A Tribute to Nick Bollettieri
Visionary, Coach, Mentor, Friend
Yesterday, we lost my dear friend, mentor and coach Nick Bollettieri, a visionary who literally changed the game of tennis. Nick’s achievements in his field over his ninety-one years were second to none — the coach of ten number one players including Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Jim Courier, Boris Becker and Maria Sharapova and myriad Grand Slam champions, Tennis Hall of Famer, and the founder of the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, now the IMG Academy. But his impact as a teacher, as a motivator, as a friend, as a father and as a philanthropist are even more profound. Despite his reputation for toughness, I never recall Nick disparaging his students—every shot was “better” until it was “beautiful”—he was a paragon of positive reinforcement and encouragement. He touched the lives of so many and his impact on my own life and on my family was enormous. I can’t imagine not having grown up without his presence. Even last week, we exchanged texts for Thanksgiving as Nick did every year. I am so deeply saddened by his loss but also feel privileged to have known him so well and appreciative of his truly unique and amazing life. You can read our interview with Nick on what makes for a champion here and I wanted to share as well a short piece below I wrote a few years ago as part of a tribute put together to honor Nick in which I highlighted his impact off the court. Nick, we will miss you so much — thank you for everything. All of us who knew you love you a great deal.
Nick Bollettieri taught me to play tennis when I was three years old. I have always felt a great deal of pride in the fact that I learned from the best in the history of the game. I made sure my children Asher and Sasha had this experience as soon as they could hold a racket. It is, in the end, somewhat like learning to play the piano from Mozart or public speaking from Winston Churchill. Of course, Nick realized pretty quickly, as did I, that I would not be adding my name to his legendary roster of champions, but the long friendship my parents and my family have had since before I was even born has given me the privilege of a front row seat to his storied career. It also gave him time to repeatedly beat me in backgammon.
Nick has been a mentor and a friend to me for over four decades. Everyone knows that Nick is among the world’s greatest motivators. His unusual gift of being able to see the importance of the slightest physical nuances and adjustments is surpassed only by his ability to inspire his students to achieve their best and in many cases to greatness. I have personally had the benefit of this coaching in fields unrelated to tennis from school to business. My mother told me that Nick has a profound gift for friendship and anyone who knows him knows that Nick is a true friend, somehow managing relationships by letter, by phone, and now by text all over the world. He recently began texting my son, encouraging him in the academics in which he excels the same way he would a world class athlete. Nick is profoundly loyal, a true friend who is there when the chips are down, and he consequently inspires an even fiercer loyalty in his friends and the countless students he has touched and mentored.
Most importantly, Nick taught me by example the power of determination and a positive attitude. I remember as a child sitting on the outside courts at the US Open with my father as Nick watched his young students playing much older professionals. At the time, people thought Nick was crazy and the flamboyant style for which he is now beloved was not welcome with open arms by the staid world of tennis at that time. This was well before Nick had coached even a single Grand Slam champion, let alone the dozens he has developed. It is hard to believe it now – now that I have accompanied Nick to speak at Yale and attended his well-deserved induction into the Hall of Fame in Newport – but he at one point was the ultimate maverick who was controversial enough to merit an entire diatribe on 60 Minutes. Nick took a huge amount of abuse and suffered countless obstacles and setbacks in his career. But Nick never stopped trying, never stopped believing in his vision, and never lost his optimism or sense of humor. And he never was too busy to help others, including his program for the severely underprivileged with Arthur Ashe. And, in the end, Nick changed the game of tennis. He achieved more as a tennis coach than anyone else probably ever will. Even more importantly, he has inspired and helped thousands. And for his inspiration and guidance, I am profoundly grateful.