November 18, 1990: The day Andre Agassi won the season-ending ATP Masters for his first major title

Every day Tennis Majors looks back at the biggest moments in tennis history. On November 18, 1990, Andre Agassi, who had never won a major tournament before, defeated world No 1 Stefan Edberg in the final of the first ATP Masters held in Europe in 15 years

Andre Agassi 1990 Andre Agassi 1990

What happened exactly on that day?

On November 18, 1990, in the final of the season-ending ATP Masters, Andre Agassi won a spectacular four-set match to beat Stefan Edberg, world No 1 at the time, 5-7, 7-6, 7-5, 6-2. For the Las Vegas Kid, it was a great way to end a season during which he had been defeated in two Grand Slam finals, at Roland-Garros and at the US Open. The year-end tournament (today known as the ATP Finals) was held for the very first time in Frankfurt, after 13 years at the iconic Madison Square Garden in New York. 

The players: Andre Agassi and Stefan Edberg

  • Andre Agassi: The brash, hugely talented Las Vegas Kid,

Andre Agassi, the Las Vegas Kid, was a tennis phenom. He had turned pro in 1986 and soon became one of tennis’ biggest superstars, not only due to his incredible tennis skills but also thanks to his unruly hair (or lack thereof – read his autobiography “Open” for more on that) and fashion sense, such as the iconic denim shorts, accompanied by an underlayer of pink compression shorts, that were his signature for a while.

Taught by his father originally, then trained at the world-famous Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, Agassi’s game was completely unique. It relied on a jaw-dropping return (the best of its time) and on Agassi’s preternatural gift for hitting the ball on the rise off of both wings with incredible power. Revolutionary at the time, Agassi’s game style was then copied by generations of tennis players after him.

In 1990, at the age of 20, Andre Agassi had already claimed 11 ATP titles and reached Grand Slam semi-finals on three occasions, at Roland-Garros 1988 (lost to Mats Wilander, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5, 5-7, 6-0) and at the US Open in 1988 and 1989 (lost to Ivan Lendl each time). In 1990, he reached the final at Roland-Garros, where, although he was the heavy favourite, he was defeated by Andres Gomez (6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4). The only thing he still lacked was a major title, which most of the pundits thought he would finally achieve a few months later, when he faced countryman Pete Sampras in the US Open final – however, his young rival delivered an exquisite performance to deprive Agassi a first Grand Slam trophy (6-4, 6-3, 6-2).

Andre Agassi at the US Open in 1990
  • Stefan Edberg: Supreme serve and volleyer; ice-cool Grand Slam champ from Sweden

Stefan Edberg was born in 1966 in Vastervik, Sweden. Very successful in the juniors (he achieved the junior calendar Grand Slam in 1983), he almost quit tennis the same year, at the age of 17, after one of his serves accidentally killed a line judge in New York. Thankfully for him and for tennis fans, he decided to continue. As early as December 1985, a few months after young Boris Becker had broken through by winning Wimbledon, Edberg claimed his first Grand Slam, also on grass, at the Australian Open, defeating fellow Swede Mats Wilander in the final (6-4, 6-3, 6-3). The tournament was not held in 1986, due to its change of date to January, and Edberg would successfully defend his title in January 1987, defeating Aussie favourite Pat Cash (6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3).

Stefan Edberg, Wimbledon 1993
Stefan Edberg at Wimbledon

In 1988, the Swede added a Wimbledon title to his achievements, defeating Boris Becker (4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2) in a final that started one of the most famous rivalries in tennis history. In 1989, Edberg lost confidence after losing two major finals in a row: the first one at Roland-Garros, defeated by Michael Chang (6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2) in a heartbreaking match where he missed 10 break points in the fourth set, and the second one at Wimbledon, where his rival Becker took brutal revenge for the previous year’s final (6-0, 7-6, 6-4).

The Swede lost in the final of five other important events that year, but at the end of the year, he managed to edge Becker in the final of the Masters Cup (4-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-1). He started 1990 by reaching the final at the Australian Open, but he was forced to retire in the second set of his clash against Ivan Lendl because of an abdominal injury. After another disappointment at the French Open, where he lost in the first round, Edberg reclaimed the Wimbledon crown, edging Becker in five sets in their third consecutive final at the All England Club (6-2 6-2 3-6 3-6 -4). The Swede became world No 1 for the first time on August 13,1990 and, despite an unexpected first-round loss to Alexander Volkov at the US Open (6-3, 7-6, 6-2), he still held the top spot in November.

The place: Frankfurt, Germany

Founded in 1970, the year-end ATP Masters Cup was the final showdown between the eight best players in the world. Held in a different location every year at the start, in settled at the Madison Square Garden in New York, from 1977 until 1989.  Then, in 1990, the tournament moved to Frankfurt in Germany, where the Festhalle would host 13,500 spectators. As only the eight top players of the year qualify for the event, the list of its former champions is a veritable who’s who of men’s tennis.

The facts: Agassi goes down to Edberg in the round-robin stage

In 1990, the different professional tours had finally all merged into one international circuit known as the ATP Tour – as a result, the Masters was now called the ATP World Tour Championships.

The idea of a year-end championship, featuring the best players in the world, was born in 1969, at the same time as the first year-long series of events – the Grand Prix, created by Jack Kramer, a former professional player who later played a major part in the creation of the ATP. Its first edition, known at first as the Masters Grand Prix, was held in December 1970 in Tokyo. The six best players of the Grand Prix circuit played in a round-robin format, and it was Stan Smith who won the tournament. Seven players competed in the second edition in Paris, and in 1972, the tournament was played for the first time in the format that we all know: eight players grouped in two pools playing a round-robin phase to try and qualify for the semi-finals. However, in the 1980s, two different formats were tried: in 1982-1984, 12 players played a knock-out tournament, and in 1985, this format was extended to 16 players. 

