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Marcelo Rios became the first South American to reach No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings with his victory over Andre Agassi in Miami.

The Four Keys To Rios' Miami Masterpiece Against Agassi

Infosys ATP Beyond The Numbers takes a closer look at their 1998 Miami final

Andre Agassi didn’t know what hit him.

In their first ever meeting, Marcelo Rios blasted Agassi off the court in the 1998 Miami Masters 1000 final, winning 7-5, 6-3, 6-4. It wasn’t that close. Rios hit more than double the winners (46 to 22), and only faced one break point in the first set, while Agassi totaled 12 for the match.

Agassi must have felt like he was playing a left-handed version of himself, as Rios parked himself on the baseline for the afternoon and clubbed groundstroke winners at will from start to finish. Rios ascended to No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings with the stunning victory.

1. Rios’ Forehand
The Chilean possesses such fluid, languid technique on his forehand with sublime balance that at first glance it appears he is putting very little effort into the stroke. And then the ball explodes off the strings and you just stand there and watch it go right by you.

Rios’ forehand was the star of the show as he crushed 19 forehand groundstroke winners and one forehand return winner. Agassi, by comparison, only managed five forehand groundstroke winners and two forehand return winners. This 20-7 mismatch set the tone for the battle more than any other dynamic.

Rios’ primary baseline strategy was to initially construct baseline exchanges through the Ad court, pitting his lethal, lefty forehand against Agassi’s backhand. At the first sign of a short ball, Rios stepped inside the baseline and ripped the forehand winner the other way, out wide through the Deuce court.

Overall, Rios hit 13 forehand winners wide through the Deuce court and seven through the Ad court. Rios used the Ad court as the “assist”, and then switched to the Deuce court as the knock-out punch. Rios put on a masterclass of “freezing” Agassi with his forehand because Agassi had no idea which direction the next laser beam was going.

1. Rios’ Serve
This was one of the best serving days Rios could hope for. Consider the following numbers for both players.

 

Serve Metrics

Marcelo Rios

Andre Agassi

1st Serves In

66%

55%

1st Serves Won

75%

82%

Aces

13

6

2nd Serves Won

63%

38%

Double Faults

2

4

Break Points Saved

0/1

8/12

Rios was always a step ahead with first serve location, especially going against the lefty grain in the Deuce court by serving a lot out wide. He won a staggering 13/14 first serve points going wide in the Deuce court to Agassi’s forehand return, including five aces, catching Agassi sitting on the typical lefty location of slice serves down the T.

In the Ad court, Rios won 65 per cent (11/17) with the wide slider and 70 per cent (7/10) mixing down the T. The blend was everything against one of the best returners our game has ever seen.

3. Serve +1 Performance

A primary reason Rios only faced one break point for the match was that he immediately followed up his serve with a Serve +1 forehand much more than Agassi did.

Serve +1 Forehands
•Rios = 63% Serve +1 Forehands / Won 70%
•Agassi = 43% Serve +1 Forehands / Won 56%

A specific derivative of the match Rios targeted was returning to Agassi’s backhand, which would then typically come back cross court to Rios’ forehand, where he could establish early control of the point. This strategy was especially potent against Agassi’s second serve.

Agassi 2nd Serve / Serve +1 Performance
•Agassi 2nd Serve +1 Forehands = Won 56% (5/9)
•Agassi 2nd Serve +1 Backhands = Won 17% (4/23)

Rios directed 72 per cent (23/32) of second-serve returns at Agassi’s backhand, and won 83 per cent (19/23) of those points.

Baseline Performance

Very rarely has Agassi been outgunned in a baseline-to-baseline exchange, but Rios got the better of him on this hot Sunday afternoon in Miami.

Baseline Points Won (Both players at baseline when point ends)
•Rios Baseline Points Won = 54% (87)
•Agassi Baseline Points Won = 46% (75)

It was a masterful display from Rios from start to finish. It was as though he stole Agassi’s playbook and delivered it back to him with interest in a left-handed version.