A file photo of Virat Kohli. Photo: PTI
A file photo of Virat Kohli. Photo: PTI

How high will they reset the all-time bar?

In today's sporting landscape, there's a clutch of elite sportspersons rewriting, or on pace to rewrite, coveted individual sporting records

When he called time on his one-day international career in 2012, Sachin Tendulkar’s record of 49 centuries looked like it would stay for a while. Along came Virat Kohli, and he’s more than two-thirds there. Pete Sampras played his last match in 2002 to win his 14th grand slam, and set himself apart. Along came Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

The most coveted individual sporting records seem tall when they are set. But the long history of sports also shows that even the mightiest of records are fallible. It may or may not take time, but it takes some doing. In today’s sporting landscape , there’s a clutch of elite sportspersons who are rewriting, or are on pace to rewrite, coveted individual records. Here are five such pursuits.

In his nine years of playing one-day internationals (ODIs), Virat Kohli is averaging 3.9 centuries a year. At times, he is notching up centuries at a metronomic rate: for example, six in his 28th year (2017). Kohli is now at 35 ODI centuries, 14 short of Sachin Tendulkar’s all-time record of 49 centuries.

When Tendulkar retired from one-day internationals in 2012, Kohli had 11 ODI centuries. Since then, the 29-year-old gone from promising to prodigious. Approaching is the turn into the 30s, a period when Tendulkar’s return dropped significantly: he averaged 1.7 centuries per year, against 3.8 in his 20s. But Kohli has also played fewer ODIs than Tendulkar at this turn—211 against 300—and is fitter. If he plays as long as Tendulkar did, who knows what 49 will be reset to?

In the English Premier League, the all-time goal scorer is Alan Shearer, with 260 goals in 441 matches—a return of 0.58 goals per match. In the Champions League—where the best of European football crosses paths—Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are rewriting standards that are plain astonishing.

Ronaldo has 120 goals, for a return of 0.75 goals per match. Messi has 103 goals, for a return of 0.81 goals per match. Raul Gonzalez, who retired in 2010 with 72 goals and a return of 0.50, has been left in the distance. The next best among active players is Karim Benzema (56 goals), and he doesn’t have a significant age advantage on the duo who have defined football in their era. Meanwhile, both Ronaldo and Messi are anything but done.

Men’s tennis has the troika of Federer-Nadal-Djokovic stringing a resurgent run, and the jury remains out on where they will finish in grand slam titles when time is called. Women’s tennis has Serena Williams, as big a big-game player as they come. She’s at 23 singles grand slam titles, one short of Margaret Court.

Grand slams is what she plays for: among the top six grand slam winners, Williams has the highest percentage of majors among her titles (32%). Over a 23-year career, she’s challenged tour conventions with her scheduling, and other choices. In 2018, the 37-year-old returned to court after becoming a mother, and her record in grand slams for the year read: round 4, final, final. Grand slam 24 is in sight.

YouTube ‘2018 MotoGP Dutch Grand Prix’. Over 21 laps, the top four riders on their 500cc motorcycles craft 40 overtakes, including 15 for the lead, while separated by less than a second. Something has to give. It does and, yet again, it’s Marc Marquez who does the taking. Skilled, bold, confident. And, at 25 years, pretty young.

Marquez won his first 500cc title in his debut year, at 20. He’s primed for his fifth, reeling in Giacomo Agostini’s record of eight titles that has stood since 1977. A decade ago, it seemed Valentino Rossi would overhaul that, when he won his seventh title at 30. Since then, though, Rossi has either been riding inferior bikes or looking at the brilliance of Marquez, who has the years, ambition and the machinery on his side to ride past both Italians.

Till a few months ago, this had ceased to be part of the conversation. Suddenly, it is again, Ryder Cup debacles notwithstanding. The short evidence shows that Tiger Woods is healthy, hungry and winning. His chase for four more majors—the one momentous piece short in his secure legacy—has resumed.

Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors has stood since 1986. Woods was once on course to top that. In 2008, at the age of 33 and in prime form, Woods won major #14. He’s gone a decade without winning a major while enduring a raft of issues off the course. Last month, he won a title after five years. The 40s haven’t been generous to top golfers. Can Woods change that and catch Nicklaus?

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