2011 Tennis Industry Hall of Fame: Nick Bollettieri
The newest inductee into the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame created a new segment of the tennis business, and created champions along the way.
Nick Bollettieri has a hard time walking across the plaza at the US Open. He constantly has to slow down and stop along his route.
It’s not age that is stopping him, however. In fact, the 80-year-old Bollettieri is suntanned and fit, always with a ready smile, and of course wearing his trademark Oakley sunglasses. But he is so recognizable, he can barely walk 10 feet before someone tries to stop him to chat or shake his hand.
The legendary tennis coach has become adept at gracefully cutting short a conversation and moving on — otherwise he’d never be able to accomplish half the things he’s been able to do. And he shows no signs of slowing down.
Most people know Nick Bollettieri as a world-famous coach, working with players such as Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova and Venus and Serena Williams. But what they may not know is Bollettieri — a former high school quarterback, Army paratrooper, law school dropout and resort teaching pro — literally created a sector of the tennis industry when he started the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in 1978. It was the first full-time tennis boarding school to combine intense training on the court with a custom-designed academic curriculum, and his methods changed the way elite junior players are developed.
Of course, he has had many other achievements in this industry, too, and in August, just before the start of this year’s US Open, Bollettieri was recognized for his significant impact on tennis with induction into the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame. Although Hurricane Irene forced the cancellation of the TIA Forum in New York City, including the ceremony and presentation of a plaque (which will be on permanent display at the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.), Bollettieri nonetheless joins previous Tennis Industry Hall of Fame inductees Howard Head (2008), Dennis Van der Meer (2008), Alan Schwartz (2009) and Billie Jean King (2010).
Helping All Players
“I’m thrilled to be honored with induction into the Tennis Industry Hall of Fame,” Bollettieri says. “I’ve dedicated my life to helping players of all ages and abilities enjoy the sport of tennis, and I’ve always supported and promoted the entire industry — that has been very important to me. It’s quite an honor to be recognized by the industry in this way.”
“Nick has been an innovator in the industry for the last 30 years,” says TV analyst and former pro tour player Brad Gilbert, “and he has many more great years ahead of him.” Gilbert, a former student, was to introduce Bollettieri at the cancelled Hall of Fame ceremony.
“We’re excited that Nick has joined our industry’s Hall of Fame,” says Tennis Industry Association President Jon Muir. “He’s very deserving of this honor, and of the specific recognition toward helping to pioneer the academy business, which has not just impacted tennis in our country, but driven a business segment of our industry.”
“Because of his influence on pro players and their games, he’s really one of the architects of the modern game as we watch it being played now by such pros as Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal,” says Jeff Williams, co-publisher of Racquet Sports Industry and group publisher of The Tennis Media Company, which includes Tennis magazine and Tennis.com.
Bollettieri did not play tennis in high school in Pelham, N.Y., instead opting for the gridiron. “In my junior year at Spring Hill College in Mobile [Ala.], my uncle, who was a very good tennis player, took us to a club to play,” he says. “Later, I made the tennis team at Spring Hill.”
After college, he became a paratrooper. “During my service, I played football and also began teaching tennis to fellow cadets. Then I went to the University of Miami law school for five months. To make some money, I started teaching tennis. My first student was Brian Gottfried. I made $6 an hour. That started my career.”
Taking the Opportunities
Bollettieri says he was very fortunate after that. “All sorts of opportunities came my way. I started summer camps, and I worked as tennis director at the Dorado Beach Hotel in Puerto Rico, which was owned by Laurance Rockefeller.” He worked at Rockefeller resorts for 17 years.
In 1977, he moved to the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort in Longboat Key, Fla., then a year later opened the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy near Bradenton, Fla. “I started the first live-in academy with students living in my house,” he says. In 1981, he bought a small motel in Bradenton to house students; a few years later he borrowed a million dollars to buy 40 acres of land.
“In 1984, a sports psychologist said I was crazy to do what I was doing,” Bollettieri says. “But from that crazy idea is now the largest sports complex in the world.”
International Management Group (IMG) bought the academy from Bollettieri in 1987, seeing a template for other sports. Bollettieri is still heavily involved in the development of the tennis academy and ancillary programs, but now, IMG Academies is on 500 acres and has 900 students, teaching sports that include golf, football, soccer, baseball, basketball and lacrosse.
When he’s not traveling around the U.S. and the world conducting clinics, speaking at industry events, giving motivational speeches and making other appearances, Bollettieri is at IMG Academies. He gets up every morning around 4:30, is at the gym by 5 to work out, then starts coaching at 5:30 a.m., generally stopping only for a quick lunch before finishing his last lesson at 7 p.m.
Bollettieri, his academy, and his methods have often been fodder for the media, but the results speak for themselves: Since 1978, when he started the NBTA, there have been 42 men and women tennis players ranked No. 1 in the world. Bollettieri has had a hand in coaching 10 of them — or nearly 24 percent of the world’s best tennis players in the last 33 years.
The No. 1’s he’s worked with are Agassi, Becker, Jim Courier, Martina Hingis, Jelena Jankovic, Marcelo Rios, Seles, Sharapova, and the Williams sisters. He’s also worked with many other world-class players, including Tommy Haas, Anna Kournikova, Jimmy Arias, Mary Pierce and Nicole Vaidisova.
“Since the 1970s there has not been a more influential coach, author, promoter and analyst in the sport of tennis,” says Jose Lambert, an IMG Bollettieri Tennis Academy coach for 35 years. “Nick is a ferocious competitor. What drives him is a challenge. He is a straight-shooter and has always stood behind his staff. Through his vision he has created so many jobs and opportunities for others.”
