When Roger Federer made his Basel debut against Andre Agassi

In 1993, the 12-year-old Roger Federer received a medal after the Basel final between Michael Stich and Stefan Edberg with other ballboys, when no one could have predicted that this kid would rule the hometown event and the entire tennis world 11 years later! In 1997, Roger had a chance to experience the action on the court itself, losing in the second qualifying round and forging a path towards the main draw debut in the following season, receiving a wild card as the junior Wimbledon champion. It was the third ATP tournament for the super talented youngster who arrived in Basel ranked 396th after reaching the first ATP quarter-final in Toulouse a week earlier. The draw was cruel, and it sent Federer against world no. 8 Andre Agassi, who was back on the winning way after hitting rock bottom in 1997. The more experienced competitor needed only an hour to dismiss the upcoming junior 6-3, 6-2, delivering more winners and committing fewer errors to control the scoreboard.

Agassi struggled to find the first serve (48%), which did not affect his game, dropping just 14 points in nine service games and suffering one break. Besides a few solid service games, Roger never found his rhythm and dropped almost half of the points behind the initial shot, getting broken four times from eight chances offered to the American. Agassi was eager to extend the rallies and explore the rival’s backhand, earning many free points on his serve after landing 19 service winners in comparison to Roger’s 13. Federer did not get too many opportunities to demonstrate his forehand that was already a big weapon, cracking eight winners from that wing and adding two more from a backhand to stay on ten direct points from the field. Agassi had eight, more than enough for him when we examine the number of errors they both made. The American mastered his shots with depth and precision, spraying seven unforced errors against the youngster’s 20.

Federer opted to stay behind and try to overpower Agassi from the baseline, which was not the easiest thing to do, with his groundstrokes failing to endure the exchanges against such a strong opponent. Andre forced Roger’s 13 errors and had the upper hand in that segment after staying on ten. Overall, we saw 27 winners and 17 errors from the American and a negative 23-33 ratio from the young Swiss. The home player hoped for more free points with the initial shot or with the first groundstroke after it, also to move Agassi from his comfort zone, which never happened. A teenager showed his immense talent and shotmaking abilities in some longer rallies, but those were just the sparkles and not a part of the constant and aggressive game plan 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.

Roger Federer played in Basel for the first time in 1998 at 17.

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 opened the match with two service winners and two more from his forehand and drive volley and broke Roger in game two after errors from the hometown favorite. The American was in a nice rhythm, hitting well and keeping the points on his racquet to notch another powerful hold for a 3-0 lead. Federer struggled to find the first serve and was in all kinds of trouble in game four when he offered a break chance to Andre, saving it and bringing his name to the scoreboard after four deuces. The American fired three service winners in game five to move 4-1 in front, and we finally saw a solid hold from Roger, firing four winners in game six and reducing the deficit to 4-2.

Federer held at love in game eight, but the set was over a few minutes later when Agassi sailed through another service game to wrap up the opener 6-3 in under 30 minutes. He dropped just four points in five 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 and made five errors more than his rival (8-5 in unforced and 6-4 in forced). The youngster kicked off the second set with a double fault and made three more to drop serve. Andre won the opening three points of the second game (he was 23 from 27 on serve since the start of the match), but instead of an easy hold, he let Roger return into the game with a return winner and a 19-stroke rally that the youngster clinched to reach deuce. Federer converted his second break point to level the score at 1-1, giving himself another opportunity for a fresh start. Roger held at love in the third game before making four errors at 2-2 to drop serve. Andre jumped into a 4-2 lead with two service winners and two errors from his rival and delivered another break for a 5-2 advantage before sealing the deal with four winners in game eight.