Which is the safest bet in world sport? If you had to risk all your money on one particular team or individual winning their respective event, who would you pick?
This list is about the most dominant sporting displays. The conditions for it are that the sporting accomplishment must have occurred within the last 20 years, and the team or individual in question must have dominated this said field for a period of time - more than a single season or calendar year or Olympics - as the undisputed best.
We know it might look silly comparing teams and individuals, or combat and racket and ball sports, but we hope you'll see the fun side of it. Here are ESPN's nominees:
Rafael Nadal at the French Open (2005-present)
Imagine winning a Grand Slam on debut. Imagine preventing Roger Federer, one of the greatest players ever, from completing a Career Grand Slam (winning all four majors at least once) not once, not twice, but four times in succession. Imagine doing that to Novak Djokovic, another GOAT contender, three years in a row.
Imagine winning that Grand Slam 12 out of the 15 times you've played it, racking up a ridiculous 93-2 win-loss record in the process. Imagine doing all this while facing the pressure of expectations so heavy that anything less than winning that tournament is taken to mean you are finished.
That is Rafael Nadal's record at the French Open.
Usain Bolt at the Olympics (2008-2016)
Usain Bolt -- the world's fastest man, a record he has held for 13 years now -- is the most dominant sprinter of all time.
Here are the facts: He won the 100m and 200m across three consecutive Olympics, the only person in history to achieve this feat. Include the relays, and he has eight Olympic golds. Between 2009- 2015, he won the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay in every World Championships (except for a false start disqualification in 2011). His 11 World Championship golds are more than anyone in history.
In this period, he went on a run (no pun intended) where he won 17 straight 200m finals, and 14 straight 100m ones. He broke the 100m record thrice, the 200m record twice and the 4x100m relay record thrice.
And he made it all look as easy as a jog in the park.
Michael Schumacher with Ferrari (2000-2004)
Michael Schumacher won the first race of this millennium, the 2000 Australian Grand Prix, and that set the tone. He would go on to win that year's World Championship, and the next, and the next... For five years, back-to-back, he was the undisputed king of motorsport.
Between 2000 and 2004, he won 48 out of 85 races and went about setting records that stand to this day. In 2002, he became the only driver in F1 history to finish in the top three in every race of the season. In 2004, he went on a quite ridiculous run, winning 12 of the first 13 races (the one miss was when he crashed out of the Monaco GP, while leading). He was relentless, brilliant, and made winning look routine.
Oh, and for those who dismiss it as wins for car more than driver, a reminder -- Ferrari had not won a World Championship for 17 years before Schumacher joined in 1996. They had won seven by the time he left in 2006 [all him, of course].
Woods and the 'Tiger Slam' (2000-2002)
During a remarkable 10-month run in 2000-01, Tiger Woods became the only player to win four consecutive golf majors in the modern era. Though not achieved in the same calendar year, the 'Tiger Slam' showed his utter domination of the majors at his peak.
Woods started with a record 15-shot victory margin at the 2000 US Open. Then with a win at The Open at St Andrews, he beat Jack Nicklaus' record of being the youngest man to complete a Career Grand Slam. A month later, with a tense three-hole playoff victory over journeyman Bob May at the PGA Championship, Woods became the first player since Ben Hogan in 1953 to win three majors in one year. (Jack Nicklaus won three consecutive majors in 1971-72.)
Seven months later, with the spotlight firmly on him, Woods saw off David Duval and Phil Mickelson at the 2001 Masters to make history. He was 25 at the time.
Simone Biles at the World Championships (2013-present)
Simone Biles will have to wait another year if she is to add to her haul of four Olympic golds, but her dominance on the World Championships stage has already firmly placed her among the all-time great gymnasts.
Biles, who began her senior career at 16, won two golds (all-around, floor) at her first World Championships in Antwerp in 2013. She followed that with four golds each at the next three Worlds in 2014 (Nanning), 2015 (Glasgow) and 2018 (Doha), and then won five golds (team, all-around, vault, beam, floor) at the Stuttgart World Championships last year.
