I f 2017 was a little quieter than normal in the world of sport then next year is cranking up the volume to the max.
Everything from the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang to the World Cup in Russia will get tongues wagging this year, and that’s not even mentioning the slew of returning stars we all hope to see regain their sparkle.
We pick the extraordinary events set to place over the next 12 months and some of the faces that will most likely grab the headlines.
INDIA v SOUTH AFRICA
India have beaten up on opposition at home this year and now they take it the show on the road to some of the toughest cricketing territories on the planet.
Before they head to England and Australia, the No1 Test side in the world go to South Africa next month where they have never won a Test series in their entire history.
A wrangle over money between the unions had prevented this match from happening for years, but the powers-that-be have relented for this autumn.
The Sochi drugs scandal cast a shadow over the Winter Olympics and a clean slate in Pyeongchang could not come soon enough.
Superstar Lindsey Vonn, despite recent injuries, is back as 15 sports on the snow receive the attention they deserve in February.
Holders Germany were an unstoppable force in qualification – in fact they have not tasted defeat since losing the semi-finals of Euro 2016 to Italy.
They will be trailed by an intriguing chasing pack in Russia, however, with the likes of Brazil, Spain and France all flawed but dangerous.
For the first time there are four Arab nations showcasing their talents to the World too, after Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Tunisia all made the cut.
Can’t wait for June-July when all eyes of the footballing world will be on Russia.
The sight of 2017 major winners Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Brooks Koepka on the course will be a concern for any European fan.
But Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm and Tyrrell Hatton will fancy their chances alongside Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia in September.
There are a number of elder statesmen and stateswoman who are beginning to feel the game of tennis get to their bones, and in the Scot’s case it is his hip.
He looked far from nimble in the hastily arranged exhibition match in Abu Dhabi against Roberto Bautista Agut.
There are serious rumblings that Murray will never quite be the same again.
Still, a returning Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal didn’t do too badly last year so it will not be a surprise too see Murray regain his best form.
His Ashes tour ended in disgrace before it even started. Having let down his team-mates in Australia, Stokes has some making up to do.
He won’t return to England duty until the police investigation into his Bristol brawl ends but he’ll have half an eye on redemption against India.
There’s also the small matter of the IPL auction next month. How he performs while fielding the questions over his behaviour will show us what he is really made of.
Any kind of success for Bartoli would truly be the comeback of the year. The former Wimbledon champion initially retired after persistent injuries.
She spent recent seasons as a commentator, playing the occasional legends match.
Recently she caught a mystery virus that saw her loose a lot of weight.
However, she has since recovered to such an extent that the 33-year-old will be returning to the court in March.
It’s hard to remember a rookie quarterback have such an electrifying stretch of games. However, a knee injury cruelly robbed him and the Houston Texans off a playoffs run. Without him, his team sunk like a stone.
When he returns next year we’ll see whether he truly is the NFL’s next rockstar or if his first few games –where he threw 16 touchdown passes in October alone – were just an exceedingly bright flash in the pan.
The Northern Irishman shut down his season in October due to a nagging rib injury.
Next year is a big one with the Ryder Cup on the horizon and the feeling that McIlroy has lost just a bit of his lustre with a new wave of golfers enjoying success.
At 28 he’s hardly long in the tooth – it’s time now to remind the world just how talented he is. He has a busy schedule leading up to the Masters in April.
Love him or loathe him, everyone’s got an opinion about Fury. After suffering from mental health issues and failing a drugs test, Fury is apparently on the comeback trail and has been cleared to return to the ring.
He adds an unpredictable element to a heavyweight division that is currently being lorded over by Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder. What’s Fury got left in his considerably large tank?
Anthony Joshua attempting to unify the heavyweight division
It’s time for AJ and Deontay Wilder to stop the verbal jabs and slug it out, though promoter Eddie Hearn is doing his best to delay a meeting and milk the potential money.
Afghanistan and Ireland to prove themselves worthy of Test status
The Afghans are set to play none other than India in their first-ever Test in 2018 while Ireland’s plans have not been firmed up. The world game needs to grow – let’s hope they don’t end up like Zimbabwe.
A competitor to truly emerge and challenge Mercedes Sebastian
Vettel and Ferrari briefly threatened to take Mercedes’ throne but ultimately they got nowhere near. McLaren have a shiny new Renault engine and it remains to be seen what Red Bull have up their sleeve.
Andre De Grasse to become the new sprint king
Usain Bolt has rode off into the sunset and the vacuum in athletics – seemingly always mired in doping allegations – needs to be filled. Canada’s De Grasse, who missed the World Championships, seems the best among the lot.
Next Gen to start challenging the old guard
Jelena Ostapenko won the French Open last year and now it’s time for touted male starlets such as Dominic Thiem, Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov to mount consistent challenges, especially at Grand Slams.
Ali Mabkhout to try his luck in Europe
We know the UAE is home to plenty of football talent and just imagine the reaction if one of the homegrown Emiratis took the plunge in the big leagues. Omar Abdulrahman hasn’t made a move thus far. But there is Al Jazira star Mabkhout, who also has what it takes to make an impact in Europe.
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