ICON Legends – Rafael Nadal – Tennis Superstar

We’re heading over to the world of tennis as we take a look at the glittering career of Rafael Nadal for the latest edition of our ICON Legends series.

The Spaniard burst onto the scene back in 2001 and after turning professional at the age of 14, it took him just four years to win his first major title. Nadal hasn’t looked back since and has won 20 Grand Slams in total, second only to Novak Djokovic in the all-time men’s rankings.

Known as the King of Clay, Nadal has dominated the French Open throughout his career, winning it a record 14 times since his first Roland Garros triumph in 2005. He’s also helped himself to four US Open titles, as well as winning both the Australian Open and Wimbledon twice.

Nadal also won gold at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, making him the youngest ever player to achieve a Career Golden Slam. Considering his career has regularly been disrupted by recurring injury issues, it’s remarkable that Nadal has achieved all that he has, including being the only man to win multiple majors in three separate decades.

The 37-year-old missed this year’s French Open for the first time in 19 years and looks set to finally hang up his headband in 2024. But while it may be game set and match for his illustrious career, Nadal will always remain among the greatest players to ever pick up a racket.

The King of Clay

It’s rare to see a player so dominant in one tournament but Nadal made the French Open his playground. He won it nine times in his first 10 appearances and is the only player to win the same major tournament 14 times.

At the 2017 tournament, Nadal didn’t drop a single set and of the 115 matches he’s played at the French Open, he’s only lost three times. He holds the record for the most consecutive wins on clay, remaining undefeated on the surface over 81 consecutive matches from April 2005 until May 2007.

In total, Nadal has won 63 titles on clay, remaining unbeaten in French Open finals. He’s also the only player to complete the Clay Slam, winning the French Open alongside titles at Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome in 2010.

Rivalry with Roger Federer

While Nadal and Federer were never rivals in a bitter sense and had a tremendous amount of respect for each other, for several years the pair were constantly battling for top spot. Before the emergence of Novak Djokovic, it was rare to see a Grand Slam not won by either of them.

Nadal remains the only player to beat Feder in four finals at the same major and is also the only player to defeat the Swiss in the final of three different majors, with only the US Open evading him.

In total, the pair have faced off 40 times, with Nadal coming out on top on 24 occasions. Remarkably, the Spaniard leads Federer 14-10 in their meetings in finals, although Federer has managed to defeat the master twice on clay.

They first met at the 2004 Miami Open where Nadal announced himself to the world by winning in straight sets. The pair then went on to win 11 consecutive Grand Slams between them from the 2005 French Open all the way through to the 2007 US Open.

Between 2006 and 2008 they contested every French Open and Wimbledon final. In fact, the 2008 Wimbledon final is considered by many to be the greatest tennis match of all time. Nadal took the first two sets before Federer fought back to take it to a deciding fifth set. There was nothing to separate them until Nadal finally edged it 9-7 to claim his first title at SW19.

The old rivals met for the final time in the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2019 but, unlike their first face-off in Miami, it was Federer who came out on top.

With Federer retired and Nadal expected to follow next year, it truly is the end of an era as we close the curtain on a remarkable period in modern tennis. And while the future looks bright following the emergence of Carlos Alcaraz, the young Spaniard has a long way to go before he can even come close to the achievements of his compatriot.

The word legend is thrown around far too casually in modern sport. However, following everything that he’s accomplished in his career, it would be impossible for anybody to argue that Nadal isn’t deserving of the accolade.

ICON Legends – Johnny Sexton – An Irish rugby hero

Irish rugby won’t quite be the same following the news that legendary fly-half Johnny Sexton is hanging up his boots.

The former captain helped his side to four Six Nations Wins, two Grand Slams and three Triple Crowns in a glittering career that saw him crowned the 2018 World Rugby Player of the Year.

Sexton scored an incredible 1,113 international points, the fourth-highest in history. He’s in rich company, with only Dan Carter, Owen Farrell and Jonny Wilkinson ahead of him in the all-time rankings.

Following a stellar career with Leinster, Racing 92, Ireland and the British and Irish Lions, we’ve taken a look back at the many highs (and lows) of Sexton’s rugby journey.

World Cup heartbreak

As Sexton clapped the travelling fans in his final match for his country, there wouldn’t have been a dry eye back home in Ireland. The fly-half was unable to keep it together as TV cameras caught his son encouragingly saying “You’re still the best, dad.”

He is undoubtedly Ireland’s greatest ever player and a World Cup win this summer would have been the icing on the cake, possibly cementing his place as the best the sport has ever seen.

Despite a trophy-laden career, Sexton was never able to add the Webb Ellis Cup to his impressive collection. Ireland have never progressed beyond the quarter-finals and that continued in France as they suffered a 28-24 defeat to New Zealand in the final eight.

