Obituary | Bollettieri dies aged 91

The rumours which have circulated around the tennis fraternity that Nick Bollettieri’s health had been deteriorating over the past few weeks have been proved correct as his death, aged 91, has now been confirmed.

The fuel that has sustained me to the summit is, without a doubt, my passion to help others become champions of life, not champions just on the tennis court, Nick Bollettieri

Best known as the coach who helped to launch the careers of world beating players including the likes of Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Monica Seles, Serena and Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova, is only the fourth coach to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

“I forged my own path, which others found to be unorthodox and downright crazy,” Bollettieri said in his induction speech at the hall in Newport, Rhode Island. “Yes, I am crazy. But it takes crazy people to do things that other people say cannot be done.”

In 1978 he established the legendary Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida, which became known as a ‘hot house’ for big hitting players, which he subsequently sold to IMG in 1987 but it became a model which was widely copied and tennis academies, and his teaching style, now dot the globe.

.Bollettieri, who was married eight times, died Sunday night at his home in Florida as confirmed by his manager, Steve Shulla, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Monday.

“When he became sick, he got so many wonderful messages from former students and players and coaches. Many came to visit him. He got videos from others,” Shulla said. “It was wonderful. He touched so many lives and he had a great send-off.”

Son of Italian-American immigrants, Nick graduated in philosophy in 1953 and later served in the United States Army.

He studied Law at the University of Miami but dropped out in 1956 to start teaching tennis at the prestigious Wayland Academy. Among his first students were Sheryl Smith and Brian Gottfried.

He became director of tennis operations at the Dorado Beach Hotel in Puerto Rico in the early 1970s, a property owned by the Rockefeller family.

He left Puerto Rico in 1977 and settled in Longboat Key, Florida as a tennis teacher at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort.

During these years, Nick’s main assistant was Julio Moros, who followed Nick to Florida when he launched his Academy and is expected to take over the running of it now Bollettieri has passed on.

Known for his gravelly voice, leathery skin and wraparound sunglasses, he never played professionally and referred to himself as the ‘Michelangelo of Tennis’.

He was certainly an excellent self-promoter, publishing two autobiographies whilst declaring he had never read a book, describing his strength was not in teaching, but the ability to read people!

He was no businessman, hence his selling of the Academy to IMG where he continued to work as Director of Tennis stressing a tactical approach which ultimately transformed the game. He also stressed the need for players to take advantage of modern racket technology and emphasising power over finesse.

The Academy certainly churned out big hitters who relied on their serve and forehand to overpower opponents which certainly worked for many of his pupils.

“The fuel that has sustained me to the summit is, without a doubt, my passion to help others become champions of life, not champions just on the tennis court,” he said. “Nothing makes me more happy than when I run into a past student or receive a kind note telling me how I changed their lives, that they are better parents, lawyers, doctors, CEOs and people because of the impact I made on their lives.”

Bollettieri’s first student to reach No. 1 was Boris Becker in 1991. Then came others, such as Martina Hingis, Marcelo Rios and Jelena Jankovic.

He was the first to admit he wasn’t a businessman hence I sale to IMG, remaining at the Academy as Director of Tennis where he stressed the more tactical approach that transformed tennis whilst urging players to take advantage of modern racket technology, and emphasizing power over finesse.

He was often dismissed as a ‘hustler’ but he was always able to shrug that off by pointing to the successes of his numerous pupils. Whatever one’s view, he was a character and in many ways a Revolutionary as he introduced youngsters to his boot-camp training methods, housing them under one roof.



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