Biles' 25 World medals -- she also won three silver and three bronze medals along the way -- are the most by any gymnast, male or female. While Vitaly Scherbo's previous record of 23 medals (12 golds among them) stood for over two decades, Biles' feats too will take some beating.
Pep Guardiola's Barcelona (2008-2012)
Take the ball, pass the ball. So simple, yet so devastating.
Pep Guardiola's once-in-a-generation squad turned the game's most primary skill into an art form, stocking up a staggering 14 trophies in four seasons, including two Champions League triumphs and three back-to-back La Liga titles. Perhaps the best praise came from Sir Alex Ferguson, who called them 'the best team United had ever faced' after the 'hiding' United received in the 2011 UCL final.
Few teams have dominated oppositions so consistently and for so long, and no team has had such a definitive impact on football in this century. It was no surprise that the Spain team - mostly made up of Barcelona players at the time, and playing a similar brand of football - also picked up their Euro and World Cup trophies during the same period.
Floyd 'Money' Mayweather as a pro (2000-2015)
'Men lie... women lie... numbers DON'T lie.' After medalling at the 1996 Atalanta Olympics, featherweight American boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. went professional. And as a pro, he has never been beaten. Fifty bouts. Fifty wins. Twenty-seven knockouts.
He started as 'Pretty Boy' and soon became 'Money', having beaten all comers, including Manny Pacquiao, one of the greatest professional boxers of all time, in the 'Fight of this Century'. Mayweather is a bonafide pound-for-pound great, one of the best defensive boxers of all time and one of the very few to hang up his gloves undefeated.
Australian women's team at at the T20 World Cup (2010-present)
The Southern Stars, the women's cricket team of Australia, have been the standard bearers for dominance in the shortest format of the women's game, having won five of the last six T20 World Cups. England won the first edition in 2009, but since then Australia have won in 2010, 2012, 2014, 2018 and 2020. The only edition they missed out on was in 2016 in India, where they lost the final to West Indies.
It's not that they have had perfect tournament records -- the 2010 triumph was the only one where they went through unbeaten. In 34 matches during this period, they have had six defeats, including group stage defeats to rapidly rising India in the last two editions. However, they invariably bring their best to the finals, as Harmanpreet Kaur's India discovered in front of 86,174 fans on March 8 this year, mauled by 85 runs in the summit clash at the MCG.
Michael Phelps at the Olympics (2004-2016)
For 12 years, Michael Phelps dominated the swimming pool. He was probably, in that time, the most dominant individual athlete across sport. Sure, he lost races; he famously lost his last individual Olympic race to Singapore's Joseph Schooling, who looked up to Phelps and had a photo taken with the American when he was 13. But from 2004-16, every time he entered the pool, he was the swimmer to beat. And in a sport with a relatively short shelf life, that's a long time to be so dominant.
No wonder when he retired, after the Rio Olympics, he had these all-time records to his name: Most Olympic medals; most Olympic gold medals; most gold medals at a single Games; most swimming world records. The list goes on. His standout year was 2008, when he won every event, individual or team, he competed in at the Beijing Olympics; and his standout event was the 200m individual medley, which he won in four consecutive Olympics.
Peak Serena Williams (2013-2016)
Between February 2013 and September 2016, Serena Williams spent 186 consecutive weeks as the world's top-ranked singles player. Overall, only Steffi Graff and Martina Navratilova have spent more weeks than Serena Williams as World No. 1. However, Serena is ahead of them on the list of players with the most Grand Slam singles titles.
Serena won nine of the 19 majors she took part in during the above mentioned period, besides two runner-up finishes and two semifinal appearances. Her win-loss record in majors held during that period stands at an imposing 98-10, for a win percentage of 90.74.
Moreover, she also won 12 Premier Mandatory and Premier Five tournaments (the top tier of tournaments on the WTA tour) in that span and was runner-up in three other Premier Mandatory/Five tournaments. In fact, she reached the quarterfinals or better in 25 of the 27 Premier Mandatory/Five tournaments she participated in over that duration.
Zidane, Ronaldo, and Real Madrid's UCL three-peat (2016-2018)
Luck and form often play a bigger part in knockout competitions than consistency, but three straight Champions League titles do not happen by accident.
