The Kooyong Classic had started back in 1988 and it stands as one of the most famous exhibition events, staged before the Australian Open. The famous Kooyong Stadium started to bring some of the best players in the world when the Australian Open moved from that location to a newly-built Melbourne Park, and from 1995 Kooyong switched to hard courts to serve as the best possible preparation for the first Grand Slam of the season.
Michael Chang, Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras have all won titles there since 1995 and eight high-quality players have gathered to play Kooyong in 2004 as well. World number 1 Andy Roddick, the defending Australian Open winner Andre Agassi and Wimbledon champion Roger Federer were the favorites in Melbourne and they all came to Kooyong in the week prior to Australian Open for the last round of test matches.
In the semi-final, Andre Agassi toppled Roger Federer 6-2 6-4 in just 55 minutes to send the clear message he is still in the hunt despite the fact he was turning 34 in April. Of course, this didn't have to mean much and we saw Roger at his best in Melbourne, winning his second Grand Slam title and becoming world number 1 while Andre Agassi lost in an amazing semi-final clash to Marat Safin.
Nonetheless, it was all about the American here in Kooyong on January 15, serving well and taming Roger's serve to control the scoreboard all the time. Federer served at 69% but he couldn't gain enough from his initial shot, staying on 13 service winners and getting broken four times from five chances he gave to Andre.
On the other hand, Agassi won 75% of the first serve points, fending off two out of three break points to reach the final where he lost to David Nalbandian. It was a very fine performance from the American, hitting 31 winners with just 16 errors and Roger could not match those numbers, firing 30 direct points but also 29 errors, some of those in the crucial moments.
Andre had a clear 20-13 advantage in the service winners department which gave him the room to explore Federer's initial shot and draw the mistakes from the Swiss. Roger had more winners from the court, firing eight forehand and six backhand winners to stand on 17 overall while Agassi stayed on 11.
The American tamed his shots in the best possible way and he didn't have to chase lines and risky shots, having a clear advantage in the exchanges. Federer had 13 unforced errors and Agassi stayed on nine but the real difference was made in the forced errors segment, with Roger counting to 14 and Andre staying on just five.
Andre was 7-4 ahead in the longest points longer than eight shots and nothing could separate them in the mid-range exchanges where Andre was 10-9 up. The shortest rallies up to four shots were the dominant points and Agassi ruled them as well, forging a 43-33 advantage that gave him the win, winning 15 points more than the youngster.
Roger was under a constant pressure from the baseline after failing to win easy points from his serve alone, pushed by Andre's deep and constant groundstrokes that executed Roger's mistakes from both wings equally.
Those 20 service winners gave Andre the confidence to deliver his best performance from the baseline and despite those 17 direct points from Federer it was the American who controlled the pace and the scoreboard. Roger had a chance to at least prolong the match and stay in contention for the place in the final but he committed some terrible errors in the crucial moments of the encounter, unable to materialize the upper hand in the points and remain on a high level in at least three or four consecutive games.
Andre broke in the very first game to set the tone for the rest of the match after a double fault from Federer and his winner after a 16-stroke rally. Roger had a chance to get the break back in the second game after two volley winners but Andre responded with four service winners to confirm the lead and move 2-0 up.
We saw seven winners in game three and four for two easy holds and it was Agassi who shined on the return again in game five to extend his lead to 4-1 after two winners. He was the leading figure on the court right from the start, hitting three winners in game six to move 5-1 ahead, barely missing a ball so far.
Roger held with ease to reduce the deficit to 5-2 but there was nothing he could do on the return, allowing the American to clinch the opener after just 22 minutes with three service winners in game eight. The American was 12-8 in front in service winners while Federer had a 6-4 advantage in the winners from the court.
Still, the Swiss had eight errors (five forced) against only three from Agassi and he had to work harder in set number two if he wanted to turn the tables around and emerge as a winner. Instead of that, Andre broke at love at the start of the second set after three errors from Federer and he saved a break point in game two with a service winner, the first he had to play against, closing the game with another unreturned serve to move 2-0 ahead.
Andre landed two return winners in game five but Roger was focused this time around, bringing the game home with four winners to stay in touch with his rival. The rival could have been leveled at 3-3 if Roger found the way to convert any of two break points he faced, making crucial errors that would cost him dearly.
Andre brought the game home with a forehand winner and he scored another break in game seven for a 5-2 advantage, following more errors from the Swiss who was drifting further and further away from the win. Serving for the win, Agassi sprayed three errors in game eight and Roger managed to earn a break and prolong the match, bringing the ninth game home after a deuce and forcing Andre to serve for the match for the second time.
Three winners from the American in that 10th game pushed him over the finish line, closing the match with a volley winner for a commanding triumph and the place in the final. Agassi again had more service winners (8-5) but Roger managed to compensate that with 11 winners from the court against seven from Andre.
On the other hand, Federer counted to 19 errors and Andre stayed on 11, which had given him the edge, just like in the opening set. Point by point result and the number of shots in the rallies: