2022’s breakout sport stars: our predictions

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Golf: Matthias Schmid

Germany do not produce many professional golfers, but when they do they tend not to mess around. Is Matti Schmid set to follow in the spike marks of Bernhard Langer and Martin Kaymer?

The shrewd judges on the European Tour believe he has the talent, awarding the 24-year-old the Rookie of the Year honours in November. It was a notable feat as Schmid only turned pro after the Open in July, but through invites set about earning his card for 2022 in just 10 events, with four top 12s, including a tie for second in the Dutch Open.

Anyone who watched the two-time European Amateur champion at Royal St George’s will not have been too surprised at his fast start on Tour. In the second round, he shot a 65 to equal the lowest round shot by an amateur in The Open, on his way to taking the silver medal. 

At 253rd in the world, Schmid, the son of a Bavarian teaching pro, has a long way to go, but his dream is to put on a garment that has so far eluded Kaymer. “My big goal is to win the green jacket, but until I can get an opportunity to do that and actually qualify for the Masters, I have a lot of things to improve,” he says. James Corrigan


Women’s cricket: Sophia Dunkley

Dunkley made both her Test and ODI debuts for England last summer, and hit half centuries on both occasions. Consistent, and at times fantastically explosive, performances in the inaugural Hundred competition cement Dunkley’s reputation as a star not just of the future but the present as well. At 23, she outperformed all other English batters in the tournament, with more runs than any other and a strike rate above 140. She also enjoys a big stage, and with an away Ashes and World Cup around the corner, this bodes well for the coming months.

Furthermore, after a year in which off-field cricket news has taken up as much coverage as on-field, Dunkley becoming the first black woman to play Test cricket for England is a significant moment for the game. An understated figure who would rather let her bat do the talking, the task for England now is to protect a figure who will rightly be seen as a role model for years to come. Part of that protection will come through managing the disappointments as much as the successes. Dunkley had a quiet series against New Zealand to finish off the English summer. Isabelle Westbury


Tennis: Carlos Alcaraz

While teenagers on the women’s side like Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez were the unexpected headliners of 2021, this year your money should be on Spain’s 18-year-old Carlos Alcaraz to make a splash. 

Last season saw him claim a fair few scalps, including a marathon win over top-three player Stefanos Tsitsipas at the US Open, opening up his run to the quarter-finals, and consecutive victories in Vienna against three-time major champion Andy Murray and Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini. 

He thrives on the show courts playing quality opponents, his explosive game fending off the pressure, and is being touted as Rafael Nadal’s successor. Alcaraz grew into last season, rising to a career-high No 32 in the world, and winning the Next Gen Finals. He could well come of age entirely in 2022 – and will be an opponent big names want to avoid in the draw at the Australian Open. Molly McElwee


Racing: Galopin Des Champs

Willie Mullins has won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Hurdle at Cheltenham four times. His first three Sir Des Champs, Don Poli and Killultagh Vic all went on to be very smart horses but last year’s winner, Galopin Des Champs, could be something else altogether if his steeplechasing debut at Leopardstown last Tuesday was anything to go by.

He had already stepped up from that handicap hurdle at Cheltenham to winning a Grade 1 novice hurdle at Punchestown by 12 lengths and he looked imperious when winning his beginners’ chase over two miles five furlongs by 22 lengths. It will be interesting to see how he gets on next time and, the time after that is likely to be Cheltenham. 

We have had a few false dawns with Samcro and Envoi Allen only to fizzle out after being hailed the second coming of Arkle but this is a horse to take forward with us into 2022.

The sport in America has its problems but there is nothing like a great horse to paper over the cracks for the duration of its career and, though the John Sadler trained Flightline is lightly raced, he is now the wide-margin winner of all three starts including the Grade One Malibu Stakes over seven furlongs at Santa Anita when he never came off the bridle to win by 11 lengths on Boxing Day. Across the water he should be turning heads in 2022. Marcus Armytage


Women’s rugby: Zoe Harrison

Harrison came of age during England’s autumn internationals last year with four statement performances at fly-half, a position which was vacated by the long-standing Katy Daley-Mclean in 2020. 

