Nick Bollettieri, tennis coach, 1931-2022


After a younger Andre Agassi gained an essential match whereas sporting denims, make-up and earrings, his coach Nick Bollettieri summoned him to look in entrance of his 200 tennis academy classmates. As punishment for having “defiled” the centre of excellence, Agassi was sentenced to clean all of the bogs on website. On the subsequent match, his coach threatened him, he must play sporting a skirt.

Few individuals can declare to have produced extra champions than the self-styled “Michelangelo of tennis”. Agassi, Jim Courier, Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova and each the Williams sisters all skilled beneath the watchful eye of Bollettieri, the groundbreaking teacher, who has died aged 91.

Within the late Seventies, Bollettieri pioneered the live-in academy for younger athletes trying to obtain greatness. However his strategies had been as infamous as they had been revolutionary. He would stand bare-chested on the court docket, berating his younger protégés over each stray shot or wrongly angled grip, as they repeated the identical actions 1000’s of instances over.

The imaginative and prescient was to collect collectively the most effective younger gamers in a single place the place they might “play, break rackets, gamble, struggle, punch”. College students had been banned from watching TV, listening to the radio, consuming junk meals or calling residence throughout the week. Punishment for misdemeanours on the court docket concerned compelled runs with out water. However on the finish of each coaching session, the children would file previous their mentor uttering the mantra, “Thanks, Nick.”

In his memoirs, Agassi described the academy as a “glorified jail camp. And never all that glorified.” But these aiming for the highest continued to flock there. And regardless of Bollettieri’s abrasive and obsessive popularity — he woke each morning at 4:30am to stretch and raise weights — lots of these he taught converse of him affectionately instead father or mother. They turned winners too. Of the tens of 1000’s of gamers who skilled beneath him, ten would attain the rank of world primary.

“I used to be dwelling my dream”, Sharapova, who joined the academy aged eight, instructed the FT in 2015. “I noticed all these nice champions come by and practise. And I awoke each morning and couldn’t look ahead to my alarm to ring at 6.30am and go and have my lesson.”

Bollettieri and Andre Agassi in 1988 after a victory on the court docket in New York © Caryn Levy/Sports activities Illustrated/Getty Pictures

Nicholas James Bollettieri was born in 1931 within the city of Pelham, New York. His dad and mom had been Italian immigrants. He was a quarterback on the highschool soccer staff, earlier than his uncle satisfied him to attempt the “sissy sport” of tennis.

After finding out philosophy in school in Alabama, Bollettieri joined the military, turning into a paratrooper and reaching the rank of lieutenant. His time within the army can be central to his teaching ethos later in life. “I started to study rather a lot being a paratrooper — self-discipline, the sensation you’re the most effective on this planet, that you are able to do something,” he mentioned.

After leaving the armed forces in 1957, he enrolled to check legislation on the College of Miami. To assist make ends meet, he started providing tennis classes for $1.50 an hour, regardless of having no expertise as a coach and never rather more as a participant. After lower than a 12 months, he dropped his research to commit himself to tennis.

“A whole lot of coaches know way more tennis than I do”, he mentioned. “What I do know is how you can work with you as an individual.”

In 1961, he noticed Brian Gottfried, then 9 years previous, on the court docket and took him beneath his wing. Gottfried would later grow to be Bollettieri’s first profitable product, reaching quantity 3 on this planet in 1977.

That very same 12 months, after a spell educating wealthy resort purchasers to play tennis, he landed on the Colony Seaside and Tennis Resort close to Sarasota, Florida. A 12 months later, he would set up the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy.

He went on to borrow $1mn to show 40 acres of tomato vegetation in Bradenton, Florida right into a sprawling tennis boot camp, which opened in 1981. Agassi referred to his time there as “Lord of the Flies with forehands”, however attended totally free. His father solely had the cash to pay for 3 months’ tuition, however Bollettieri known as him to say he was “tearing up the cheque” after seeing how good he was. The pair had an emotional break up in 1993, quickly after Agassi gained the primary of his eight Grand Slam titles.

Bollettieri was recognized for his bother managing cash. And with monetary issues looming, he offered the academy to IMG in 1987. However he stayed on to run it.

At the moment the location covers round 600 acres, and teaches a variety of sports activities to 1,200 full-time boarders and 1000’s extra youngsters and adults who attend sports activities camps there. In 2014, Bollettieri was inducted into the Tennis Corridor of Fame, considered one of solely 4 coaches to obtain the accolade.

Josh Noble


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