Thoughts on Nick Bollettieri
Nick Bollettieri’s impact on tennis is manifold. Tennis fans obviously know the linear story of Jimmy Arias and Aaron Krickstein emerging as the early stereotype of a Bollettieri player with a big topspin forehand and perhaps a more limited serve, backhand and net game. Krickstein’s injuries undercut his career as he did round out his game over time. Andre Agassi became the breakout star that catapulted Bollettieri’s status in the sport. Of course, other players were in his stable such as Paul Annacone. In 1989, Bollettieri Academy product Jim Courier upset Andre Agassi at the French Open. Bollettieri coached Monica Seles emerged at the 1989 French Open as well. By 1990, Nick Bollettieri was the top producer of tennis players. He also had some drama as Courier left his charge shortly after the 1989 French Open. Monica Seles and her family denied his influence and role as a true coach. Still, Agassi’s 1992 Wimbledon title gave both Andre and Nick a lot of validation as doubts had been cast about each man’s bona fide tennis stature.
1993 led to a split between Andre and Nick despite Nick Bollettieri. Andre hired Brad Gilbert in early 1994 and success soon followed. Nick had some big successes with Mary Pierce reaching the 1994 Roland Garros final and winning the 1995 Australian Open. Andre Agassi won the 1994 US Open and 1995 Australian Open and claimed the #1 ranking. Nick started coaching Boris Becker at the 1994 Miami Masters. Agassi and Becker met in the 1995 Wimbledon semifinal round. Agassi was #1 in the world and beat Becker in the 1992 Wimbledon quarterfinal round. Agassi raced through the first set and grabbed a two break lead in the second set. Becker roared back on the 10 year anniversary of his first Wimbledon title to win the match. That was a high point for Nick Bollettieri, but Becker parted ways with him a few weeks later.
After the Becker-Agassi moments, Nick coached other players and played a role in the development of other up and coming players. Anna Kournikova, Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, Tommy Haas, and Mark Philippoussis all were students at his academy. Other players have trained at his facility using the resources to sharpen their games when the season offers some down time.
Nick Bollettieri’s Coaching Tree
Nick Bollettieri like many coaches in US college sports has a coaching tree. Paul Annacone was a student of Nick’s, and he coached Pete Sampras for 7 of his 14 Grand Slam titles. He coached Roger Federer during his successful 2012 Wimbledon title run. Annacone also coached Tim Henman. Jim Courier is the current captain of the US Davis Cup team. Boris Becker is coaching Novak Djokovic. It would be unfair to say that each of these three learned everything they know about coaching from Nick Bollettieri, but they clearly picked up something from every coach they had including Nick.
Pat Etcheberry was brought on to Andre Agassi’s team to raise his fitness level. Agassi’s biography takes some shots at Etcheberry and his methods, but Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Justine Henin, and others benefitted from Etcheberry’s work. Given the degree to which Courier raised the level of fitness on tour, Bollettieri bringing Etcheberry into tennis from his work as a strength coach at the University of Kentucky had a huge impact on tennis.
Other Sports Following his Model
There was a time in the 1980s in which high-level junior tennis received a lot of bad press in the US. People felt that tennis was producing young robots who did nothing but hit tennis balls. Bradenton, Florida is now a home to the IMG Sports Academy. Bollettieri’s Tennis Academy is part of a bigger system that includes programs for baseball, basketball, American football, golf, lacrosse, soccer, track & field and cross country. In addition to producing high school athletes who go onto to successes in collegiate and professional athletics, many athletes come to the academy to train before a given professional draft or during an offseason. Bollettieri’s system that once seemed crazy to 60 Minutes is now more and more the norm in how athletes across multiple sports emerge into the top levels of competition.
One of the Architects of Contemporary Tennis
A former player on the Challenger Tour told me that Bollettieri’s methods were influenced by Sweden’s player development programs. This might be true. However, I will say with 100% certainty that Barcelona’s tennis programs as well as the programs for basketball players at places such as Oak Hill Academy are heirs to Bollettieri’s system. Big forehands, intense training methods, inviting Etcheberry into tennis, coaching players ranging from Agassi to Courier to Seles to Pierce to Becker to Sharapova to Haas to …. Tennis in 2014 has been built by many people, but Nick Bollettieri’s contributions to tennis since the early 80s through today are among the largest. His induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame is well deserved.