Nick Bollettieri, the larger-than-life coach whose famed Florida tennis academy produced some of the sport’s greatest players, has died at the age of 91, with his former student Tommy Haas leading tributes to the “one of a kind” American.
The son of Italian immigrant parents, Bollettieri served in the US army and dropped out of law school to become a coach, shaping the careers of champion players such as Andre Agassi, Serena and Venus Williams, Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova. A pioneering mentor who coached 10 world No 1 players, he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2014.
“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,” Haas, the Indian Wells tournament director and Germany’s former world No 2, wrote on Instagram.
“You were a dreamer and a doer, and a pioneer in our sport, truly one of a kind.”
Germany’s Sabine Lisicki, the 2013 Wimbledon runner-up, said Bollettieri had “shaped the game of tennis”. “You have given so many children a place to work for their dream. Supporting them with your knowledge and the belief that anything is possible. I was fortunate to be one of them,” Lisicki wrote on Twitter. “You will be dearly missed!”
Bollettieri founded the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in 1978. It was bought by the International Management Group in 1987.
The former women’s No 1 Chris Evert wrote on Twitter: “RIP Nick Bollettieri. Aside from being the greatest coach ever, you were so kind to me, my parents, and my siblings … that meant more to me than anything, you had a big heart and a zest for living.”
Patrick Mouratoglou, another noted coach who also worked with Serena Williams, said the tennis family had lost an important figure in Bollettieri. “Someone who has made our industry grow and has opened opportunities for coaches and players,” he said. “We will remember the very special human being you were and will miss you.”
The former world No 1 Billie Jean King called Bollettieri one of the sport’s “most passionate coaches and advocates”. King said: “Nick was always positive and was able to get the best out of everyone fortunate enough to work with him.”