The tournament wasn’t all bad for Sexton. Their pool stage triumph over Tonga saw him become Ireland’s highest points scorer of all time, while their 82-8 win against Romania was their biggest ever World Cup win.

Yet those records will do little to soften the blow of never being able to claim rugby’s greatest honour in what was possibly Ireland’s biggest opportunity in years.

Ireland national team sing the national anthem during the Rugby World Cup

Rugby Hospitality

An Irish idol

While Sexton’s medal collection has one notable omission, it does little to taint an incredible legacy in the green of Ireland. The 38-year-old spent 14 years giving his all for his home country, captaining them for the final four years of his career.

He made his debut way back in 2009 and was an instant hero as he scored 16 points, kicking seven from seven and winning man of the match in blistering conditions against Fiji.

He then followed that up against South Africa, where a broken hand didn’t stop him from scoring all 15 points in a 15-10 win.

A long-winded rivalry with England was spawned in the 2011 Six Nations as he scored 14 points to stop them from winning a Grand Slam. The first of Sexton’s four Six Nations championships came in 2014 as he finished as the joint-highest try scorer, before Ireland repeated the feat the following year.

Ireland won their third ever Grand Slam in the 2018 Six Nations but that dream almost fell apart in the first game. They were trailing away at France but Sexton stepped up to save the day, scoring a crucial drop goal in the 83rd minute after 41 phases to win the game 15-13.

Sexton was imperious throughout the tournament, scoring 44 points across the five games on his way to being nominated for player of the tournament. And it wasn’t just in the Six Nations that he excelled as he continued an impressive 2018 by helping Ireland secure their first series win in Australia since 1979.

He finished that season undefeated as a starter for Ireland and became just the second ever Irishman to be crowned World Rugby Player of the Year.

Sexton enjoyed a successful final few years captaning his nation and last summer he led them to a Test series win in New Zealand. That victory saw Ireland become the first touring side to defeat the All Blacks in their own backyard since 1994.

And in Sexton’s final ever Six Nations game against England, Sexton captained Ireand to their fourth (and his second) Grand Slam.

Heineken Cup hero

Away from the international stage, Sexton has also enjoyed a remarkable domestic career, most notably for hometown club Leinster. Apart from a brief two-year spell at Racing 92 in France, Sexton spent his entire career at Leinster and helped them to four European Cups, six league titles, one European Challenge Cup and two Irish Shields.

Sexton’s first Heineken Cup triumph came in 2009, where a stunning drop goal from the halfway line helped Leinster to their first ever European Cup. He scored 11 points as his side won 19-16 against Leicester Tigers.

Two years later, Leinster’s name was on the trophy again after Sexton inspired them to one of rugby’s greatest ever comebacks. They trailed 22-6 at half-time but two tries and 28 points from Sexton saw them claim a remarkable 33-22 win. Sexton won man of the match and his haul was the second-highest points tally ever recorded in a Heineken Cup match.

Leinster secured a second consecutive Heineken Cup a year later – their third in four years – and Sexton scored 15 points in the 42-14 win over Irish rivals Ulster, which was the biggest ever winning margin in a final.

Following Sexton’s return from France, he became Leinster captain in 2018 and led them to a fourth European Cup, beating old side Racing 92 in the final, before they claimed four consecutive league titles to cement their place as one of Europe’s greatest sides.

Love him or loathe him, Sexton has had a phenomenal career and as he settles down to enjoy a well-deserved retirement, he’ll rightly be remembered as one of the best to ever do it.

ICON Legends – Lionel Messi – Football superstar

In the latest instalment of our ICON legends series, we’ve taken a look at the mind-blowing numbers behind Lionel Messi and his incredible career.

While football fans will never unanimously agree on who the best player of all time is, it’s undeniable that Messi deserves to be at the centre of any debate. The Argentinian broke into Barcelona’s first team at the age of 17 and he hasn’t looked back since.

Messi spent 17 years running the show at the Nou Camp, winning an astonishing 34 trophies, including four Champions Leagues and 10 La Liga titles. He scored 672 goals for the Spanish side, including 73 in the 2011/12 season, which landed him one of his six European Golden Shoes.

He was the talisman in one of the greatest club sides in history under Pep Guardiola, leading Barca to Spanish football’s first ever treble in 2009. Messi’s dominance continued and alongside Neymar and Luis Suarez, he was part of one of the most feared attacks in Europe as Barca secured European glory again in 2015.

The 36-year-old has won it all at club and international level and he holds the record for the most Ballon d’Or wins, having secured the coveted award an incredible seven times.

Rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo

Messi enjoyed a healthy rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo that lasted nine years, with both of them in the prime of their career as they competed for fierce rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Ronaldo regularly joins Messi in the conversation for best of all time and they’ve each developed a dedicated cult following worldwide – it truly is the footballing equivalent of Blur vs Oasis.

