The Legendary "Nick Bollettieri". (July 31, 1931 – December 4, 2022)
Nicholas James Bollettieri, internationally recognised as the greatest tennis coach who ever lived, died Sunday, December 4th at his home in Bradenton, Florida. He was 91. Nick, as he was known to nearly everyone, passed away peacefully surrounded by his wife Cindi, his children and grandchildren, and much-beloved lifelong friends.
Although Nick had been ill for a short time, his final days were brightened by a continual stream of visitors including family members, friends, former and current students, coaches, and, of course, players who had come to pay their respects and, one last time, express their love for this man who had changed not only their games but, more importantly, their lives. Nick will always be remembered for his accomplishments, awards, and influence that changed the game of tennis forever, but anyone who knows Nick personally would contend (correctly) that his achievements on the courts don’t begin to capture the essence of who this man really was. To borrow a title from a Tom Wolfe novel, Nick Bollettieri truly was "A Man in Full.”
Nick was born July 31, 1931, in Pelham, New York, to James Thomas Bollettieri and Mary Rita DeFillipo. Nick grew up in a multi-generational home with his parents, older sister, Rita, younger brother, James, and maternal grandparents. It was under the watchful eye of the family matriarch Elvira DeFillipo that many, but not all, of his mischievous antics were foiled.
Even though he never "officially” worked at his dad’s pharmacy, he did find creative ways to profit from selling candy from his dad’s inventory. Nick also saw a business opportunity in cutting flowers from his neighbours’ backyards and then selling them back to their original owners.
Although never taken with academics, his love for sports started at an early age. Nick lettered in both varsity basketball and football at Pelham Memorial High School where he graduated in 1949. He fulfilled his role as quarterback for the team with the same enthusiasm and dedication that would become a hallmark of every endeavor he undertook in the future.
It was while he was working on his Bachelor of Science degree at Springhill College in Mobile, Alabama, that his younger brother, James "Jimmy Boy” Bollettieri died in a tragic accident at the age of 14. His death profoundly affected Nick, who found solace in and around the ocean. What would become his lifelong passion for maintaining a superior tan began during his summer job as a lifeguard on Virginia Beach.
While at college Nick was in the ROTC program. Upon graduation, he served in the Army as a 1st Lieutenant and a paratrooper in the 187th Airborne Division in Fort Campbell making more than 50 jumps. Nick would later make his final jump to celebrate his 80th birthday.
Upon completing his commitment to the military stateside, Nick enrolled at the University of Miami Law School where his stay was mercifully brief. While in Law School, and needing to earn some extra money Nick decided he would learn how to teach tennis. His influential Uncle Kenny DeFillipo found him a job at Victory Park giving tennis lessons. He learned how to coach, in part, by sending his first wife to watch other pros and report back to him. His first "pro shop” was a table wedged between two Pepsi machines, and his teaching fee was $3 per hour—years later rising to $900 per hour. Steep yes, but, as Nick would say, "Gunfighters don’t charge by the bullet.”
Nick went on to coach tens of thousands of tennis players over the next almost 70 years. Nick’ illustrious tennis career evolved from working as a rec coach at Victory Park to the head pro at several prestigious clubs in the mid-west, to the family pro for the Rockefeller family and head tennis pro for their Roc Resorts, to a summer camp owner and operator and then to starting the world’s first ever boarding sports academy...The Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. It was Nick’s friend and confidant, Vince Lombardi, who first recognized Nick’s special talent for inspiring and motivating children and helped Nick get his first summer camp in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. After the success of this camp, Nick’s friend, AL McGuire and A.C Neilsen helped Nick start All American Sports and develop other summer camps for kids. In 1977, Nick moved to the Sarasota area to take over the tennis program at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort, owned by Dr. Murray "Murf” Klauber. It was here that Nick’s genius as a motivator, innovator, and savant helping young players reach their full potential really took off, and the NBTA was born.
In 1980 at The Colony, Nick was explaining to a guest, Louis Marx, how the Colony program was growing and how he needed more space and better facilities. Mr. Marx, a successful businessperson, replied, "Well, build it.”
Nick asked, "With what?” Mr. Marx said, "With money. I’ll lend it to you”—and he did. He wrote Nick a check for $1 million and arranged for an additional $1 million from a bank.
