Famous tennis coach Nick Bollettieri will share tips with Island youth

Tennis great Nick Bollettieri, center, with Rhonda Cardoso Smith and Scott Smith during Mr. Bollettieri's induction into The International Hall of Fame in July in Newport, RI. — Photo courtesy of Scott Smith

Nick Bollettieri has coached some of the top tennis players in the world from Andre Agassi and Boris Becker to Serena and Venus Williams. Through a fortunate connection to Vineyard Youth Tennis executive director Scott Smith, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 21 and Oct. 22, Mr. Bollettieri is scheduled to bring his teaching skills to the Tennis Center on Barnes Road in Oak Bluffs.

At 83 years old, the ex-paratrooper is known for his permanent tan, colorful personality, and sometimes criticized military-style coaching methods.

In July, Mr. Bollettieri was inducted into The International Tennis Hall of Fame. In a February interview, Jim Courier, winner of four Grand Slam titles and a member of the Hall of Fame selection panel, told The New York Times that Mr. Bollettieri is “one of the most important figures in tennis in the last 50 years.”

In 1978, Mr. Bollettieri founded the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida, a full-time tennis boarding school that combined intense training and academics.

Mr. Smith, who worked at the  center for Mr. Bollettieri in the early 1980s, planned the Island visit. “I was there back in the day of (Jim) Courier, Monica Seles — it was in the heyday of The Academy,” Mr. Smith said. “There were world-ranked pros coming out of there, top-ranked juniors — and that’s where I got my start.”

Mr. Smith remembers his time at Bollettieri’s Academy fondly living on campus and working 12 hour days. He said with a laugh, “Back in those days you taught tennis, you drove the bus, you cleaned the cars, you vacuumed his house, you cleaned the pool – you did everything in those days!”

The Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy was widely known as a Boot Camp. Mr. Smith said there was no TV, strict curfews, and the rooms had to be clean. “It was something else,” he said. “You’re teaching Agassi during the day and putting him to bed at night.”

Andre Agassi was 13 years old when he arrived at Bollettieri’s Academy. His resume includes eight Grand Slam tournament wins and a 1996 Olympic Gold Medal.

The Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy later joined with International Management Group (IMG) in 1987 and is now one of many sport options available at the facility.

Mr. Smith and Mr. Bollettieri kept in touch over the years, largely through the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) and would run into each other once or twice a year, most recently in August in New York at the U.S. Open where Mr. Smith extended an invitation to the tennis great to come to the Vineyard.

At 83, Bollettieri continues to push his limits. “He still gets up at 5:30 am and teaches tennis all day long,” Mr. Smith said. “He goes to the gym for an hour in the morning and he’s on court by 6:30 am, and finishes at 6 or 7 at night.”

In addition to on-court teaching  and overseeing player development, Mr. Bollettieri travels as a motivational speaker in both the U.S. and abroad. He is also the author of many books, including My Aces, My Faults and his latest, Changing the Game, which will be available for purchase at the Vineyard event.

Asked what the goals were for the Bollettieri visit, Mr. Smith said, “Well obviously it’s for the kids first. Our kids are playing tournaments and going for rankings and thinking about college tennis and high school tennis and Bollettieri has coached the gamut of players.

“It is a motivational and inspirational visit for the kids. He’s a very motivational speaker so hopefully he’ll say something that will just click in a player’s mind — maybe they’ll want to play more or train harder or start playing tournaments. I’m not necessarily bringing him here for him to tell someone to get more spin on their forehand, I’m bringing him in for the motivational and inspirational aspect and the history that he brings.”

Mr. Smith said the visit represents a once-in-a-lifetime chance for members of a small Island facility to receive personal instruction from a legendary coach.

Three decades later, the mentor/mentee relationship is hard to break. “I was at a conference five years ago and he told me, ‘Hey Scott, hand these brochures out,’” Mr. Smith said, “I hadn’t worked for him in 30 years! But you know, once you work for him, you always sort of work for him!”

The schedule is for the Junior Tournament Team and both the boys and girls high school tennis teams to work with Mr. Bollettieri on Tuesday, Oct. 21 from 2:30 to 6 pm, followed by a Q&A session that is open to the public. Wednesday morning, Mr. Bollettieri will lead an adult clinic from 9 am to noon, followed by a Q&A session that is also open to the public.

The October 22 adult clinic costs $100. Clinic signups will be taken beginning at 3:30 pm on October 9 on a walk up basis, with no phone calls accepted. Full payment is required at sign up and the class is limited to the first 24 people. Kids are free. For more information call Mr. Smith at 508-693-7762.