The pair have won 79 trophies between them and have each scored more than 800 career goals. For many years they shared the Ballon d’Or, with no other player managing to win it between 2008 and 2017.

Their domestic rivalry ended in 2018 when Ronaldo left La Liga to join Juventus and despite the drama that was created whenever they met on the pitch, it was evident throughout their careers that the pair had nothing but respect and admiration for one another.

Messi Kolkata - World Cup Poster

World Cup win

Messi has been compared to Diego Maradona throughout his career due to both his playing style and his prestige back in Argentina. And while Messi is his country’s all-time leading goalscorer, there were always question marks over his legendary status due to the fact that he hadn’t won the World Cup.

He almost single-handedly managed it in 2014 as he guided Argentina to the World Cup final before they fell at the final hurdle, ultimately losing to Germany.

That looked to be the end of Messi’s World Cup dream as just two years later he announced his international retirement. But he quickly changed his mind and helped his nation reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

It wasn’t for another three years that Messi would taste international glory as Argentina beat Brazil in the final to secure the 2021 Copa America. And a year later, he finally etched his name alongside Maradona’s by winning football’s ultimate prize.

Despite being 35 years old at the tournament in Qatar, Messi rolled back the years as he captained Argentina to the final. He scored twice against France as the game finished 3-3, before Messi and co. came out on top in a tense penalty shootout to bring the famous trophy back to Argentina for the first time since 1986.

Ballon d’Or favourite

As a result of winning the World Cup, Messi remains the favourite to win the Ballon d’Or for the eighth time. The superstar continued his brilliance after the tournament as he helped PSG to the Ligue 1 title.

Messi has since crossed the pond to join Inter Miami, where he has reunited with former Barcelona team-mates Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba and the trio have already secured the 2023 Leagues Cup.

Manchester City star Erling Haaland will be a strong contender when the Ballon d’Or ceremony rolls around next month. The Norwegian striker enjoyed a season Messi would be proud of as he scored a phenomenal 52 goals en route to the treble in his debut season in England.

But the award famously favours success in the World Cup and having already won it seven times, it seems inevitable that an eighth is on its way.

ICON Legends – Stuart Broad – England Cricket Idol

English cricket may have entered a new era but it has also reached the end of one with Stuart Broad retiring last week. After a professional career spanning almost 20 years, the legendary bowler has made the decision to hang up his headband for good.

Broad will go down as one of England’s greatest ever players and he went out with a bang, taking his 604th Test wicket (and his 151st in the Ashes) with the final ball of his career.

The 37-year-old spent the majority of his career at hometown club Nottinghamshire, as well as enjoying brief dalliances in the IPL and the Big Bash. He played a whopping 167 Test matches for England and has captained both the ODI and T20i teams.

As part of our ICON series, we’ve taken a look at the highlights of Broad’s glittering career.

Broad’s early years

Considering he spent his career near the bottom of the order, it’s hard to believe that Broad started out as an opening batsman. A growth spurt at 17 saw him develop into a fast bowler and it wasn’t too long before the fresh-faced starlet was making his first-class debut for Leicestershire.

Broad spent three years at the midlands club before switching allegiance to Nottinghamshire in 2007, where he spent the rest of his domestic career. And it was that very same year that he faced his first true test as a cricketer.

In a T20 World Cup match against India, Yuvraj Singh hit Broad for six sixes from just one over. It was the first time it had ever happened in a T20 game and just the fourth time in cricket history.

Instead of letting the incident derail his progress, Broad used it as inspiration. Just three months later he made his Test debut and he hasn’t looked back since, becoming a mainstay in the team for the next 16 years.

Becoming a Test match star

Broad’s Ashes debut came two years later in Cardiff as he followed in the footsteps of his father, Chris Broad, who played 25 Test matches for England. The fifth Test at The Oval saw him crowned man of the match as he bowled an impressive 5/37.

Broad continued to shine on the world stage for England with both bat and ball. In 2010 he scored a career-high 169 against Pakistan, the second highest ever score from a number nine.

And the following summer he claimed his first Test match hat-trick against India at Trent Bridge. He’s one of only four players to claim multiple hat-tricks, with the second coming against Sri Lanka at Headingley in 2014.

In 2012, the West Indies didn’t know what had hit them at Lord’s. It was the Stuart Broad show as he got 7/72, finishing the match with 11 wickets.

Hometown glory

If England fans were impressed with Broad’s bowling display at Lord’s, they hadn’t seen anything yet. With England 2-1 up against Australia in the 2015 Ashes, they travelled to Trent Bridge for the fourth Test.

Perhaps spurred on by the crowd at his home ground, Broad was unstoppable. He recorded 8/15, the best bowling performance in the Ashes since Jim Laker in 1956, and the Aussies were bowled out for just 60 runs.

