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A game of two balls, and tennis' shortest finals

Steven Lynch May 10, 2010
Uruguay were much too strong for Argentina in the first World Cup final © Getty Images

Is it true that two balls were used in the 1930 World Cup final after a dispute? asked Jared Michaels from Bedford
Rather remarkably, it does seem to be true. After Argentina and the hosts Uruguay qualified for the climax of the first World Cup in 1930, they couldn't agree on the make of ball to be used in the final. Neither side would give ground, and it was eventually agreed that each side should supply the ball for one half. An Argentinian ball was used for the first 45 minutes, and at half-time Argentina led 2-1. Then the Uruguayan ball came into play, and whatever the difference was, it worked - Uruguay scored three times with it, and ran out 4-2 winners.

What was the shortest-ever Grand Slam singles tennis final? asked Nichiketa Guha via Facebook
We don't have precise timings for many early finals, but the shortest known one was the 1922 Wimbledon ladies' final between the great French player Suzanne Lenglen and the Norwegian-born American Molla Mallory. Mrs Mallory won the first two games - but Lenglen swept the rest to win 6-2 6-0 in a match Wimbledon's records peg at 23 minutes (some accounts say it was over in 20). Three years later Lenglen beat Britain's Joan Fry in the final in 25 minutes, also 6-2 6-0. The shortest final in recent years was Steffi Graf's 32-minute demolition of Natasha Zvereva (6-0 6-0) in the 1988 French Open final. For the men, the shortest Grand Slam final I can find was at Wimbledon in 1881, when Willie Renshaw hammered the Reverend John Hartley 6-0 6-1 6-1 in 37 minutes. In 1936 Britain's Fred Perry beat the injured Gottfried von Cramm of Germany 6-1 6-1 6-0 - I think I have seen this match described somewhere as lasting only 37 minutes as well, but Wimbledon's records give it as 40.

Was Henry Cooper the first boxer to knock Muhammad Ali down in a pro fight? asked David Truelove from Accrington
Henry Cooper's famous knockdown of Muhammad Ali (who was still called Cassius Clay at the time) came at the end of the fourth round of their first fight, at Wembley Stadium in 1963. Ali recovered, helped by a kerfuffle over a cut in his boxing glove which earned him some extra time, and stopped Cooper in the next round. But that was actually the second time Ali had been on the floor in his professional career: his first knockdown came against another American, Sonny Banks, in February 1962. Ali went down in the first round, but recovered to put Banks on the canvas in the second and win in the fourth. Ali was subsequently knocked down by Joe Frazier (1971) and Chuck Wepner (1975).

Did anyone ever run a mile in exactly four minutes before Roger Bannister broke the famous barrier? asked John Richardson from Lincoln
The world record at the time of Roger Bannister's historic race at Oxford in 1954 was four minutes 1.3 seconds, set by the Swedish athlete Gunder Hagg in July 1945. Bannister lowered the record to 3:59.4, so at that point no-one had ever run a mile in exactly four minutes. The first man to clock four minutes dead did not do so until 1958. This was another Briton, Derek Ibbotson, who had himself lowered the world mile record in July 1957 to 3:57.2 - a mark that stood for just over a year before the great Australian Herb Elliott smashed it (3.54.5). Later in 1958 Elliott won a race at White City in London - and Ibbotson was fourth in exactly 4:00.00.

Jack Nicklaus was Mr Consistency in the majors © Getty Images

I know (because you answered the question recently!) that no-one has ever won all four of golf's majors in the same year. But has anyone ever finished in the top ten of all four in the same year? asked Chris Cazalet from London
A total of 14 different golfers have managed this. The most recent year it was achieved was in 2005, by Vijay Singh and Tiger Woods. Tiger also did it in 2000, but the record for consistency in this regard goes to Jack Nicklaus, who finished in the top ten of all four majors in 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1977. The others to have managed four top-ten finishes in the same year are Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson (both 2004), Sergio Garcia (2002), Ben Crenshaw (1987), Tom Watson (1975, 1977 and 1982), Hale Irwin (1975), Miller Barber (1969), Doug Sanders (1966), Gary Player (1963 and 1974) and Arnold Palmer (1960 and 1966),. The first person to do it (and it has only been possible since the Masters was instituted in 1934) was the American Ed Dudley in 1937: he was third in the Masters, fifth in the US Open and sixth in the British one, then reached the last 16 of the US PGA Championship, which was a matchplay event at the time (so he might be said to have finished joint ninth). Dudley, Sanders and Barber never did win a major - and Garcia has not done so yet.

Who was Harry Sunderland, and has any rugby league player won the trophy named after him more than once? asked Tim Varley from London
Harry Sunderland was an Australian rugby league administrator who eventually moved to England, where he was Wigan's manager for a time. After he died in 1964 it was decided to name the man of the match trophy (voted for by members of the Rugby League Writers' Association) in the Championship final in his honour: this was first awarded to Terry Fogerty of Halifax in 1965. From 1975 the trophy went to the man of the match in the Premiership final, and since 1996 to the man of the match in the Super League grand final. Only two players have won it twice: Alan Tait of Widnes in 1989 and 1990, and Andy Farrell of Wigan in 1996 and 1997.

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