In November 1981, on 40 barren acres of former tomato fields off 34th Street in Bradenton, Nick opened the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. It was the first major sports boarding school in the world with a holistic and fully integrated training program. The model has since been adopted and employed by many others throughout the world. In 1987, the International Management Group (IMG) bought the Academy, but with the condition that Nick stay on as President and remain active in the development and growth of all the students, as well as continuing to coach top players from around the world onsite. He was coaching players right up until his death. The Academy now encompasses over 600 acres with over 1400 students from 72 different countries training in 8 (soon to be 9) different sports. Through his vision and his ability to convince others in believing in him and helping him make his dream become a reality, Nick not only put Bradenton, FL on the map; but made the State of Florida known around the world as the mecca for people wanting to work hard to really make their dreams come true.
Nick was honoured to have been inducted into 13 Hall of Fames. Especially meaningful to Nick, although the honor came late in life, was his induction in 2014 to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. A year later, he became the first white man to be inducted into the Black Tennis Hall of Fame, perhaps a recognition of Nick’s lifelong efforts to involve African Americans in the sport. He and tennis icon Arthur Ashe were not only friends, but together created the Ashe Bollettieri Inner Cities program to bring free tennis and education programs to inner-city communities throughout America. Most recently, Nick worked with the USTA Foundation to provide the same opportunities for inner city youth.
Nick will forever be enshrined in the record books as the coach who guided 10 players to the Number One singles ranking in the world. A record that is unlikely to ever be broken. The players are Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, Jim Courier, Martina Hingis, Jelena Jankovic, Marcelo Rios, Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, and Venus Williams.
In addition to the 10 number one ranked ATP and WTA players, Nick also trained hundreds of additional professional players. Some of the other professional players who trained with Nick at the Academy include: Paul Annacone, Laura Araya, Pablo Araya, Nicole Ardent, Jimmy Arias, Mark Bailey, Paul Bailey, Bobby Banck, Carling Bassett, Gilles Bastie, Rill Baxter, Arnaud Benidor, Yury Bettoni, Jay Berger, Steve Berke, Philip Bester, Martin Blackman, Bobby Blair, Joey Blake, Danielle Bollettieri, Lisa Bonder, Bjorn Borg, Alex Bose, DJ Bosse, Lloyd Bourne, Elena Bovina, Madison Brengle, Jimmy Brown, Ricky Brown, Bob Bryan, Mike Bryan, Fritz Buehning, Will Bull, Sandra Cacic, Marco Cacopardo, Marina Caiazzo, Paul Capdeville, Jennifer Capriati, Lex Carrington, Pam Casale, Ned Caswell, Jeff Chambers, Christiopher Chirico, Jarrett Chirico, Morten Christinsen, Halie Coffey, Cary Cohenour, Danielle Collins, Doug Corn, Alex Creek, Lindsay Davenport, Michelle de Brito, Erica DeLone, Taylor Dent, Michelle DePalmer, Mike DePalmer, Marianne DeSwartz, Grant Dole, Carlos Dradia, Brian Dunn, Stephan Eggmayer, Sara Errani, Mert Ertunga, Patty Febdick, Doug Flach, Shawn Foltz, Tom Fontana, Ryoko Fuda, Chris Garner, Gail Gibson, Dana Gilbert, Darren Goldberg, Robert Goldsmith, Tatiana Golovin, Ann Grossman, Sabine Haas, Tommy Haas, Mauricio Hadad, Matt Halder, Daniela Hantuchova, Rodney Harmon, Briana Harris, Tumeka Harris, Christian Harrison, Ryan Harrison, Jill Heatherington, Tammy Hendler, Diedre Herman, Ron Hightower, Greg Hill, Chip Hooper, Kathleen Horvath, Jamea Jackson, Ylia Jelali, Stacey Jellen, Luke Jensen, Murphy Jensen, Tim Jessep, Sonya Jeyaseelan, Sesil