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A league of their own: Nadal in Paris, Phelps in Beijing

With five centuries in eight completed innings at the ongoing World Cup, Rohit Sharma has already beaten the existing World Cup record for most hundreds in a single edition, set by Kumar Sangakkara in 2015.

Rohit's 647 runs at the World Cup have also brought him within touching distance of Sachin Tendulkar's existing record of 673 runs, set in 2003.

ESPN winds the clock back to when other sportspersons experienced the form of their life, and how they maxed it to their benefit.

Rafael Nadal

The domination

Dropping just 35 games on the way to picking up a 10th French Open crown, in 2017.

The story

Nadal's closest rival Roger Federer had already scripted an improbable comeback from injuries to beat him at the Australian Open final in 2017 and what added to Nadal's motivation was the chance to become the first man to pick up 10 titles at a single Grand Slam by the time the French Open came by.

His 'La Decima' performance was clinical and often ruthless, not dropping a single set for the third time in Paris, after 2008 and 2010. That drew him level with Bjorn Borg, for most majors won in men's tennis without losing a set, and the 35 games he dropped along the way were also the second best ever in men's tennis -- Open era or otherwise -- after Borg's 32 games dropped en route to the French Open title in 1978.

What they said

"In 2005, I thought in 2017 I'd be fishing on my boat in Mallorca. I didn't really think I'd have such a long career and win so many tournaments."

- Rafael Nadal, who retained the French Open title in both 2018 and 2019.


Michael Phelps

The domination

A world record eight gold medals in swimming at the 2008 Olympics, in Beijing.

The story

Michael Phelps had already marked himself out as a potential great during the 2004 Athens Olympics, picking up six golds and two bronze medals to draw level with Alexander Dityatin of erstwhile Soviet Union for the most medals won by an individual at the Olympics.

Phelps' performance in 2008, however, was simply out of the world -- he picked up eight golds, five of them in individual events and three as part of the USA team in medley.

Barring his 100m butterfly gold, which was achieved with an Olympic record time, Phelps helped rewrite the world record in every other single victory -- the world records he reset were his own at both the 400m individual medley and the 200m freestyle finals.

His eighth and final gold for the Games came in the 4x100m medley relay, and took him one clear of Mark Spitz, who had won seven golds for USA at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

What they said

"You weren't born when I did what I did, and I'm sure I was a part of your inspiration, and I take that as a full compliment. They say that you judge one's character by the company you keep, and I'm certainly happy to keep company with you."

- Mark Spitz, talking to Phelps via satellite on television after the latter won his eighth gold.


Luis Ronaldo

The domination

Eight goals at the 2002 World Cup, helping Brazil lift their fifth crown.

The story

The true quality of champions is to rise above the adversities, and Ronaldo's goal-scoring during the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan was a prime example of that.

Leading a star-studded attacking line, Ronaldo set the pace early, with four goals in the group stages, as Brazil scored 11 to underscore their dominance against Turkey, China and Costa Rica. His scoring continued with goals against Belgium in the second round, and the winner in the semifinals against Turkey.

Faced with Oliver Kahn in goal for Germany in the final, Ronaldo poached two goals past arguably the tournament's other top performer to win the World Cup for Brazil, and seize the Golden Boot himself. No player since has scored more than six at one World Cup, and Ronaldo himself became the first since Gzegorz Lato in 1974 to have scored more than six.

Had he scored in the 2-1 win against England in the quarters, he would have emulated compatriot Jairzinho's feat of scoring in every game en route to the title, set in 1970, but across six games.

What they said

"I had an injury in my leg and everybody was talking about that.I decided to cut my hair and leave the small thing there. I come to training and everybody saw me with bad hair.Everybody was talking about the hair and forgot about the injury. I could stay more calm and relaxed and focused on my training."

- Ronaldo spoke in 2018 about his unusual choice of hairstyle for the World Cup, where he left a tuft of hair on top of his forehead after shaving the rest of his hair off.


Tiger Woods

The domination

Seven successive PGA Tour titles in 2006-07.

The story

The first part of the 2006 season was tough on Tiger Woods, as his father Earl had died in May that year, forcing him to take some time off from the game.

On his return, Woods missed the cut at the US Open to begin with, but began a red-hot streak with the British Open that summer. He went on to win the next five PGA Tour events he entered for the season, including another major win at the PGA Championship, and two World Golf Championships events.

The streak carried into the Buick Invitational, the first PGA Tour event of the following season, and Woods' seven successive titles on the tour is only bettered by the legendary Byron Nelson, who won 11 in a row in 1945.

What they said

"It took Jack over 20 years to get to his. As I've said, it's going to take a career, and I've just got to keep plugging along and keep trying to win these things. But these are the most fun events to play in, the major championships. I thoroughly enjoy coming down the stretch on the back nine with a chance to win. That's why I practice as hard as I do. It's what I live for. That to me is the ultimate rush in our sport, [to be] on that back nine on Sunday with a chance to win a major."

- Tiger Woods, when asked then if he was counting down to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors in men's golf. Woods currently stands at 15 titles.


Michael Schumacher

The domination

Won 13 out of the 18 races in the 2004 F1 season.

The story

When Michael Schumacher won the Hungarian Grand Prix of the 2004 season, he broke his own record of 11 wins in an F1 season, set two years prior during his fifth drivers' championship victory. It also brought him level with Alberto Ascari's record of seven successive F1 wins, something that the Italian driver had achieved across two seasons in 1952 and 1953.

Schumacher added a 13th race win for the season in the penultimate race in Japan, picking up his seventh and final championship in the process.

While Sebastian Vettel equalled Schumacher's 13 race wins in a season during 2013, those came off 19 races as opposed to the 18 races in the 2004 season. Vettel did, however, win nine Grands Prix in a row to set a new record, moving past Schumacher, Ascari and Nico Rosberg, who also won seven in a row between 2015 and 2016.

What they said

"At the end of the day, I just move a bit quicker around in circles. But, I just have a good year, for whatever reason. That doesn't explain the last year, which was sort of more difficult than I had other years and sort of coming back more to what I used to be. I feel pretty normal. I just do what I can."

- Schumacher, when asked at the US Grand Prix if he felt invincible.