Real Madrid were far from perfect, and came close to exiting on multiple occasions during their three title-winning campaigns. Yet, somehow, Zinedine Zidane's men made clutch a habit, breaking hearts (and arms) along the way and producing some of the most spectacular moments of the UCL in this century.
Even as they stumbled domestically, they turned up with renewed vigour at the European knockout stages time and again, with Cristiano Ronaldo breaking new records, Sergio Ramos defying all critics and even unsettled players like Gareth Bale producing moments of magic.
Punter's World Cup invincibles (2003-2007)
Put the Australian team into a 50-over World Cup match in the noughties, and watch them either crush their opposition, or find a way to manufacture a victory out of a tricky situation. Ricky Ponting oversaw two unbeaten Australian campaigns, in South Africa in 2003 and in the West Indies in 2007, carrying on from an already existing sequence of seven successive unbeaten matches -- important to remember this match was a tie -- under his predecessor Steve Waugh in 1999.
Ponting's Australia won 11 matches apiece in both 2003 and 2007, and then extended the Australian unbeaten streak at World Cups to 32 in India in 2011, before losing to Pakistan and India, the latter knocking them out of the tournament. Those were Australia's first defeats at the World Cup in 142 months.
Roger Federer on grass (2003-2007)
Roger Federer's breakthrough at a major came when he won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 2003 at the age of 21. The win was followed by his rapid rise, soon after which he was ranked World No. 1 for the first time ever in February 2004. Such was his dominance that he ended up holding the position for 237 weeks in succession.
During that time, it was his invincibility on grass that stood out, as he won a staggering 65 straight matches on the surface. His silky forehands and effortless volleys enabled him to win every edition of Wimbledon from 2003 to 2007 -- becoming only the second man after Bjorn Borg to win five successive titles at the Championships in the Open era.
Kohli's India in home Tests (2015-present)
India, first under MS Dhoni as captain, and since the series against South Africa in 2015/16 have been near impregnable in home Tests. It began with four matches where the discussion veered towards the quality of pitches, but has since moved on to what is possibly India's most balanced bowling attack ever.
The figures speak for themselves -- 20 wins in 26 games played under Virat Kohli, which becomes 21 in 27 if you include the Dharamsala Test against Australia in 2017 played under Ajinkya Rahane as caretaker captain. That series also produced the only loss over the last five years at home for India, by 333 runs in Pune. The 20 wins have also produced lopsided margins -- India have eight innings wins, and a further 10 by a margin of 100 runs or more. Kohli, as captain, has led with the bat, scoring 10 hundreds, averaging close to 80. It's not a stretch to say that beating India in a Test at their own turf remains one of cricket's most challenging feats.
All Blacks at the Rugby World Cup (2011-2015)
The All Blacks i.e New Zealand's rugby union squad, are quite simply among Planet Earth's most dominant and successful teams - across sport, countries, formats with a win percentage of just over 77, stretching 117 years. Which means out of every 10 matches, they win almost eight.
Since we're looking for 21st century domination, in a four-year period between September 2011 to November 2015, the All Blacks won 56 of their 61 matches, losing only three and drawing two, their streak including back-to-back Rugby World Cup triumphs. New Zealand are the only team to have won three Rugby World Cups and the only one to do so consecutively. This in the 21st century. Enough said.
Kobe's Lakers at the Playoffs (2000-2004)
For the first few years of the new millennium, there was no stopping the LA Lakers. Managed by the great Phil Jackson -- who was coming off his incredible Michael Jordan-fueled double three-peat -- and powered by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, the Lakers swept all before them.
They won the NBA Championship in 2000, 2001, and 2002 and while the Shaq-Kobe dream team broke up after that, Jackson and Bryant led the franchise to two more championships and two more finals before the decade was out. They may not have had great regular season records, but once it went into the playoffs, they were a different beast.
Sample this -- the 2001 Lakers produced a modest 56-26 record in regular season, but finished the playoffs with the best record in the history of the NBA. They played 16 and won 15 (the only loss coming in overtime vs the Philadelphia 76ers). Now, that's dominance, when it really matters.