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.
Sports stars all around the world, from Cristiano Ronaldo to Novak Djokovic and Lionel Messi, took to Twitter and Instagram to wish their fans Happy Christmas.
Here’s how some of the world’s biggest stars celebrated Christmas.
A season for professional cyclists these days is more grueling than ever, 10 months spent pushing your body to its absolute limit.
It stands to reason then that with the precious time they have off, it would be spent doing as little as possible, right? Wrong.
In the case of Matej Mohoric, he’s been spending his well-earned off-season running, mountain biking and playing basketball and football – his other passions.
The sporty Slovenian would centre his life around sport if he weren’t a professional cyclist, so he sees no reason to alter his mindset just because his passion is also his profession.
The 23-year-old’s arduous season with UAE Team Emirates began in Dubai in January at the Dubai Tour and took him across Europe before ending at the Tour of Guangxi in China in October.
Even with the month or so riders have off to recover, Mohoric revealed cyclists won’t spend too many days without doing activity as they look to stay sharp and prepare for pre-season – much of which starts in December.
“I’ll kind of rest,” Mohoric – who is switching allegiances to Bahrain Merida next season – tells Sport360 when asked if he is finally looking forward to a break after a tiring campaign on the UCI WorldTour.
“We don’t really take more than a couple of days off doing nothing. It’s easier that way to keep the fitness up and the rhythm going.
“Getting some rest at the end, take a month off, but I’ll do some other sports apart from cycling, and then start with the preparations for the new season.
“I will pick up some running, play some basketball, maybe some soccer and do lots of mountain biking, anything that comes along.
“I’m a sporty person anyway so would be doing a lot even if I wasn’t a professional cyclist. It’s been part of my lifestyle over the years, to do sport. I really like it because it’s my job. But I really enjoy doing sports in general.”
It’s been a cracking campaign for the Kranj native, winning a Grand Tour stage for the first time, claiming victory on Stage 7 at the Vuelta a Espana in August.
He was 30th overall in the Vuelta’s General Classification, out of 158 riders, in a race won by Britain’s Chris Froome. He didn’t fare so well at his other Grand Tour entry, finishing 135th at the 100th Giro d’Italia in May.
But other notable achievements included eighth at February’s Trofeo Laigueglia and victory at the Hong Kong Challenge in October ahead of a field of 93.
He was just a second away from winning Slovenia’s National Championships Road Race in June, finishing third behind Orica-Scott’s Luka Mezgec and Grega Bole of Bahrain Merida.
But as he reflects on a progressive campaign, he knows he’s taken a step forward.
“I think it has been a good year for me and for the team. I won a stage at the Vuelta and that was the highlight of the season,” said the 2012 UCI Junior Road World champion.
“Obviously it’s very nice to win a stage. I’m proud of it and I hope for more similar results in the future.”
Senior colleagues at UAE Team Emirates have enjoyed stellar success this season. South Africa’s Louis Meintjes picked up eighth place overall at the Tour de France for a second year running, while Portugal’s Rui Costa won the Abu Dhabi Tour in its first year as a WorldTour sanctioned race.
I think I’m capable of stepping up to that level,” he added. “I’m still young, only 23. I have plenty of time to develop further. I stepped forward this year and I hope I can pick up more momentum next year.
“I am looking forward to doing more Grand Tours. Maybe not next year but in the future for sure, it is one of my aims.”
With a cyclists’ calendar heavier today than ever, it would be easy to see a drop in performance as a long season weaves its way to a conclusion.
But Mohoric maintained his levels and finished the season superbly. He claimed victory in Hong Kong and was sixth in the GC at his final race of the season, in Guangxi.
“We are very happy with the last race. The season finished on a high and we hope there will be more highs next season,” said the Slovenian.
“Obviously the season is very long these days. I’ve had 95 races so it’s pretty tiring. But I managed to keep my motivation high and tried my best and the results came, even at this stage of the season.
“I just kept on riding between races. Doing the efforts my coach tells me and that kept the fitness levels up and allowed me to do my best.”
Mention of compatriot Bole at Bahrain Merida is poignant as Mohoric is moving across the Gulf to join him for 2018.
Mohoric also has a friend who is part of Merida’s management and his contract was also up with the UAE. He is looking forward to a new challenge, even if he admits it was a hard decision to leave his “family”.
“It’s been good times with them and I enjoyed being here with them. The team is like a family to me. The other side is I am looking forward to the future and we will see what it brings.
“It was a hard decision because I’ve really enjoyed myself at this team. It was hard to leave but I have new goals for the future and lots of motivation so I will look forward.
“I’m looking forward to it. It will be something new, something different. I hope it will be as good as it was here in UAE Team Emirates.”
With his contract winding down and the emergence of another Middle East-based team – both UAE Team Emirates and Bahrain Merida were new additions to the UCI roster this year – Mohoric said joining Merida had long been a possible option come the end of the season.
“A good friend of mine is connected with the Bahrain team, so as soon as that team was established I was always thinking of joining them. And now it will happen,” added Mohoric, who will definitely be keeping a close on the UAE and his now former colleagues.
“I am good friends with everybody and will keep in touch with all the staff and riders and stay friends,” he added.
“I was friends with all the team, and I think it’s important to keep the relationships.”