This season’s highest Premier 15s points kicker, the 23-year-old’s progression over the past 18 months has been phenomenal. Her immaculate performance from the tee in England’s second Test against New Zealand last November meant the Red Roses were the first team to score more than 50 points against the Black Ferns. “We’ve seen her come out of her shell, both as a player and a leader,” said Simon Middleton, the England head coach.

Kicking in the women’s game has traditionally been seen as a weakness, but Harrison’s eye-opening ability between the posts — not to mention the range that she regularly lands out of hand — underlines why she is fast becoming the face of the modern game. “Our technique also has to be completely different to the men’s because of the way we are shaped, which I’ve had to find out. If you were given the correct coaching like the boys also get, you can get something quite good out of it,” Harrison told Telegraph Sport last year. Fiona Tomas


F1: George Russell

The 23 year-old Briton has patiently waited for his time at a top team after three seasons at backmarkers Williams. In 2022 he gets his chance to prove himself on the biggest possible stage against the toughest possible team-mate: Lewis Hamilton. 

So far Russell has had just one shot in a race-winning car when he deputised for Hamilton, who had coronavirus. At the Sakhir Grand Prix last year, he proved himself worthy of his place at Mercedes, with a performance that deserved victory but that was cruelly taken from him twice. 

In 2021 he put in some eye-catching performances throughout the year. His wet-weather qualifying sessions in Spa and Russia were sublime, out-qualifying Hamilton – in far better machinery – both times. Making it to the final part of qualifying four times tells us how good he is over one lap. But four points finishes in the middle of the season show that he can do it on Sundays, too.

The pressure of being at the front week after week will be different. And, no disrespect to them, but Williams team-mates Nicholas Latifi and Robert Kubica are not of the same calibre as Hamilton. Russell’s reputation could soar even further if he offers the same kind of resistance to Hamilton as rookie Hamilton did to Fernando Alonso in 2007. Luke Slater


Men’s rugby: Antoine Dupont

The men’s World Rugby player of the year, Antoine Dupont, would seem like an obvious answer, but really 2023 is going to be Dupont’s year. With a home World Cup in France, one of the game’s brightest stars is going to have his face on every billboard and in every TV advert going. There are some obvious candidates: Siya Kolisi is building an impressive global image, Louis Rees-Zammit is the next great star of Welsh rugby, while in Ireland with his kilowatt smile and luscious hair James Lowe is converting the masses. 

Marcus Smith might be the fancy new toy in England’s playbox and his marketability is heading through the roof, but the real face of the game in England right now is Maro Itoje. Not only because of his consistently excellent performances for England and Saracens which never seem to dip below a nine out of 10. But through his moves into fashion (with Marks and Spencer), cosmetics (hard to imagine Wade Dooley doing the same back in the day), art (curating a Sotheby’s collection) and even promoting fabrics and wallpaper (Sanderson), Itoje is evolving far outside rugby’s usual circles in a refreshing manner. At some point he may even end up captaining his country. Ben Coles


Men’s football: Phil Foden

It is not too bold to say that Phil Foden could quickly become the best player in the Premier League and, also, the most important for England. It is remarkable to think that Foden is still just 21 given what he has achieved and what an accomplished player he already is. But it feels like there is still so much more to come — and even in a season that has been hit by injury he has proved again how vital he can be to Manchester City, where Pep Guardiola deserves a great deal of credit for carefully-nurturing his development.

Foden still has a point to prove with England where he started in Gareth Southgate’s team at the Euros but then struggled through injury. Had he scored in the opening game against Croatia, rather than strike the post early on, then maybe it might have been a different campaign for him. But there is no doubt that he will not only continue to be a big part of Guardiola’s plans but will be in Southgate’s squad for the World Cup in Qatar. It is not just “the Stockport Iniesta’s” skill, range and versatility that makes him so special but also his football intelligence. Jason Burt


Athletics: Christian Coleman

In all the commotion surrounding the shock Olympic 100 metres victory of Italy’s Marcell Jacobs in Tokyo, it was easy to forget the absentee who would have been an overwhelming favourite to win the title.