“I’m proud to have established something the entire world has copied,” Bollettieri says. Today, if you were to hire him as a coach, you’d pay $900 an hour.
Serving the Community
While his list of awards and honors is long, he’s more proud of the service he’s given, and continues to give, to the game, to communities and to kids.
“My legacy is that I’m giving children an opportunity to achieve, to gain confidence in themselves and prepare for real life,” he says. “I want them to take good care of the mind and body. That’s what I really stand for.”
In 1987 he co-founded with Arthur Ashe the Ashe-Bollettieri Cities’ Tennis Program (ABC), providing tennis lessons, academic tutoring, health education and collegiate financial aid to 15,000 inner-city youngsters. Although the ABC program ended in 1993, when Ashe passed away, Bollettieri continues to give his time to helping kids.
Among his ongoing special projects are Camp Kaizen, a fitness camp for overweight girls between 9 and 14, founded by Bollettieri and his wife, Cindi. He also is on the board and is a spokesperson for the Inner City Tennis Program in the Twin Cities in Minnesota. In 2000, he developed the “Tennis-In-A-Can” Youth and High School Program, a comprehensive national tennis wellness program.
Currently, he has become an advocate and spokesman for the 10 and Under Tennis initiative. “In the beginning, I thought it was a gimmick,” he says. “But I’ve seen the results. I have [10 and Under Tennis] at my place. It’s fantastic that kids have success right away.”
“One of the qualities I admire most about Nick is his willingness to take risks and try new things,” says Kurt Kamperman, the USTA’s chief executive of Community Tennis. “He’s never been shy about expressing his opinions, so his endorsement and enthusiasm for 10 and Under Tennis means a lot to not only the initiative, but to the industry as a whole. At 80, he’s still excited about learning new ways to improve the players he works with.”
More Honors Ahead?
This past July, Bollettieri was in Newport, R.I., for the International Tennis Hall of Fame induction of Agassi, who praised and thanked his former coach: “I want you to know how much I appreciate the love and devotion you have for tennis. You lived and breathed tennis. The International Tennis Hall of Fame will not be complete until you are there.”
While that honor has yet to come to Bollettieri, it just might soon. He was considered for the ITHOF two years ago, and this past September, he was again placed on the ballot, one of eight nominees being considered for 2012. “Whatever the decision is by the people who vote, I am just very appreciative of being on the list,” he told the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
Bollettieri’s devotion to this sport, though, has crossed all levels, and all ages. He’s taught and promoted tennis to everyone, and as a much visible maker of champions, he’s brought attention to the sport, and in that way, he has had a huge impact on growing the game itself.
“Nick’s years of success in teaching tennis and the related business expansion, along with his great support of 10 and Under Tennis, demonstrates his ongoing commitment to driving long-term frequent-player development,” Muir says. The growth of frequent players is a key goal to help grow the industry.
For his part, Bollettieri is appreciative of the tennis industry as a whole. “I think everyone is doing a terrific job,” he says. “Without the total support of the industry, tennis would not be where it is. That we can continually improve the product is fantastic.”
His confidence in the industry and the people involved is inspiring, although it’s not all that surprising. Bollettieri himself has always been a confident man.
“I knew I was going to be darn good, but to reach this success — I sort of pinch myself and say, holy mackerel,” he says. “But I have a lot more to do and a lot more to bring to the world.” And you can bet he won’t be slowing down.
Record of Success
Nick Bollettieri coached every level of player throughout his career, including personally working with these top pros:
- Ten No. 1 ATP/WTA Tour Singles Players: Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Jim Courier, Martina Hingis, Jelena Jankovic, Marcelo Rios, Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Venus Williams
- Two No. 1 Tour Doubles Players: Mark Knowles, Max Miryni
- Ten Top 10 Tour Singles Players: Jimmy Arias, Carling Bassett, Thomas Enqvist, Brad Gilbert, Brian Gottfried, Tommy Haas, Anna Kournikova, Mary Pierce, Mark Philippousis, Nicole Vaidisova
- Five Top 20 Tour Singles Players: Tatiana Golovin, Xavier Malisse, Max Mirnyi, Vince Spadea, David Wheaton
Among the honors Bollettieri has received are:
- 2011: Sixth Annual Dick Vitale Gala honoree
- 2010: LTA Lifetime Contribution to Coaching Award
- 2009: Alabama Sports Hall of Fame inductee
- 2008: N.Y. College of Health Professions — Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters and Commencement Speaker
- 2007: USPTA Florida Division Hall of Fame inductee
- 2006: Manatee County Government — “Bollettieri Boulevard” Street Dedication
- 2005: Tennis Magazine’s list of 40 Greatest Moments in the Last 40 Years
- 2004: Florida Sports Hall of Fame inductee
- 2003: Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health — Spirit of Sports and Service Award honoree
- 2002: American Cancer Society — Cartier Grand Slam Legend Award
- 2002: Italian-American Hall of Fame inductee
- 2000: Tennis Magazine list of 50 Most Influential People in Tennis
- 1999: International Tennis Hall of Fame — Tennis Education Merit Award
- 1999: U.S. Olympic Committee — National Coach of the Year for Tennis
- 1998: Board of Child Care — National Symposium of Children and Poverty — Award for Devotion to Child Health
- 1994: Spring Hill College Hall of Fame inductee
- 1991: USPTA Coach of the Year
- 1987: USTA Community Service Award
- 1983: USPTA First Master Pro Group
- 1981: Florida Professional Tennis Association Pro of the Year
See all articles by Peter Francesconi
About the Author
Peter Francesconi is editorial director of RSI magazine.