In its initial years, the prestigious event moved every year – Tokyo, Paris, Barcelona, Boston, Melbourne, Stockholm and Houston – until it settled down in New York in 1977 for 13 years. There, at the Madison Square Garden, the “World’s Most Famous Arena”, the Masters Cup became more than just a tennis tournament, it became a must-see spectacle. In the first edition, tickets were sold out well in advance, with more than 18,500 spectators packing the stands. The tournament director, Ray Benton, had moved the event to January, to avoid competition with American football, and, before the upcoming Super Bowl, the Tennis Masters was the main sports event in the United States that week.

However, all good things must come to an end, and the 1989 Masters, won by Stefan Edberg, was the last one to be played in New York. In 1990, all different circuits finally united to become the ATP Tour, and the Masters, rebranded as the IBM ATP World Tour Championships, was back in Europe for the first time since 1975.

YearName of the eventLocationChampion
1970Masters Grand PrixTokyoStan Smith
1971Masters Grand PrixParisIlie Nastase
1972Masters Grand PrixBarcelonaIlie Nastase
1973Masters Grand PrixBostonIlie Nastase
1974Masters Grand PrixMelbourneGuillermo Vilas
1975Masters Grand PrixStockholmIlie Nastase
1976Masters Grand PrixHoustonManuel Orantes
1978*Masters Grand PrixNew YorkJimmy Connors
1979Masters Grand PrixNew YorkJohn McEnroe
1980Masters Grand PrixNew YorkBjorn Borg
1981Masters Grand PrixNew YorkBjorn Borg
1982Masters Grand PrixNew YorkIvan Lendl
1983Masters Grand PrixNew YorkIvan Lendl
1984Masters Grand PrixNew YorkJohn McEnroe
1985Masters Grand PrixNew YorkJohn McEnroe
1986 (1)Masters Grand PrixNew YorkIvan Lendl
1986 (2)*Masters Grand PrixNew YorkIvan Lendl
1987Masters Grand PrixNew YorkIvan Lendl
1988Masters Grand PrixNew YorkBoris Becker
1989Masters Grand PrixNew YorkStefan Edberg
1990ATP Tour World ChampionshipFrankfurtAndre Agassi
1991ATP Tour World ChampionshipFrankfurtPete Sampras
1992ATP Tour World ChampionshipFrankfurtBoris Becker
1993ATP Tour World ChampionshipFrankfurtMichael Stich
1994ATP Tour World ChampionshipFrankfurtPete Sampras
1995ATP Tour World ChampionshipFrankfurtBoris Becker
1996ATP Tour World ChampionshipHannoverPete Sampras
1997ATP Tour World ChampionshipHannoverPete Sampras
1998ATP Tour World ChampionshipHannoverAlex Corretja
1999ATP Tour World ChampionshipHannoverPete Sampras
2000Tennis Masters CupLisbonGustavo Kuerten
2001Tennis Masters CupSydneyLleyont Hewitt
2002Tennis Masters CupShanghaiLleyton Hewitt
2003Tennis Masters CupHoustonRoger Federer
2004Tennis Masters CupHoustonRoger Federer
2005Tennis Masters CupShanghaiDavid Nalbandian
2006Tennis Masters CupShanghaiRoger Federer
2007Tennis Masters CupShanghaiRoger Federer
2008Tennis Masters CupShanghaiNovak Djokovic
2009ATP World Tour FinalsLondonNikolay Davydenko
2010ATP World Tour FinalsLondonRoger Federer
2011ATP World Tour FinalsLondonRoger Federer
2012ATP World Tour FinalsLondonNovak Djokovic
2013ATP World Tour FinalsLondonNovak Djokovic
2014ATP World Tour FinalsLondonNovak Djokovic
2015ATP World Tour FinalsLondonNovak Djokovic
2016ATP World Tour FinalsLondonAndy Murray
2017ATP FinalsLondonGrigor Dimitrov
2018ATP FinalsLondonAlexander Zverev
2019ATP FinalsLondonStefanos Tsitsipas
2020ATP FinalsLondonDaniil Medvedev
2021ATP FinalsTurinAlexander Zverev
2022ATP Finals Turin Novak Djokovic
  • Between 1977 and 1986, the Masters was held in January the following year

In this first German edition of the ATP World Tour Championships, it was Andre Agassi, the rising American star, who claimed the biggest title of his young career. In the final, Agassi met Edberg for the second time in Frankfurt: the two players had already played each other in the round-robin stage, and the Swede had prevailed (7-6, 4-6, 7-6). This loss had not affected Agassi’s confidence in any major way, as he showed during his semi-final win against world No 2 Boris Becker (6-2, 6-4). 

The contrasts in style between these two players led to a very entertaining clash, with Edberg constantly rushing to the net despite Agassi’s skills at return and passing shots. In the end, it was the American’s power which prevailed, and the Las Vegas Kid won in four sets (5-7, 7-6, 7-5, 6-2).

Asked how he felt about claiming his biggest title to date and beating the world No 1, Agassi said, according to The New York Times: “I’m not going to say that Stefan doesn’t deserve it, but he knows that that can change real quickly.”

What next? Two more slams for Edberg; Agassi wins eight

Stefan Edberg would claim two more Grand Slam titles in his career, both at the US Open, in 1991 and 1992. In total, he would spend 72 weeks as world No 1.

It would be two more years before Agassi claimed a first Grand Slam title, at Wimbledon in 1992, and almost five years would go by before the American finally became world No 1 in April 1995. Although he would play at the Masters on 10 more occasions and reach the final three times (in 1999, 2000 and 2003), Agassi would never win the tournament again.

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