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Nick Bollettieri, tennis coach to Agassi, Seles, Becker and more, dies at 91 : NPR


Nick Bollettieri holds up his placard as he waves to the crowd in 2014 after he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI

Michael Dwyer/AP


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Nick Bollettieri holds up his placard as he waves to the crowd in 2014 after he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI

Michael Dwyer/AP

Nick Bollettieri, the Hall of Fame tennis coach who has worked with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Andre Agassi and Monica Seles, and founded an academy that revolutionized development of young athletes, have passed away. He was 91.

Bollettieri died Sunday night at his Florida home following a series of health problems, his manager, Steve Shulla, said in a phone interview with The Associated Press on Monday.

“When he was sick, he received a lot of great messages from former students, players and coaches. Many people visited him. He received videos from other people.” Shula said. “It was amazing. He touched so many lives and he had a great farewell.”

Known for his hoarse voice, rough skin and sunglasses – and one who calls himself the “Michelangelo of tennis” despite never competing professionally – Bollettieri has helped no less than 10 players win the title. 1st place in the world rankings. That group includes sisters Serena and Venus Williams, Jim Courier, Maria Sharapova, Agassi and Seles.

He remained active until the ’80s, touring the world to participate in top tournaments and in 2014 he became the only fourth coach inducted into the National Tennis Hall of Fame. economic. That was also the year that another of his students, Kei Nishikori, reached the final of the US Open.

“I created my own path, which others considered unorthodox and downright insane,” Bollettieri said in his introductory speech at the conference hall in Newport, Rhode Island. “Yes, I’m crazy. But only crazy people can do what others say can’t be done.”

Bollettieri Tennis Academy opened in 1978 in Bradenton, Florida and was acquired by IMG in 1987.

The IMG Academy now covers more than 600 acres and offers programs in more than half a dozen sports in addition to tennis.

Bollettieri is an educator who always brags that he has never read a book, never mind that he majored in philosophy in college and even tried law school, albeit for less than a year.

He was also an adept self-promoter – one who would publish two autobiographies – despite his detractors seeing him as a pushover and snob. The truth is, any criticism is out of step with the incredible success of his students.

His teaching methods have been widely copied and today tennis academies are located all over the world.

The first Bollettieri student to reach No. 1 was Boris Becker in 1991. It was followed by others such as Martina Hingis, Marcelo Rios and Jelena Jankovic.

The rewards are the same as the success of less successful players, says Bollettieri.

“Undoubtedly, what drove me to the top was my passion for helping others become champions in life, not champions just on the tennis court,” he said. “Nothing makes me happier than when I see a former student again or receive a kind letter telling me how I changed their life, that they became parents, lawyers, doctors, CEOs and better people thanks to my impact on their lives.”

Bollettieri’s devotion to his players has come at a cost. For most of his career, he travels nine months a year on business, and he credits his travel schedule as one reason he’s been married eight times.

Nicholas James Bollettieri was born on July 31, 1931 in Pelham, New York. He earned a degree in philosophy and played tennis at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, and was a paratrooper in the Army before enrolling in law school at the University of Miami.

To spend the money, Bollettieri began teaching tennis for $1.50 an hour, according to the Hall of Fame. More than 60 years later, his fee is $900.

After a few months, he dropped out of law school to focus on coaching. At first, he admitted, knowledge of tennis technique was not his forte.

“I don’t know much about teaching the game,” he said. “The gift God gave me was the ability to read people.”

Bollettieri has won praise for his motivational skills, shouting when necessary. He has an eye for talent and is a visionary of training camp for young athletes living together.

He bought a club in 1978 and the students live in his house. Two years later, he borrowed $1 million from a friend to build the first complex of its kind in a tomato field.

The site currently houses a boarding school, 55 tennis courts and facilities for seven other sports, including football, basketball and baseball.

Running a business was not Bollettieri’s strong point, and he sold the academy to IMG but continued to work there, emphasizing the tactical approach that changed tennis. He urged players to take advantage of modern racket technology, emphasizing power over dexterity.

The academy has produced great players who rely on their serve and forehand to overwhelm their opponents. That approach worked for Agassi, Seles, Courier, and many others.

“In my dreams,” Bollettieri confessed with a grin, “I said, ‘Nick, you’re so good.'”

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