It was Broad’s best ever return in his career and England went on to win the match and claim the urn. Remarkably, his eight wickets didn’t include David Warner, who was dismissed by Mark Wood that day. The pair enjoyed a healthy rivalry throughout their careers, with Broad getting Warner a whopping 17 times in total.

Going out in style

For cricket fans, the summer of 2023 will be remembered for an incredible all-action, full-throttle, Ashes series – and Broad more than played his part.

He’s been part of so many Test sides throughout his illustrious career and his consistent bowling and reinvention at the crease as the ‘Nighthawk’ made him a perfect element for the ‘Bazball’ revolution.

Ultimately, the series didn’t go England’s way as a rain-soaked Manchester spoiled the fun during the fourth Test, meaning Australia retained the urn. But after announcing his imminent retirement midway through the final match at The Oval, Broad made sure his teammates would get the chance to party regardless.

Not one to go quietly, the stars aligned and the cricket gods ensured he went out in style. Emotions were high as Broad came out to bat for one final time with old pal Jimmy Anderson and there was undoubtedly a feeling of smugness as old foes Australia were forced to give him a guard of honour.

The early morning partnership didn’t last long but Broad made it memorable as he smashed Mitchell Starc for six from the final ball he’ll ever face. And when the tables were turned and England needed a hero to level the series, old reliable stepped up.

As Broad prepared to bowl another over, he was told by captain Ben Stokes that it would be his last, with Wood set to come in with his extra pace. But there would be no need for Wood as Broad finished the match, and the series, forcing Alex Carey to edge into the hands of Jonny Bairstow.

It would be impossible to sum up Broad’s career in just two final actions but fearless tail-end batting and relentless, pinpoint bowling is just about as close as you can get.

ICON Legends – Frankie Dettori – Horse Racing Hero

As we kick off our ICON Legend series, what better place to start than with Frankie Dettori, one of British sport’s most iconic figures.

The Italian jockey is hanging up his whip at the end of the racing season following a glittering 36-year career. Dettori burst onto the scene in 1987 and hasn’t looked back on his way to becoming one of the most successful jockeys in history.

It’s a talent that runs in the family. Dettori’s father was a top jockey in Italy and won the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket twice in a row back in the ‘70s. And it’s safe to say Dettori has surpassed his dad’s achievements.

He’s won just about everything on offer in British flat racing and he’s dominated overseas, winning countless races in Italy and Ireland to name a few, as well as claiming six victories in France’s famous Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Frankie Dettori

Dettori’s early years

With racing in his blood, Dettori wasted no time in getting involved. He moved to England in 1985 aged just 14 and started working in the Newmarket stables with trainer Lucas Cumani.

Two years later he became an apprentice jockey and he claimed his first winner at Goodwood. It was clear Dettori had something about him from the start and he really caught the eye when he won his first Gold Cup at Ascot with Drum Taps in 1992, a feat he repeated the following year.

And it was in 1994 that he joined forces with Godolphin Racing, enjoying success with their best horses for the next 18 years. If he wasn’t on every racing fan’s radar yet, he soon would be. He was crowned British flat racing champion jockey in both 1994 and 1995, before claiming the title again in 2004.

Frankie Dettori Early years

Magnificent Seven

When you’ve enjoyed a career as long and successful as Dettori’s, it’s hard to narrow down one crowning achievement. But according to the great man himself, his greatest honour in the sport came at Ascot in 1995.

On British Festival of Racing Day, Dettori dominated the track and famously rode all seven winners. The incredible achievement had odds of 25,091/1 and is believed to have cost the bookies around £40 million.

Gold Cup dominance

Some things in sport just go hand in hand.

Usain Bolt and gold medals. Real Madrid and the Champions League. Roger Federer and Wimbledon. And Frankie Dettori and the Ascot Gold Cup belong in that category as well.

He’s won it a remarkable nine times, just two behind record-holder Lester Piggott. Dettori famously rode Stradivarius to a hat-trick of consecutive wins in the race between 2018 and 2020.

And he went out with a bang in his final royal meeting this summer, striding home to secure another Gold Cup aboard the imperious Courage Mon Ami.

The one that got away

Frankie Dettori has ridden a whopping 287 winners in Group 1 races, with 23 of those in British Classics. That total includes seven victories in the Epsom Oaks, with the most recent coming last month.

But there’s one race that has always evaded him. Dettori has won every single Group 1 race on offer in Britain apart from the July Cup at Newmarket. And in a cruel twist of fate, he’s set to miss out on taking part this year after receiving a ban for overuse of the whip at Ascot.

Is the prospect of winning it next year enough to convince the legendary jockey to postpone his retirement for another 12 months?

If he does have his heart set on bowing out at the end of the season, you’ve still got plenty of chances to see him race. Check out our hospitality options at the Ebor Festival at York in August and you can say a final farewell to one of horse racing’s all-time greats.