Class of 2014
Contributions to Tennis
Nick Bollettieri dabbled in many things in life – he was a high school football quarterback, a former paratrooper in the military, and a fledgling University of Miami law school student for five months – but he was never an elite tennis player. He played only one year of collegiate tennis at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama.
Following his release from the Army 187th Airborne Division in 1957, he pursued a law degree at the University of Miami. To earn a few dollars, he began teaching tennis on North Miami Beach courts for $1.50 a half-hour lesson. As he got more accomplished he charged $6 an hour. His first accomplished student was Brian Gottfried, who rose to World No. 3 in 1977.
Bollettieri’s one-man promotional tennis industry got its inaugural start as co-founder of the prestigious Port Washington (N.Y.) Tennis Academy, a northern tennis factory that claims Vitas Gerulaitis and John McEnroe as its prized pupils. However, the acclaimed – and controversial – tennis coach didn’t arrive on the scene until 1976, when he was 45 years old. Bollettieri, who had been teaching at the Dorado Beach Hotel in Puerto Rico in the winter, had returned to Miami, looking for a new opportunity to peddle his experience. He was tipped off to a teaching position at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort outside Sarasota, Florida. A year later he opened the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy with students living in his house. It was a gargantuan leap for a tennis pro who went from teaching for bus fare to one who could now command $900 a hour for a private lesson.
What materialized from a seemingly basic career move boarders on the remarkable: In 1980, Bollettieri borrowed $1 million from a friend, Louis Marx Jr., to build a spacious live-in tennis academy on grounds used to grow tomatoes in Bradenton. The man who never played the game as a professional would become the most sought-after tennis coach in the world, developing 10 world No. 1 ranked players, a stunning and impressive list that features Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Jim Courier, Martina Hingis, Jelena Jankovic, Marcelo Rios, Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova, and Serena & Venus Williams. Five of those Bollettieri-mentored players are in the International Tennis Hall of Fame. He’s lent his expertise to countless others that reached Top 10 singles status, including Jimmy Arias, Carling Bassett, Thomas Enqvist, Brad Gilbert, Brian Gottfried, Anna Kournikova, Mary Pierce, Mark Phillippousis, and Nicole Vaidisova. Sprinkle in prominent German player Tommy Haas, American Aaron Krickstein, and No. 1 ranked doubles players Mark Knowles and Max Miryni, and Bollettieri’s legacy takes on enormous stature.
By November 1981 the academy was on strong footing, prompting a legion of promising junior players to descend to the Bollettieri Tennis Academy, all with hopes and aspirations of hoisting a professional championship trophy. The academy was making noise, but when the ABC News program 20/20 brought Bollettieri into homes worldwide, it exploded with the roar of a heavy metal concert. The 20/20 episode showcased the fiery Bollettieri’s hard-nosed personality, a boot-camp setup, and the demonstrative leader who shined brightest when the camera lights were on. The always-suntanned Bollettieri taught bare-chested and with wrap-around Oakley sunglasses, which became his trademark look. National exposure ensued from all corners: CBS’s 60 Minutes, ABC’s Nightline, PBS, the BBC, Discovery Channel, People Magazine, and Sports Illustrated were among many that made the trek to Bradenton to witness the field general in action. Sports Illustrated titled its June 9, 1980 article, "He’ll Make Your Child A Champ, But It Won’t Be Much Fun."
In 1987, with the academy needing an injection of business savvy, Bollettieri sold it to IMG founder and fellow Hall of Famer Mark McCormack. It is now known as the IMG Academy, an over 400-acre complex that has branched out into eight sports.
Bollettieri is the recipient of dozens of regional and national awards. In 1999 The Sporting Life listed him in the top 25 people who have influenced tennis in the past century. In 2000, Tennis Magazine named him as one of the 50 Most Influential People in Tennis
In 1996 he authored his first of two biographies, My Aces, My Faults. The second, Bollettieri: Changing the Game, was published in 2014.
In the hallowed halls in Newport, Bollettieri, who liked to call himself the “Michelangelo of Tennis,” joins only two others enshrined for their coaching brilliance, longtime Australian Davis Cup captain Harry Hopman and Dr. Robert Johnson, a staunch advocate of African-American junior tennis who mentored Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe.