Dec 18 (Reuters) - Great sporting comebacks of 2013
1. Oracle Team USA’s comeback to win the America’s Cup
Few challenges can have seemed as hopeless as that facing Larry Ellison’s Team USA when trailing Emirates Team New Zealand 8-1 in the best-of-17 series in San Francisco Bay in September.
The Jimmy Spithill-skippered Team USA kept their heads, however, and after replacing their tactician with Olympic champion Ben Ainslie, displayed vastly improved tacking and teamwork to ride a huge wave of momentum into a winner-takes-all showdown.
Team USA duly crushed the Dean Barker-skippered Team New Zealand in the decider to retain the trophy they won three years before and reinvigorate a once-troubled regatta.
2. Rafa Nadal’s brilliant comeback season
Diagnosed with a tear in his patella tendon and inflammation in his left knee, Spaniard Nadal was unable to defend his Olympic title last year and missed the second half of 2012.
A stomach flu delayed his comeback further and saw him miss the year’s first grand slam at the Australian Open, but after a low-profile re-entry at a tournament in Chile in February, Nadal won an astonishing 10 titles, including an eighth French Open crown and the U.S. Open.
The Mallorcan also re-captured the world number one ranking from Novak Djokovic and though the 13-times grand slam champion was pummelled by the Serb in the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals, he finished the year with the top ranking for the third time in his career.
3. All Blacks comeback win over Ireland to complete perfect rugby season
A shining season by a world champion rugby team attained mythical status when New Zealand came back from the brink to defeat Ireland 24-22 in the final test of the year in November to complete the first perfect season of the professional era.
New Zealand trailed 19-0 after 18 minutes and 22-7 at halftime, but came storming home to win in the most dramatic of circumstances and courtesy of two of their stand-in men.
A stoppage time try to replacement back Ryan Crotty left Aaron Cruden, who had replaced the injured Dan Carter at flyhalf, with the conversion kick to seal the win.
The kick sailed wide but agonisingly for the Irish, they were penalised for rushing out too quickly at the kicker, allowing Cruden to coolly slot it on the second attempt and secure the All Blacks their 14th win from 14 for the year.
4. Adam Scott shrugs off British Open disappointment to win U.S. Masters
Pundits had consigned Australia’s Adam Scott to a life on the psychiatrist’s couch after he blew the biggest chance to win his maiden major at the British Open at Lytham last year, when he gave up a four-stroke lead with four holes to play to gift Ernie Els the trophy.
Long regarded an unfulfilled talent, Scott shrugged off the meltdown and told his critics that the disappointment only confirmed that he had it in him to win majors.
When presented with his next chance at Augusta in April, Scott sunk a 25-foot birdie putt to force his way into a playoff with Argentine Angel Cabrera and closed out an emotional victory, the first by an Australian at Augusta, with a 15-foot putt on the second extra hole.
5. Miami Heat’s comeback to beat San Antonio in NBA finals
The reigning NBA champions trailed 3-2 in the best-of-seven finals series and were five points down and 20 seconds away from giving up their title during game six on their home court in June.
Officials had started roping off the court for the trophy presentation and spectators were leaving in their droves when the Heat’s Ray Allen made a three-pointer with five seconds on the clock to tie the game 95-95 and put it into overtime.
Fired by LeBron James, Heat closed out the game 103-100 to force the decider and returned to the court to seal back-to-back titles with a 95-88 win in game seven.
6. Australia take Ashes back from England
Unfancied Australia entered their home series against England in November after a tumultuous year marked by abysmal performances on the field and strife off it.
Australia had lost the first of back-to-back Ashes series 3-0 to England in August, their worst result against their traditional rivals in decades and one that followed a 4-0 drubbing in a test series away to India.
Marshalled by new coach Darren Lehmann and fired by the renaissance of seamer Mitchell Johnson, Michael Clarke’s team stunned England with a 381-run victory in the series-opener in Brisbane before confirming their dominance with a 218-run win in the second test in Adelaide.
They sealed the five-test series two matches early with a 150-run victory in the third match in Perth on Tuesday, completing a stunning revival from one of their lowest ebbs in the modern era.
7. Borussia Dortmund sink Malaga in stoppage-time during Champions League quarter-finals
Trailing 2-1 in second half stoppage time in the second leg of their quarter-final in April, Dortmund refused to lie down and die, despite the exit of hundreds of their fans from their home stadium.
Last-gasp goals from Marco Reus and Felipe Santana sent the Germans through in a stunning finish that sealed their first appearance in the European competition’s last four for 15 years.
The magic continued for Dortmund as they upset Real Madrid in the semi-final before their fairytale run was ended by fellow Germans Bayern Munich in the final.
8. New England Patriots win NFL overtime thriller against Broncos
The Patriots trailed the Denver Broncos, favourites to win the Super Bowl, 24-0 at halftime during the regular season game in November but came to life in the second half courtesy of quarterback Tom Brady’s heroics.
Brady struck with 31 straight points to set up a dramatic overtime finish and allow Stephen Gostkowski to kick the 31-yard field goal for a thrilling 34-31 win.
9. New Zealand’s McCullum fells Sri Lanka in four balls
A final-over blitz by New Zealand’s Nathan McCullum elevated a rain-hit one-day international cricket match against Sri Lanka into a thrilling last-ball victory in Hambantota last month.
The bowling all-rounder and older brother of captain Brendon McCullum needed 20 runs from the last four balls to reach Sri Lanka’s 198.
McCullum smashed a six and a four off the first two balls from the hapless left-arm spinner Rangana Herath, then blasted two consecutive sixes to win the match and finish unbeaten on 32 runs from his nine deliveries faced.
10. Serial comeback king Tommy Robredo inspires at Roland Garros
While Rafa Nadal took the trophy at this year’s French Open, it was the achievements of a far lower-profile Spaniard that lit up the first week of the grand slam.
At 31, Robredo advanced to his fifth quarter-final at Roland Garros by mounting a record three consecutive comeback victories from two sets down.
Beginning with a a 6-7(2) 4-6 6-3 6-1 6-1 turnaround against Igor Sijsling in the second round, Robredo then upset local favourite Gael Monfils 2-6 6-7(5) 6-2 7-6(3) 6-2 in the next match before stunning eleventh seed Nicolas Almagro 6-7(5) 3-6 6-4 6-4 6-4 in the round of 16.
That made the Spaniard the first man to achieve the feat since Henri Cochet at Wimbledon in 1927.
Writing by Ian Ransom; Editing by Justin Palmer