Eastern

2022 Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame: Nick Bollettieri

August 12, 2022


Nick Bollettieri will be inducted into the Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame at the 35th Annual Eastern Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, to be held Friday, August 26, 2022. Proceeds from the event—including ticket sales—will benefit the Junior Tennis Foundation (JTF), which helps provide scholarships to junior and adaptive players across the Eastern Section. You can purchase tickets to the event here. Learn more about the ceremony and the JTF here.

 

Nick Bollettieri is a renowned tennis coach whose influence on the sport over the last 40 years is undeniable and unparalleled. In 1978, the Pelham, N.Y. native established his own self-titled teaching academy in Bradenton, Fla.—the first tennis “boarding school”—and the facility would go on to produce a wealth of future world No. 1 players and Grand Slam champions. Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Jelena Jankovic, Mary Pierce, Marcelo Ríos, Monica Seles, Maria Sharapova and many others developed and refined their games with guidance from Bollettieri. Additionally, several future Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame inductees counted themselves among some of the first students at the academy, including Paul Annacone, Jimmy Arias, Pam Casale and Kathleen Horvath. For his lifetime of service to the sport, Bollettieri was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2014. 

 

Although his name is now synonymous with the game, Bollettieri initially had no designs on shifting the tennis instruction paradigm. He grew up the child of Italian immigrants in Pelham, N.Y., just north of the city. Despite his proximity to the U.S. National Championships in Forest Hills, he never took much of an interest in tennis as a kid—opting to play high school football instead—and barely touched a racquet until his junior year at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala. He spent time as a paratrooper in the military and was in the middle of earning a law degree from the University of Miami when he began giving lessons—initially as a side hustle to earn a little extra money while he was completing his studies.

Before long Bollettieri decided to drop out of school to focus exclusively on coaching tennis. He eventually obtained a position working as a tennis pro at the Dorado Beach resort in Puerto Rico. The hotel—owned by the famed Rockefeller family— attracted a ritzy clientele, and it was here that he gave beginner lessons to a 57-year-old Long Island-based businessman named Hy Zausner. The fateful meeting between the pair, it turns out, would completely alter the course of Eastern tennis history. Through Bollettieri’s instruction, Zausner fell in love with the sport. The Long Islander eventually endeavored to open a training facility close to his home that would introduce juniors to all the benefits the game had to offer. Bollettieri signed on to serve as the site’s first teaching pro and together the pair worked to whip the space into shape in advance of its opening. The training facility became the Port Washington Tennis Academy, and in the ensuing years, future tennis stars (and Eastern Tennis Hall of Famers) Mary Carillo, Peter Fleming, Vitas Gerulaitis, John McEnroe and many more passed through its vaunted halls.

Bollettieri (right) coaches Arias in the 1980s. Arias would reach the semifinals of the US Open in 1983.

Bollettieri left Port Washington after a year in hopes of developing an academy that bore his own name. His dream finally came to fruition in 1978, and as his reputation grew, a who’s who of junior players from across the country traveled down to Florida to train under his watch. Bollettieri fully immersed his students in the sport, which at the time felt revolutionary for tennis instruction. They lived, ate, slept and practiced all in one location, and on weekends, they competed in round robin tournaments against each other. Several Eastern standouts were among the very first to test out Bollettieri’s experiment and attend the academy, including Arias, a future US Open semifinalist and world No. 5; Horvath, a future two-time French Open quarterfinalist and world No. 10; Casale, a future world No. 14; and Annacone, a future Wimbledon quarterfinalist and eventual coach of both Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.

In addition to coaching hundreds upon hundreds of top juniors, Bollettieri has also helped introduce the game to thousands upon thousands of kids. In the mid-1980s he was sitting on a bench at the French Open when three-time Grand Slam champion (and 1988 Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame inductee) Arthur Ashe approached him and asked what they could do to get racquets in the hands of children who’d never played before. Together, with fellow 2022 inductee Bob Davis, they developed the Ashe/Bollettieri Cities Project. Later renamed the Arthur Ashe Safe Passage Foundation, the initiative aimed to use tennis as a means to improve the lives of kids in urban areas across the country. The project launched in Newark, N.J., and eventually expanded to 10 U.S. cities, including in New York, N.Y. and Albany, N.Y.; over time, 80,000 young people discovered the sport through these sites. Even as he continued to coach, Bollettieri proved instrumental in using his influence in the tennis community to raise funds and awareness for Safe Passage. The program lasted 13 years, but Bollettieri never stopped working with similar community-based initiatives, particularly through his own Nick Bollettieri Family Foundation.

Nick Bollettieri and Arthur Ashe at the former's academy in Florida. The two developed the Ashe/Bollettieri Cities Project, which eventually introduced the sport to 80,000 kids.

Today, Bollettieri’s facility is known as the IMG Academy and sits on over 600 acres in Bradenton, Florida. 1300 students from all over the world are enrolled in its programming; Arias serves as its Director of Tennis.

 

Read more 2022 Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame profiles:

 

Robert C. "Bob" Davis

Wilbert "Billy" Davis

Ted Robinson

Caroline Stoll

Virginia Wade

 

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