Karatantcheva, Brice Karsh, Cedric Kauffman, Adam Kennedy, Paul Kilderry, Mark Knowles, Eric Korita, Lri Kosten, Anna Kournikova, Stefan Kozlov, Aaron Krickstein, Trevor Kronemann, Moe Krueger, Dani Leal, Jesse Levine, Jonny Levine, Elizabeth Levinson, Derek Ling, Sabine Lisicki, Jean-Rene Lisnard, Iva Majoli, Xavier Malisse, Cecil Mamiit, Stacy Margolin, Fabrice Martin, Paul Henri Mathieu, John Mayotte, Chuck Merzbacher, TJ Middleton, Annie Miller, Ashley Miller, Karin Miller, Meghan Miller, Max Mirnyi, Ion Moldovan, Andy Murray, Hu Na, Dan Nahirny, Jason Netter, Mike Nugent, Hector Nevares, Yannick Noah, Kei Nishikori, Germaine Ohaco, Shiho Okada, Shigeru Ota, Lisa Pamintuan, Pedro Perez, Mark Philippoussis, Mary Pierce, Michael Pilger, Ginny Purdy, Isabel Queto, Laura Randmaa, Raffaella Reggi, Todd Reid, Jose Rincon, Mario Rincon, Juan Rios, Morten Ronnenberg, Brenda Ruel, Gretchen Rush, Andre Sa, Pete Sampras, Kim Sands, Stacey Schefflin, Ira Schwartz, Wang Shi-Ting, Forrest Simmons, Susan Sloan, Cheryl Smith, Jill Smoller, Niurka Sodupe, Harold Solomon, Shelly Solomon, Aga Sorrmano, Tim Stalzer, Cary Stansbury, Alexandra Stevenson, Lulu Sun, Eric Taino, Horia Tecau, Andrea Temasvari, Laurant Tielman, Michelle Torres, Guilia Toshi, Gabriel Trifu, Kristina Trisha, Nicole Vaidisova, Greg Van Emburgh, Vincent Van Patten, Malavai Washington, Heather Watson, Glenn Weiner, Marianne Werdel, David Wheaton, Anne White, Todd Witsken, Donnie Woods, Donald Young, Yaser Zaatani, Fabiola Zuluaga.
Given Nick’s long and unprecedented career, he was often asked what he wanted to be remembered for. Was it the 10 number one’s, the Academy, the successful training model, or for changing the game of tennis? His answer was always the same. He wanted to be remembered for that which brought him the greatest joy, helping youngsters and adults alike find their true inner gifts, and then motivating and guiding them to use those gifts to reach their full potential. His work ethic and passion were contagious and thousands have become much more than better tennis players and coaches under his watchful eye, he made them better versions of themselves off the court as well. People found Nick to be a limitless energy source. To be near Nick left one feeling invigorated and confident.
Nick’s greatest achievements were his seven children.
Being a child of Nick’s meant always sharing Dad’s attention and resources with thousands of other youngsters, but each one of his kids knew that Nick loved them deeply and was immensely proud of every one of their achievements, large or small. Nick is survived by his children James Thomas Bollettieri, Danielle Bollettieri (Greg Breunich), Angelique Bollettieri, Nicole Bollettieri Kroenig (Brad), Alexandra Bollettieri, Giovanni Bollettieri, and Giacomo Bollettieri; grandchildren Willa Bay Breunich, Addison Skye Breunich, Hudson Kroenig, and Jameson Kroenig. Nick was predeceased by his father James Thomas Bollettieri, his mother Mary Rita (DeFillipo) Bollettieri, his sister Rita Mary (Bollettieri) Dutch, and his brother James Thomas Bollettieri. Nick was blessed with many incredible people in his life whom he considered his family and closest confidantes including Wendy Nelson, Sean Bollettieri-Abdali, and Steve Shulla.
A Celebration of Nick is scheduled for Saturday, March 18, 2023 to be held at IMG Academy, 5650 Bollettieri Blvd, Bradenton, FL 34210. For more information on Nick’s Celebration or to send a message to his family, please go to www.nickbollettieri.com.
In lieu of flowers or other tributes, the Bollettieri family has requested that contributions be made to the Bollettieri Family Foundation, a charitable organization set up to continue Nick and Cindi’s desire to assist youngsters in achieving their full potential. Gifts can be mailed to P.O. Box 14472, Bradenton, FL 34280 or sent through GoFundMe, Bollettieri Family Foundation.