In his recent interview at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, the eight-time Major champion Andre Agassi recalled his first clash against young Roger Federer in Basel 1998. The American scored a convincing victory but was also sure that Roger possesses unique tennis knowledge and skills to guide him towards greatness.
It was the third ATP tournament for the super talented player, who arrived in Basel ranked 396th, reaching the first ATP quarter-final in Toulouse a week earlier. The draw was cruel, sending Federer against world no. 8 Andre Agassi, who was back on the winning way after hitting rock bottom in 1997.
The more experienced opponent needed only an hour to dismiss the upcoming junior 6-3, 6-2, delivering more winners and committing fewer errors to control the pace. Agassi struggled to find the first serve (48%), but that didn't affect his game, dropping 14 points in nine service games and facing two break chances, suffering one break.
Besides a few solid service games, Roger never found his rhythm and dropped almost half of his games' points, getting broken four times from eight chances offered to the American to end his hometown run in the first round.
Agassi had 19 service winners in comparison to Roger's 13, with the Swiss hitting ten winners from the field and leaving the American on eight. Andre mastered his shots with depth and precision, spraying seven unforced errors against 20 from the youngster, who was missing equally from both wings.
Agassi forced 13 errors from Roger and had the upper hand after staying on ten.
Andre Agassi and Roger Federer met for the first time in Basel 1998.
Overall, we saw 27 winners and 17 errors from the American and a negative 23-33 ratio from the young Swiss.
In some longer rallies, a teenager showed his immense talent and shotmaking abilities, but those were just the sparkles and not a part of the constant and aggressive gameplan he would develop in the years to come. 62% of the points ended in the shortest range up to four 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 five to eight shots, winning 18 out of 30 points in that area. As was expected, the American mastered the most extended exchanges, taking seven out of nine to round-up this excellent performance.
Agassi grabbed an early break in game two and delivered a comfortable hold for a 3-0 lead. Roger saved a break point in game four to get his name on the scoreboard after four deuces, followed by another easy hold for Agassi, who moved 4-1 up.
Service winners sent the American 5-2 ahead and sealed the opener on serve in game nine after 30 minutes. The youngster kicked off the second set with a double fault and made three more to drop serve, forced to chase the result early.
Federer converted his second break point in game two from 40-0 down to level the score at 1-1, giving himself another opportunity to take the lead. He did that in the third game with a hold at love before spraying errors at 2-2, which cost him his service game.
Andre produced another break to forge a 5-2 advantage and sealed the deal with four winners in game eight. "The day I played Federer, that was the day I realized I was playing the greatest player of all time," Andre Agassi said.