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5 memorable stories in sport starring the number 'ZERO'

Menino
SENIOR ANALYST
Top 5 / Top 10
Timeless

There’s no denying the fact that the number zero plays a significant role in all walks of life. Right from the clock hitting the 00:00 mark and bringing in a new day, month, year, decade and so on, to starting the car every morning from 0 and progressing to nearly about 100 km/hr, to celebrating every additional 0 to one’s pay check – the limit of this sometimes mysterious placeholder is boundless.

The world of sport in no exception, and has embraced the number with terms and signs of its very own. Who can forget the picture of that duck on our TV screens accompanying a batsman back to the pavilion after a first ball dismissal, or the countless buzzer beaters that have changed outcomes of basketball games at the very last second, or for that matter even the most famous scoreline in the history of football World Cup finals – a classic nil-nil after full time.

Here are 5 memorable stories in sport featuring the number 0.

1. Tennis – The Golden Set

A bagel is the tennis term for winning or losing a set 6-0 (the shape of the zero being reminiscent of the round shape of a bagel). There have been many instances of players winning games by double or triple bagels but an even more remarkable and distinct feat is that of winning a “golden set” (one which is won without dropping a single point). This is something that has been achieved only five times in history.

Having seen Sara Errani trade bagels with Venus Williams in the recently concluded US Open and then treated to one in the opening set against Wozniacki during the quarterfinals, it’s no surprise that she features on the list. At Wimbledon 2012, Yaroslava Shvedova subjected Errani to the ignominy of losing all 24 points as she took the first set 6-0 in just 15 minutes! Oddly Shvedova had come close to achieving the feat in 2006 against Amy Frazier too – winning the first 23 points but then going on to lose the match 6-1, 0-6, 0-6! The other four instances of a golden set are as mentioned below:

1943 Tristate tournament, Ohio: Pauline Betz (winner) vs Catherine Wolf

1983 WCT Goldcoast Classic, Delray Beach: Bill Scanlon (winner) vs Marcos Hocevar

1995 Fed Cup : Tine Scheuer-Larsen (winner) vs Mmaphala Letsatle

2013 US Open qualifying: Julian Reister (winner) vs Tim Peutz

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2. Cricket – 7 ducks in a row

Indian “all-rounder” Ajit Agarkar had a career roadmap which fluctuated between sheer brilliance and utter frustration. Billed as the next Kapil Dev, he showed glimpses of his undeniable talent with a skiddy bowling action and rather unorthodox but sometimes effective bat swing.

But perhaps most importantly, he ensured that his legend would never be forgotten – no, not for surpassing Dennis Lillee’s record for the fastest to 50 wickets in ODIs which lasted for a decade or for scoring the fastest 50 runs by an Indian batsman, or even for beating the odds by scoring a defiant century at Lord’s. Instead, he will be remembered for his incredible 7 consecutive ducks against Australia (most notably, 4 were golden ducks!) thus earning him the nickname “Bombay Duck”. His reaction on finally getting off the mark against his nemesis on the 8th attempt was priceless, as he raised his bat and offered a cheeky smile!

3. Basketball – Agent Zero

Jersey numbers bear a special and emotional connect between sportspersons and fans across the globe, but very few of those numbers though have a deep lying meaning or a message encrypted in them. An exception to that rule is the case of basketball player Gilbert Arenas.

Back in 2001, people predicted that he would get zero minutes in his freshman year at Arizona, and so he picked up the 0 jersey number on his back just to prove the detractors wrong. Needless to say, he went on to carve out a successful career with the Washington Wizards, earning himself the nickname “Agent Zero”. He even had his own shoe – the Adidas Gil Zero tailor-made to his requirements.

It was only back in 2010 that he changed from No. 0 to No. 6, having already proven his point.

Gilbert Arenas

4. Gymnastics – The Perfect Ten

Olympics scoreboard manufacturer Omega asked before the 1976 games whether four digits would be necessary for the gymnastics as it was assumed that a perfect ten (10.00) would be near impossible to achieve in the discipline. What nobody anticipated was a 14-year-old Romanian girl, Nadia Comaneci coming on to the stage and gracing the audience with a flawless performance on the uneven bars, leaving the judges no option but to award her the perfect score.

The scoreboard flashed at 1.00 as per the maximum capacity of the device, leaving everyone confused but then the realization soon dawned that history had been made.  She went on to hit the 10.00 mark six more times in the Olympics during an illustrious career which brought her 30 medals (21 gold, 7 silver and 2 bronze) in international gymnastic competitions.

Nadia Comeneci – Perfect 10

5. Football – The Clean sheet King

An often overlooked aspect in football is the value of keeping a clean sheet. Italian keeper Dino Zoff and his defence were masters at the trade back in the day, having conceded 0 goals in 1442 minutes of international football (September 1972 to June 1974), but their struggles at the other end of the pitch meant that they had to wait a further 6 years to get their hands on silverware (the World Cup 1982). By then, captain Zoff was 40 years old, and to this day he remains the oldest player to win the World Cup. Interestingly, it was Haiti of all teams that managed to breach the goal barrier that lasted 1442 minutes in the 1974 World Cup!

Dino Zoff – Dino Nazionale, The Spider, Il Monumento
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