One of legendary coach Nick Bollettieri’s final interviews as he reflected on his tennis legacy

Kevin Palmer
Nick Bollettieri is promoting the Singer Bag

Spending time with tennis coaching guru Nick Bollettieri was an experience you will never forget.

Larger than life, more colourful than anyone you are ever likely to encounter and oozing with an aura that only comes when you have achieved so much, Bollettieri was a tennis original.

After his passing at the age of 91 on Sunday, reflections of his remarkable career that included famous coaching collaborations with the likes of Andre Agassi and Maria Sharapova are pouring in from the great and greatest in tennis history.

His IMG Academy in Florida was the ultimate location for young players to hone their skills under the eye of the unforgiving Bollettieri, who demanded a lot and got more from the pupils under his watch.

The Love Means Zero documentary that told his story features some elements that were hard to watch, with his demanding methods pushing those eager to please him to breaking point.

Yet the end result was a succession of champions emerging who changed the sport of tennis forever.

Agassi, Jim Courier, Boris Becker and Tommy Haas were among those who worked with him, along with Sharapova, Monica Seles and the Williams sisters.

“In life baby, if you never do wrong, you’ll never reach the top of the mountain,” declares Bollettieri, as he explained his methods without any hint of regret.

As reflections on his legacy begin following his death, we can look back at one of his last interviews, as he spoke to Tennis365 in association with Slinger Bag back in 2021.

Here, he outlined how he would like to be remembered, in words that suggest he was more than content with what he achieved in his extraordinary career.

“My proudest moment is helping children in my inner-city Ashe-Bollettieri programme,” he told us, speaking about the drive he had to take children from challenging backgrounds onto tennis courts to give them a purpose in life.

“These inner-city programmes need help because these kids need places to go or they will get into mischief.

“Also, I made an impact on people’s lives that go on for generations baby.

“Not winning titles, winning a million dollars or buying a new car… students say to me you made it possible.

“Look where I am because of you. That’s what Nick wants to be remembered for. Helping people goes on for generations.

“I’ve been fortunate to have 10 No 1s. I’m a fortunate man.

“I’ve had a little bit of everything and I’m very proud that my wife and I have four children, five grandchildren and two adopted sons from Ethiopia. That to me is fantastic.”

When we asked Nick about his memories of working with Agassi and Sharapova, it was clear that those two players meant more to him than most.

“Maria is not one who goes looking for all that publicity,” he said of Sharapova. “Maria is an individual, a beautiful girl and we will let her record speak for itself.

One of the greatest moments for me was Andre winning Wimbledon and at his Hall of Fame ceremony speech, he that without Nick Bollettieri I wouldn’t be here today.

“That says it all for me.”

The tributes pouring in for Bollettieri started with his former player like Tommy Haas, who was full of praise for his old mentor in an emotional Instagram post.

“So many memories, I am not sure where to begin. Nickiiiii, that’s how I have called you for the longest time,” wrote Haas.

“Thank you for your time, knowledge, commitment, expertise, the willingness to share your skill, your personal interest in mentoring me and giving me the best opportunity to follow my dreams.

“You were a dreamer and a doer, and a pioneer in our sport. Truly one of a kind.”

In many ways, Bollettieri was a ground-breaker in tennis in a way Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have been in football.

Celebrity coaching talent is something of a modern phenomenon and after Bollettieri became one of the first in tennis, the likes of Patrick Mouratoglou are now following his lead.

Game changers only come along occasionally in sport and while Bollettieri never won a tennis match, he had the genius required to help others become champions.

This why he will always be remembered as a tennis great.