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Memorable sports comebacks of all time

Last updated on: December 25, 2009 13:46 IST

Sporting comebacks are nothing new

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Bikash Mohapatra

Michael Schumacher's return to competitive F1 racing might be a tad surprising, but not at all shocking.

Surprising, because he had recently ruled out a return to Ferrari, following Felipe Massa's accident; and, not so shocking, because comebacks in sports are nothing new.

However, if the German does succeed in making a mark, then he will definitely join an elite list.

For there have been many comeback attempts in sport before but few that were successful.

Sporting legends like Bjorn Borg, Mats Wilander, Martina Hingis et al have tried making comebacks and failed miserably.

So Schumacher making a comeback is no big news; but in case he makes it count, it will be.

Here's a look at some memorable comebacks in sport.


Image: Michael Schumacher

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Lauda an inspiration for F1 drivers

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The maverick three-time Formula One world champion is arguably the greatest comeback story in the history of sport.

In 1976, Lauda, the defending world champion then, crashed at the German Grand Prix and his Ferrari burst into flames.

The Austrian was trapped in the wreckage before he was eventually pulled out. He suffered extensive burns and also lapsed into a coma with a priest administering the last rites.

However, Lauda returned to race only six weeks (two races) later and went on to win two more world titles.


Image: Niki Lauda

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'Muster'ing up the courage

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With five titles in three years, Thomas Muster was considered a bright prospect in 1989.

Earlier that year he had become the first Austrian to reach the semi-finals of the Australian Open, and, soon after, the first to be ranked in the top 10.

At the Key Biscayne tournament in March, Muster defeated Yannick Noah in the last four, setting up a final match with incumbent world No 1 Ivan Lendl.

But hours after that famous semi-final win, Muster was struck by a drunk driver, severing ligaments in his left knee and forcing him to withdraw from the final.

He soon had to undergo surgery but continued to practice with the help of a specially-designed chair.

The Austrian returned to the professional circuit after just six months. And what a spectacular comeback it was.

His win at the 1995 French Open made him the first from his country to win a major, the top spot soon followed and 39 more titles were added to the kitty.

And, yes, he also won the tournament, where he had suffered that career-threatening injury in 1997.


Image: Thomas Muster

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Super Seles

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Her case is well-documented.

When at the peak of her career, with as many as eight major titles in just three years, Monica Seles was attacked and stabbed by a deranged Steffi Graf fan when she was playing in the German Open in 1993.

The subsequent injury cost her two-and-a-half years on the professional circuit and Graf added to the major tally in the meanwhile.

Seles made a brave comeback though and added the 1996 Australian Open title to her trophy cabinet.

Alas, she couldn't be as dominant as she used to be before the incident.


Image: Monica Seles

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Stronger than life

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His is stuff legends are made of. And a legend he became after a legendary battle.

In October 1996, Lance Armstrong, just 25 then, was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer that had spread to his lungs, abdomen and brain.

The American had an orchiectomy to remove his diseased testicle but chose an alternative treatment to avoid the lung toxicity.

The decision probably saved his cycling career and he was back to training in early 1998.

He went on to win the Tour de France a record-breaking seven consecutive years, from 1999 to 2005, retiring after his final triumph.

However, he returned to competitive cycling in earlier this year and made yet another spectacular comeback finishing third in the Tour de France.


Image: Lance Armstrong

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Super-mom Clijsters

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The most recent one of the lot, Kim Clijsters's successful comeback has inspired compatriot Justine Henin to follow suit.

After a spectacular career, that yielded four major final appearances (just one title though), 34 titles, the top rank and two world titles, the Belgian announced her retirement in May 2007, preferring domestic bliss to tennis.

However, in March this year she announced her intention to come back to competitive sport.

The comeback happened six months later, in the hardcourt season in the lead up to the year's final major (the US Open).

But in New York, in just her third tournament since returning to court, Clijsters surprised all to become the first wildcard and just the second mom since Evonne Goolagong in 1980 Wimbledon to win the tournament.

And among the seven players she beat en route to her second major title one was named Serena Williams the winner of the Australian Open and Wimbledon this year.

No wonder it inspired Henin to come out of retirement.


Image: Kim Clijsters

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