Nick Bollettieri: “Talent Alone is not Enough.”

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Globally recognised and respected tennis coach Nick Bollettieri provided his insight on the professional sport of tennis, which he has been coaching for over 60 years. Bollettieri discussed many of the special students that have turned out to be some of the game’s greatest players in its history.

Bollettieri has experienced first-hand the transformation in tennis over decades, where racquets, strategy, tennis balls, fitness have all changed dramatically to years that have gone by. He touched on this today in Linz:

“It just shows you how the game today has changed. To think that 30 years ago the people would be hitting the ball at this speed is hard to believe.”

A lot has been made of the need for changes to many of the rules in modern tennis. In recent months, many discussions have taken place of potentially introducing no-ad scoring in women’s tennis and implementing a match tiebreak in the third set of competitive matches. That has divided opinion among many tennis fans around the world, so I asked Nick what he thought about potential tweaks to rules in tennis in the future:

“In a Grand Slam when players work so hard physically, to cut a grand slam short, I think would be an injustice to those people that train so hard to be able to play the best 3 of 5 sets. So in a Grand Slam, I would not change. But remember in college in America, they are making changes where matches will end a little quicker. It has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages is that the matches will end quicker. The disadvantages is that it hurts the player that’s physically fit and that’s worked very hard to be physically fit. But when a person flies across the world at a Grand Slam, and to start cutting that short – I don’t think I would do that.”

Bollettieri also tried to offer insight on what it takes to be the very best at an individual sport like tennis and mentioned that the modern game consists of four special elements that players must try to strive for perfection:

“Today the game is made up of four things: the techniques, the physical part, the mental part, and the team. The team. An individual today will find it difficult to make it by themselves.”

Those four factors further show the advancements in the game of tennis in recent years. The meticulous approach that is taken up by even players outside the higher echelons of tennis means that every player has to give their all in all four of those areas in order to be the very best that they can be.

Bollettieri also defined what a coach is to him–what it represents and how to distinguish a coach from a regular teacher, both in tennis and in everyday life:

“A coach is a lot more than just hitting a ball. A coach has to understand the background of the students, the background of their family, what makes that person tick, can you yell at them, can you talk to them softly? So, a coach is more than just learning how to hit a ball. A coach today, it is a big difference between being a teacher and a coach. There is a big difference. A teacher stays and does the lesson and takes the money, but a coach is 24 hours a day.”

He expanded on this when discussing a former student of his named Monica Seles, a nine-time Grand Slam champion in her own right:

“I come around and see this little thin girl, that if the wind had blew her it would have blown her over. Standing behind the baseline, two hands here and two hands there. I gave her a scholarship, her mother a scholarship, her brother a scholarship and her father a scholarship – Monica Seles. If a coach had moved her back behind the baseline she would never have won a match. She was the farthest thing away from an athlete, but a coach got to understand that person and how did she play? Hit the ball early and always offensive. Most coaches would have changed her – but I did not change her.”

There has been a massive drop-off in the success of American male tennis players over the last five years, particularly after the retirement of Grand Slam champion and former World No.1 Andy Roddick. Bollettieri was questioned on an explanation for this slump in results and he had a well-thought-out answer to say the least:

“Today in New York City to rent a court is $200 per hour and $150 a lesson. They can’t afford it. So the athletes, both male and female are going to other sports. We have the best crop of youngsters now that we have had in ten years, but it takes money. The USTA right now is working in subsidizing. America may not have the No.1 players that we had before, but there is no other country that have 500 inter-city programs spread around the United States helping young children get started in tennis off the streets and it is totally free. So we are coming. We have Fritz, Tiafoe, Michael Mmoh. We have a great crop of youngsters who are coming.”

Bollettieri stressed the importance of the work he initiates at the later stages of his life, which mainly focused on the assistance to the less-fortunate children of this world:

“I’ve been very fortunate to be involved with ten World No.1s in the world as well as many other players like Tommy Haas and Anna Kournikova, but what’s important today is to work with children who have no chances in life. Our IMG Academy started with 40 acres, we are now 500 acres. Nine sports. A thousand full time students and fifteen thousand come through the doors each year. I dream but that is even bigger than what I dreamt. I never think about time. I never think of it as an obstacle. And I never say to myself that I’m going to try to do it – I say I will do it. I will do it.”

Bollettieri, who most notably guided Maria Sharapova in the right direction when she was just nine years of age, also talked about the current state of the men’s game and what the future will be like after Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray:

“I think that if those two guys drop out, I don’t see anybody right now who is a Djokovic. In my 60 years of teaching he is the most perfect player that I have ever seen. What do I mean by that? I see no weakness. His movement, his strokes, he can volley. I’ve never seen anybody else who hasn’t had a weakness.”

For example, when referring to Dominic Thiem–a real potential up-and-comer–Bolletieri had this to say:

“He’s excellent. But remember, talent alone is not enough. So right now he is up with the big boys and everyone is beginning to know how he plays. What he has to do right now is understand that when you begin to say ‘Hey wow’ then you have to play ‘wow’ everyday. The penalty of being good is that you have to play good everyday. That is the penalty in life, not only in tennis.”

One of the journalists asked Bollettieri if there was one player he would have loved to have worked with, who would it be? He responded:

“I would have loved to have worked with Roger Federer. That would have been an honor. I mean, to work with somebody like that that would have been something that is just unheard of.”

It was fantastic to have the opportunity to speak to Nick Bollettieri at the Generali Ladies Linz tournament today–a man with incredible history who still has undeniable passion and drive for the sport of tennis.

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