Back in 1993, a 12-year-old Roger Federer received a medal after the Basel final between Michael Stich and Stefan Edberg, together with the other ballboys, and no one could have imagined that this kid will rule the event in his hometown in the future! 4 years later, Roger had a chance to experience the action on the court, losing in the second qualifying round, and in 1998 everything was ready for his main draw debut, as the reigning junior Wimbledon champion. This was the third ATP tournament for the super talented Swiss, who came to Basel ranked 396th, reaching the quarter-final in Toulouse a week earlier. The draw was merciless, sending Federer against world number 8 Andre Agassi, who was back on the winning way after hitting rock bottom in 1997.
More experienced played needed only an hour to dismiss the upcoming junior by 6-3 6-2, hitting more winners and committing a fewer number of errors. Agassi struggled to find the first serve (48%) but that didn't affect his game, losing just 14 points in 9 service games and facing 2 break points, getting broken once. Except for a few service games, Roger never found his rhythm, dropping almost 50% of the points in his games and losing serve 4 times from 8 break points Andre created. The American was hoping to extend the points and explore rival's backhand but he got a lot of free points on his serve as well, hitting 19 service winners compared to 13 from Roger. Federer didn't get too many opportunities to show his forehand, that was already a big weapon, but he cracked 8 winners from that wing, adding 2 more from his backhand to stay on 10 direct points from the field. Agassi had 8 but that was more than enough for him when we examine the number of errors they made.
The American controlled his shots well and he had 7 unforced errors, compared to 20 from the youngster, who was missing equally from both wings. Federer opted to stay behind and try to overpower Agassi from the baseline, which wasn't the easiest thing to do, and his groundstrokes couldn't endure the rallies against such a strong opponent, who covered the court well and dictated the pace with deep and precise shots from both wings. Andre forced 13 errors from Roger and he was better in this segment as well, staying on 10. Overall, we saw 27 winners and 17 errors from the American and the young Swiss could only be on the negative 23-33 ratio, unable to win more than 5 games. Home player was hoping to win more free points on his serve, with the initial shot or with the first groundstroke after it, and to move Agassi from his comfort zone, which never happened.
In some longer rallies, the teenager showed his immense talent and shotmaking abilities but those were just the sparkles and not the constant and aggressive game he would develop in the years to come. 62% of the points ended in the shortest range, up to 4 strokes, and Andre had a 37-27 advantage in them, thanks to his deep returns and good serving. He also had the upper hand in the mid-range rallies, from 5 to 8 shots, winning 18 out of 30. As was expected, the American mastered the longest exchanges, taking 7 out of 9 to complete this great performance that led him to an easy win.
Agassi opened the match with 2 service winners and two more from his forehand and drive volley and he broke Roger in game 2, taking the last 4 points after errors from the young opponent, who double faulted and made 2 unforced mistakes to drop his opening service game. The American was already in a nice rhythm, hitting well and keeping the points on his racquet, notching another easy hold for a 3-0 lead. Federer struggled to find the first serve and he was in all kind of troubles in game 4 as well, with a break point for Andre and 4 deuces, but Swiss brought it home to get his name on the scoreboard. Roger took 21-stroke rally and scored another winner from his backhand wing, which was extremely important if he wanted to stay in touch with Agassi in the rallies.
The American fired 3 service winners in game 5 to move 4-1 in front and we finally saw a solid hold from Roger as well, who had 4 winners in game 6, reducing the deficit to 4-2. Still, he was powerless on the return in the 7th game as well, unable to return any serve and letting Agassi go 5-2 up. Federer also held at love in game 8 but the set was over a few minutes later when Agassi sailed through another service game to wrap up the opener by 6-3 in less than 30 minutes. He dropped just 4 points in 5 service games and had a 13-8 advantage in service winners. Roger was 5-4 in front in terms of the winners from the field but he also made 5 errors more than his rival (8-5 in unforced and 6-4 in forced).
Roger kicked off the second set with a double fault and he would make 3 more to drop his serve, already forced to chase the result. Andre won the opening 3 points of the second game (he was 24 from 27 on serve since the start of the match) but instead of an easy hold, he let Roger back into the game, with a return winner and a 19-stroke rally that the youngster clinched to reach deuce. Federer returned well and he converted his second break point to level the score at 1-1, giving himself another chance to start the set all over again and finally take the lead.
He did that in the 3rd game with a hold at love but Agassi also played solid tennis to level the score at 2-2, leaving that loose service game behind him. Federer dropped everything he was building in the last 10 minutes, making 4 errors to drop serve in game 5, and there was no coming back for him from there. Andre jumped into a 4-2 lead with 2 service winners and 2 errors from his rival in game 6, and he broke again for a 5-2 advantage. Teenager saved the first 2 break points with good serves, earning a game point with another service winner. Andre responded by taking a 15-shot rally and he broke after 2 unforced errors from Federer. Andre sealed the deal with 4 winners in game 8 and this last game pretty much reflects his overall performance in this match, giving his opponent no chance to make the more positive debut in front of his home crowd.
Point by point result and the number of shots in the rallies: