Miami, Dec 5 (EFE).- American tennis coach Nick Bollettieri, whose academy was a key training ground for champions from all over the world, has died. He was 91.
Americans Andre Agassi and Jim Courier, Yugoslavia-born Monica Seles and Russian-born Maria Sharapova were just some of the greats of the sport who developed their games at the academy, which opened its doors in 1978 in western Florida.
The 52-year-old Agassi, who won eight Grand Slam singles titles in the 1990s and the early part of this century and is one of only a handful of players in tennis history to complete the career Grand Slam (titles at the Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and US Open), was one of the many figures to pay tribute to Bollettieri on Monday.
“Our dear friend, Nick Bollettieri, graduated from us (on Sunday) night. He gave so many a chance to live their dream. He showed us all how life can be lived to the fullest … Thank you, Nick,” he wrote on Twitter.
Bollettieri, who was born in New York to Italian immigrant parents and was not an elite tennis player himself, served as tennis director in the early 1970s at the Dorado Beach Hotel in Puerto Rico.
But his career took off in 1978 when he opened the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
He put his young pupils through a rigorous training regime in which they woke up at the crack of dawn to attend school on site and then practiced tennis for long hours during the day to hone their skills.
Bollettieri also was a shrewd businessman who knew how to sell the dream: come train with me and you too can become a great star like these top pros you see on TV.
Although Americans Jimmy Arias and Aaron Krickstein were among the first crop of players to forge professional careers after training at the academy, his biggest selling points soon became a group of players who all reached No. 1 in the world and won multiple Grand Slam titles: Agassi, Courier, Seles and Sharapova.
While other coaches were preaching the same thing at the time, Bollettieri was perhaps the most influential person worldwide in successfully promoting the two-handed backhand and a grip-it-and-rip-it baseline style.
At the time of Bollettieri’s death, serve-and-volley has all but disappeared as a primary tactic in professional tennis and champions with one-handed backhands are becoming increasingly rare.
But the baseline skills developed at Bollettieri’s academy (which was purchased by IMG and is now known as the IMG Academy) are now being taught all over the world, making it much harder in recent years for the United States to produce men’s singles champions.
No American male has won a Grand Slam singles title since Andy Roddick in 2003, just months after Agassi won his last major championship at that year’s Australian Open. EFE