Breaking through to stardom in a particular sport is obviously gratifying to an athlete. But when it comes to whetting the appetites of fans who are anxious to anoint the next legend, the media’s mania is unparalleled. Luckily, this year’s crop represents a victory of substance over hype.
To be considered for World Newcomer of the Year, a nominee has to have had not only a promising debut in his first full season at the senior level, but also must offer the promise of a fulfulling and memorable career. Those mentioned in this category are off to a blistering start.
Aaron Baddeley (Australia), golf: Baddeley first gained the attention of a global audience in 1999, when, as a mere 18-year-old amateur, he won the Australian Open, becoming the youngest to ever capture the title. In 2000, he cemented his reputation as an irresistible force in the sport by repeating as Australian Open champ by two strokes in November, staving off the challenge of veteran and 1994 Australian Open title-holder Robert Allenby.
Though Baddeley won the crown last year as a professional, he spent the first seven months of 2000 as an amateur, enabling him to represent his country at the World Amateur Team Championships in Berlin.
Jenson Button (Britain), motor racing: In one of those scenarios usually reserved for Hollywood, the Williams racing team needed a Formula One replacement driver for Alex Zinardi in January. Enter Button, who at 20 became the youngest Briton ever to drive in Formula One, beating Stirling Moss by a year.
Button finished his first season with Williams in eighth place in the Formula One World Championship. After 17 races, Button amassed 12 points, which was cause enough for BBC Sports to designate Button as its Newcomer of the Year.
Juan Carlos Ferrero (Spain), tennis: Ferrero’s year was marked by individual glory in a team effort while playing for his country. The 21-year-old Ferrero won both his singles matches in stirring fashion to carry Spain to victory in the Davis Cup final against Australia. He also reached the finals at both Dubai and Barcelona, and the semifinals at the French Open.
Ferrero finished the year ranked No. 12 in the world, which is a dizzying climb when one considers that when he turned professional just two years prior, he was 345.
Brett Lee (Australia), cricket: His status as the world’s fastest bowler has been heralded for some time, but stress fractures to his back have limited Lee’s effectiveness. Yet in six Test matches in 2000, Lee picked up 35 wickets at an average of just over 17, making him the eighth most effective strike bowler in the world over that 12-month period. By the time this January rolled around, Lee, 24, had taken 42 career Test wickets at a phenomenal average of 16.07, while on three occasions he has taken five wickets or more in an inning.
Marat Safin (Russia), tennis: What better way to catapult oneself into the stratosphere of a particular sport than to slay its king on a world stage? Safin did just that at last year’s U.S. Open when he ousted Pete Sampras in straight sets in the men’s final.
Winning his first Grand Slam title may have been Safin’s highlight for the year, but it was hardly his only moment of glory. The 21-year-old won six other ATP titles during 2000, including Barcelona, Mallorca, the Toronto Masters, the Presidents’ Cup in St. Petersburg and the Paris Masters.