'Michelangelo of Tennis' Is Dead at 91

Nick Bollettieri coached the likes of Venus and Serena Williams, Andre Agassi, Monica Seles
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 5, 2022 1:16 PM CST
Tennis Coach to the Stars Dies at 91
Nick Bollettieri.   (Michael Dwyer)

Nick Bollettieri, the Hall of Fame tennis coach who worked with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Andre Agassi and Monica Seles, and founded an academy that revolutionized the development of young athletes, has died. He was 91. Bollettieri died Sunday night at home in Florida after a series of health issues, his manager, Steve Shulla, told the AP on Monday. “When he became sick, he got so many wonderful messages from former students and players and coaches. Many came to visit him,” Shulla said. “It was wonderful. He touched so many lives and he had a great send-off.”

Known for his gravelly voice, leathery skin, and wraparound sunglasses—a man who called himself the “Michelangelo of Tennis” despite never playing professionally—Bollettieri helped no fewer than 10 players who went on to be No. 1 in world rankings. That includes Serena and Venus Williams, Jim Courier, Maria Sharapova, Agassi, and Seles. He remained active into his 80s, touring the world to drop in on the top tournaments and, in 2014, became only the fourth coach to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. That was the same year another one of his proteges, Kei Nishikori, reached the final of the US Open. Six of his pupils already are in the Hall of Fame, a number sure to grow once others are eligible.

“I forged my own path, which others found to be unorthodox and downright crazy,” Bollettieri said in his induction speech at the hall in Newport, Rhode Island. “Yes, I am crazy. But it takes crazy people to do things that other people say cannot be done.” The Bollettieri Tennis Academy opened in 1978 in Bradenton, Florida, and was purchased by IMG in 1987. The IMG Academy now spans more than 600 acres and offers programs in more than a half-dozen sports in addition to tennis.

“Our sport lost one of its most passionate coaches & advocates,” Hall of Fame member Billie Jean King wrote on Twitter. “Nick was always positive & was able to get the best out of everyone fortunate enough to work w/him.” Bollettieri’s first student to reach No. 1 was Boris Becker in 1991. Then came others, such as Martina Hingis, Marcelo Rios, and Jelena Jankovic. Bollettieri’s devotion to his players came at a cost. For much of his career, he was on the road nine months of every year, and he cited his travel schedule as one reason he was married eight times. Survivors include his wife, Cindi, seven children, and four grandchildren, according to Shulla, who said a celebration of Bollettieri's life is planned for March. (Read more tennis stories.)

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