Five of the best: Memorable debuts and rookie seasons

With a European dominance at the previous six majors, Keegan Bradley, a 25 year old rookie, was probably at the thin end of most golf fans lists to lift the Wanamaker Trophy. We look at others in sport who have made first impressions count.

1. Lewis Hamilton, Formula One 2007

No driver has ever entered the pinnacle of motorsport and caused as much excitement, won races and ruffled feathers as Lewis Hamilton did in his debut year with McLaren-Mercedes. His missed out on the championship by one point to Kimi Raikkonen

The Briton, 22 at the time, was supposed to be the No 2 driver behind the double world champion Fernando Alonso, who had been signed from Renault to end McLaren's barren spell without a drivers' or constructors' championship.

Hamilton, however, asserted himself on the track straightaway and recorded nine podium finishes in his first nine races and led the championship by 12 points from teammate Alonso. A rift in the team emerged with the Spaniard Alonso not talking to the majority of the team.

While the first half of the year was as masterly as Ayrton Senna in his prime, Hamilton's form wiltered and his inexperience finally came into the fore as he closed in on the title; a retirement at the penultimate grand prix in China followed by a non points finish in Brazil could also go down as one of the biggest chokes in the sport, too.

Hamilton would eventually become the youngest world champion the following year and his rivalry with Alonso remains as fierce as ever.

2. Mark Waugh, Cricket 1991

Many cricketers have made stunning and exquisite Test debuts. The circumstances surrounding the debut of Mark Waugh, though, added an extra spice during the 1990/91 Ashes series.

Waugh, was an elegant strokemaker from New South Wales, but had to wait for his Baggy Green at a time when quality Australian batsmen were in abundance. His chance came at the fourth Test in Adelaide, ironically at the expense of his twin brother Steve who had cemented his place in the team over the past six years.

Australia were looking to win the series having already retained the Ashes with a 2-0 lead in the five-Test series. But the hosts were in a spot of bother on the opening day and fell to 104 for four when Waugh came to the crease. The Sydney batsman cracked 18 boundaries in his 138-run century to pull Australia out of trouble and on course for a commanding score.  

The Test was drawn, but Waugh's position in the team was secure. He would go on to earn 128 caps for Australia in a time they would dominate the sport.

3. Ben Roethlisberger, NFL 2004

It is rare for a quarterback to earn the Associated Press' Offensive Rookie of the Year. Mainly due to franchises not too inclined to throw a rookie in at the deep end to lead them throughout a season. Indeed, before Big Ben's rookie year in 2004, only Dennis Shaw had earned the award in 1970.

It wasn't supposed to be this way though. The No 11 Draft pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers was going to be the understudy for the ageing Tommy Maddox. Maddox got injured in the 2nd week, a defeat to the Baltimore Ravens, allowing Roethlisberger to start.

The rookie led the franchise to a 13-0 record, smashing the previous record of 6-0 for a rookie QB. The side were eventually defeated in the AFC Conference Championship game to the New England Patriots.

Roethlisberger, still with the Steelers, would eventually mature to a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

4. Pele, Football 1957/58

16 years and nine months. That was the age of football's most prolific striker, when he scored on debut for Brazil in their 2-1 defeat to Argentina at the hostile settings of the Macarena on July 7 1957.

Impressive. But it was the exploits of Pele at the following year's World Cup in Sweden that made him a household name overnight.

He scored the winner against Wales in the quarter-finals to become the youngest scorer at a Finals aged 17 years and 239 days. In the semi-finals, he became the youngest player to score a hat-trick. In the final, he scored two in their 5-2 win against the hosts.

Not one player has gone from a relative unknown to become a world star in the space of two weeks since.

5. Jelena Dokic, tennis 1998

Making her first appearance as a wild-card entry at Wimbledon in 1999, the Yugoslavian starlet created one of the biggest shocks in Open-era tennis when she defeated the defending champion Martina Hingis 6-2, 6-0 in opening round.

At 129 in the world at the time, she was the lowest ranked female player to defeat a No 1 at a grand slam event.

She would reach the quarter-finals that year and enjoy a semi-final appearance in 2000, but has never reached a final of a major event.

Published: August 15, 2011 04:00 AM


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