World champion Christian Coleman is the latest in an endless list of controversial sprinters. The American only triumphed at the 2019 World Championships after successfully arguing that one of three doping test whereabouts failures he suffered beforehand should be backdated.

Yet just a couple of months after that win, in a personal best 9.76 seconds, he was charged with yet another missed drugs test and banned. There was no fanfare when that suspension expired during the off-season in November, but there will doubtless be huge attention on Coleman when he returns to action, first to defend his world indoor 60m title in March and then his world outdoor 100m title in July.

Do not be surprised if he retains both. Coleman, 25, was the world’s fastest man in 2017, 2018 and 2019, losing just once over 100m in that final full season. He has also shown scant contrition for his doping offence, instead accusing the anti-doping authorities of targeting him. Ben Bloom


Cricket: Saqib Mahmood

The Ashes has exposed, yet again, England’s need to develop bowlers of rapid pace who can thrive with the old ball, not just the new one. Saqib Mahmood has already showcased his 90mph pace and aggressive lengths in limited-overs matches, taking nine wickets in three one-day internationals against Pakistan this summer. While England floundered on the fourth day in Adelaide, Mahmood made a stunning impact in Australia, taking four wickets inside his first 11 balls on his Big Bash debut. 

Yet Mahmood’s pace and penchant for reverse swing is also a tantalising prospect in Test cricket: he took a five-wicket haul in the Roses Championship match this year. As England strive to develop a better-balanced attack, Mahmood could quickly win a berth in the side. Aged 24, 2022 could be the year he moves from England’s periphery to at the heart of their plans, with the red and white-ball alike. Tim Wigmore


Winter Olympics: Mikaela Shiffrin

If all goes to plan, it will be hard to avoid Mikaela Shiffrin in Beijing. The 26-year-old American, one of the most successful athletes in alpine skiing history, intends to participate in every individual women’s race (slalom, giant slalom, downhill, super-G and combined). That was also the plan at PyeongChang 2018 before weather-related rescheduling contributed to her competing in just three, winning gold in the giant slalom, silver in the combined and placing fourth in the slalom.

She will probably go to Beijing as the favourite in both the slalom and giant slalom technical events, particularly in the former where the 2014 Olympic champion is also a four-time world champion.

Shiffrin is, nevertheless, adopting a pragmatic approach to her Beijing bid, and her rivals will be fully aware of her lingering back injury, aggravated during the season opener in October. She also tested positive for Covid post-Christmas, albeit only suffering mild symptoms.

It added to a testing Olympic cycle for the American who took a 10-month hiatus from the sport following the death of her father Jeff in February 2020. With the skier describing the impact as like “the injury of a legitimate broken heart”, it promises to be an emotional Olympics for Shiffrin, regardless of how many events she competes in. Pippa Field


Boxing: Conor Benn

It’s too difficult to pick just one star name for the coming year, but my choice falls on two welterweights from either side of The Pond, both undefeated, both young, and both on a collision course for a huge fight, potentially against each other, possibly by the end of the year. The first, Vergil Ortiz, 23, is an American professional boxer of Mexican descent, who has eighteen wins, with eighteen knockouts. Dazzling, brilliant, heavy-handed and elusive, he also plays the piano and guitar. A world title challenge is within reach, in a division replete with great current champions including the Americans Terence Crawford, and Errol Spence.  

In the UK, Conor Benn, 25, son of British boxing great Nigel Benn, eschewed an amateur career to turn professional and has 20 victories to his name, and has become box office fare. Three fights, three great victories in the last twelve months. Benn has all the qualities, openness, emotion and a will to win and learn, that has set him on a collision course against the best. Not quite yet. But a contest between Benn and Ortiz, by the end of 2022, would be box office, title or no title. Gareth A Davies

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