qatar
On September 10, the Indian football team scripted a monumental result as they held reigning AFC Asian Cup champions Qatar to a goalless draw in their own backyard — all credit goes to one man who wore the armband in the absence of Sunil Chhetri — Gurpreet Singh Sandhu. In the process, the Blue Tigers claimed their first point in Round 2 of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. Qatar, arguably one of the best Asian teams at the moment, had been on a super form, especially at home. But Igor Stimac’s troops managed to pull off the unthinkable. Given Qatar’s pedigree — the fact that India managed to hold a team 31 places above them in the FIFA rankings to a 0-0 draw indicates the mettle of Indian football in recent times.
#2 Reddy-Shetty Go: The magical pair on the rise
India’s top-ranked men’s doubles pair Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty broke into the top 10 world rankings for the second time in their career after their first final appearance at a Super 750 level event on the BWF World Tour. Ranked 11th during their run to the French Open final, the duo jumped two places in the latest rankings to be placed ninth, featuring in the top 10 for the second time in their career. The duo also became the first Indian pair to win a BWF Super Series 500 event when they clinched the Thailand Open earlier this year.
#3 #FEGAL for the win!
Young tennis star Sumit Nagal scripted history by qualifying for the main draw of the US Open, becoming the youngest Indian in 25 years to achieve the feat. And he commemorated it in style clinching the first set against 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer. It was a dream debut for Nagal as he produced a spirited performance and went down fighting 6-4, 1-6, 2-6, 4-6 to Federer at the Arthur Ashe stadium in New York on August 27. In the process, he also became only the fourth Indian to win a set in the main draw of a Grand Slam in the last 20 years.
#4 Volley and served
Despite suffering defeat at the hands of a formidable Chinese Taipei side, it is worth appreciating that Indian volleyball team reached the final of the men's Asian U-23 Volleyball Championships. Putting up a brave fight, India clinched the silver medal in the tournament. India, who otherwise came into the match in great form, conceded three sets to a rampaging Chinese side who secured a comprehensive 3-1 win.
#5 Punia - Naam to suna hi hoga
The 20-year-old marked a new era of dominance with his stupendous performances in the national as well as international circuits. On August 14, Deepak Punia earned India its first junior world title in 18 years after he won the gold medal at the Junior World Championships with a victory over Russia’s Alik Shebzukhov at Tallinn, Estonia. But that wasn’t the end of joy! Having picked up an injury on his left leg and eye in his first-round fight, he was unable to compete in the final of the men’s freestyle 86kg event against Hasan Yazdanichara of Iran at World Championships and settled for a silver medal instead.
#6 No Gold, dear Mary?
Six-time champion Mary Kom on October 12 settled for a bronze medal in the World Women’s Boxing Championships after losing to Turkey’s Busenaz Cakiroglu in an intense semifinal bout. Seeded third, Mary Kom lost 1-4 to second seed Cakiroglu, who is the reigning European Championships and European Games gold-medallist. Despite the defeat, it was a stupendous campaign for the 36-year-old that added to her long list of accomplishments. The bronze is her first world medal in the 51kg category. Besides an impressive haul of six world titles, her career is also studded with an Olympic bronze medal (2012), five Asian titles, gold medals at the Asian Games and the Commonwealth Games, besides numerous other international top finishes.
#7 Fif 'teen' ready for Tokyo
India justified the favourites tag as the shooters claimed an unprecedented 15 Olympic quotas after Angad Vir Singh Bajwa and Mairaj Ahmad Khan’s 1-2 finish in skeet and teenager Aishwary Pratap Singh Tomar’s bronze at the 14th Asian Championship on November 10. This is India’s best-ever Olympic quota haul, easily surpassing the 12 at the 2016 Rio Games and 11 in London in 2012.
#8 Lone wolf at World Cup
Paddler G. Sathiyan became the lone Indian to compete at the ITTF World Cup. Having begun his campaign in style, Sathiyan could not advance to the quarter-finals. Although he did not get us any medals, his qualification alone will forever hold its place among the most inspiring moments in Indian sports. The highlight of his career came last August when he signed up with German Bundesliga’s top division club ASV Grunwettersbach Tischtennis, also hailed as the most prestigious league in the world. He became only the second Indian to sign up with a club in Germany, after India’s Sharath Kamal. The experience that he garnered contributed to a stellar 2019. After coming sixth in the Asian Cup, he broke into the top 25 to be ranked 24th – the first-ever Indian to break into the top 25 in the world rankings. He was awarded yet another top honour in September when ITTF hailed Sathiyan as the biggest star of the Asian Table Tennis Championships that were held in Indonesia.
#9 The unique journey of Dutee
The one incident that deserves a special mention among the most unforgettable moments in Indian sports is sprinter Dutee Chand sharing a message of acceptance and love as she spoke at length about her relationship with a woman. She went against the grain and admitted to being in a homosexual relationship earlier this year. Suffice to say, while these conversations have always been restricted to chewing over gay rights or gay-sex, Dutee’s confession marked a watershed moment in national conversations around human rights, queer rights in particular. While Indian sports collectively seem to be rather confused and debilitated of forming a definite opinion on how it should portray queer characters like Dutee, her bold disclosure has only strengthened the fissure.
#10 Dhing Express as hit as the Bullet Train
Over a hundred news articles and a zillion social media posts later, Hima Das stands as one of the most celebrated athletes in India today, particularly after the way her popularity grew exponentially in a short span of three weeks. A haul of five gold medals in a matter of 19 days is no small feat, and nothing of this sort of a sporting achievement has surfaced lately that the country could be proud of. The perils of taking social media on face value are known to all, yet the rush to be seen doing the right thing often blurs the line between fact and fiction. We saw a tremendous outpouring of support for Hima and has raised social media hopes of a first Olympic medal in the sport for India. But will that make the pursuit all the more worthwhile? We don’t know.
Indeed, 2019 was a year to remember. Of the 10 moments, pick your favourite.