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Happy 90th Birthday, Nick Bollettieri

  • Posted: Jul 31, 2021

Nick Bollettieri never set out to revolutionise the way tennis was coached, let alone become world famous. But over the course of the past six decades, the charismatic former American football player-turned paratrooper, who today celebrates his 90th birthday, never stopped learning about the sport. Be it from his time in Coral Gables and onto Victory Park in North Miami Beach; from Synder Park in Springfield, Ohio, the Port Washington Tennis Academy to the Dorado Beach Resort in Puerto Rico and Beaver Dam, Wisconsin; then The Colony Beach & Tennis Resort, located in Sarasota, and onto an old tomato field in Bradenton, Florida, his home of the past 40 years.

Initially considering tennis a “sissy sport”, Bollettieri translated the discipline and dedication required to jump out of an aeroplane in the 187th Airborne Division of the US Army into leadership as a visionary, identifying the need to train talented junior players in a deliberate process. “It’s about hitting hundreds of tennis balls for four or five hours daily, of squeezing schoolwork between training sessions, of spending three or four weekends each month at tournaments,” Bollettieri exclusively told “Paying the price to be a winner. Nothing is going to come by accident. If it does, it’s a one-time victory. Success is about blood, sweat, tears, frustration and the determination to achieve it.”

With the help of Julio Moros, Steve Owens, Sammy Aviles, Chip Brookers, David Brewer and Mike De Palmer Sr., to name but a few coaches, Bollettieri took the sport out of country clubs and public courts, and away from the traditional college route and onto the pro tours. He went about fast-tracking thousands of aspiring professional athletes in the first full live-in, training programme at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy (now-named IMG Academy), which first opened its doors in November 1981, courtesy of a $1.8 million loan from Louis Marx, owner of Marx Toys. “You cannot do it yourself and you have to have a team,” said Bollettieri. “If I had given thought about what I did, I would never be where I am. I just did it. Most people think too much. Don’t ever be ashamed to say I am nervous. When I did my first jump, this little private asked ‘How I was feeling?’ I said, ‘I’ve got a diaper on, I am so nervous!’ But I found a way to get over my nerves to do it. It’s a part of life.”

With custom-fit technical and strategic advice for every player, Bollettieri and his band of loyal coaches, physical trainers and sports psychologists helped to develop the likes of Carling Bassett and Jimmy Arias, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier, Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova through daily drills and competition. Arias recently told, “Bollettieri was about, here’s a can of balls, 30 guys who are really good, and let’s beat everyone’s brains in every day.” Ten World No. 1s — and countless Top 10 tennis talent — made an initial 12-acre site in Bradenton, Florida, their training base. Following a $7 million takeover in 1987, the Academy subsequently expanded through IMG’s Mark McCormack and Bob Kain and today it now caters for high-performance athletes across eight sports in more than 500 acres.

Courier, whose mother wrote to Bollettieri asking for him to change her son’s baseball grip on his backhand during his four-year stay at the Academy, told, “Nick provided a unique professional environment at his revolutionary academy for amateurs like myself that accelerated our path, taught us discipline and structure. The Academy gave us best in class technical, conditioning and mental coaching for the rigors ahead and the daily competition simply did not exist anywhere else in the world. These skills not only helped people like me achieve my dreams in sport but also translated to success in the business world for so many students as well.”

Getting to Stadium Court was always the ultimate goal at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy. After returning from four hours tuition at one of two nearby schools, the students would find Bollettieri bare-backed and thinking about his tan, wearing wrap-around sunglasses and feeding balls in a constant state of motion. He expected his elite charges to deliver, to shine. There was a different energy when he was around as each player wanted (and needed) to impress the coach they respected the most. When asked what he looked for in a student, Bollettieri, who fed, housed and coached many of the students out of his own pocket, told, “What they do without saying one word. Their attitude, their determination and also athleticism. Foot speed is also important. I don’t look at the grips, but I look at what they do to make them a little bit better most of the time.”

Of course it was Arias’ whipped forehand, which Bollettieri first witnessed at The Colony in November 1977, that became the blueprint for the way he — and his coaches — taught the stroke in the future. “On that first day, Mike DePalmer Jr. and I were hitting for 15 minutes then Nick came out and started feeding me balls. He fed, but he had someone taking balls out of the basket and handing them to him! I got off the court and I said to my Dad, who is from Spain, ‘What do you think?’ And my Dad said, ‘That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. How can you swing full speed and then stop?’ He wanted the racquet in motion. I was hitting the way everyone is hitting now. They didn’t realise I would be able to swing hard under pressure and lots of people told me I couldn’t make it. That’s why Nick ran out to feed me forehands and he said to his coaches, ‘That’s the Bollettieri forehand!’ But it was mine, well the ‘Tony Arias forehand’. So Nick started teaching that.”

While the cost of attending the Academy amounted to $1,500 per month in the 1980s, coaches made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chips for lunch, prior to track, gym and tennis work until 5:30pm. “Cook would prepare dinner at the 20-room motel – often spaghetti and steak, then it would be clean-up, homework and room checks,” recalls Bollettieri. “When the chef had Sundays off, bacon and scrambled eggs would be prepared in a big frying pan. Dinner would be KFC or pizza. There were picnic tables in the driveway and the children ate in shifts.” The 1,200 square-metre swimming pool soon needed to be filled in, and a structure built for a study hall, while Carling’s father, John Bassett, provided buses to ferry everyone around. Younger players regularly squared off against older foes to foster a competitive atmosphere.

Aaron Krickstein, who followed Arias and broke into the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings as a 17-year-old, told, “Nick was always a positive motivator and always devised game plans to take advantage of my opponent’s weaknesses. He was a fun guy to be around, we played cards and pool together. He was a positive influence, but at the same token, he was a no-nonsense guy and wanted to get the best out of his students. Nick could get into the mind of a student and did that very well.”

There was plenty of high jinx too among the 300 students. David Wheaton, who was invited to the Academy in January 1985 and joined Andre Agassi, Courier and Martin Blackman in a training group, told of one notable incident. “Andre had worn denim jeans at a tournament in northern Florida, so when he came home Nick set up a disciplinary committee with students on the bleachers,” said Wheaton, who moved down with his family to attend the Academy in 1985. “It was 12:30pm and Andre was in the dormitory beside stadium court. He stepped out and said, ‘What time’s my lesson? Nick had been on court since 6am in the morning and Andre said, ‘Don’t forget I have a hair appointment at 2:30pm!’”

Agassi remained a perennial favourite and Bollettieri sat in the players’ box on Centre Court when the Las Vegan captured the 1992 Wimbledon title — the ultimate Academy promotion. There was a two-year stint as a touring coach to Boris Becker, while Bollettieri continued to evolve and help the likes of Yannick Noah, Mary Pierce, Venus and Serena Williams, Marcelo Rios, Martina Hingis, Anna Kournikova, Tommy Haas, Jelena Jankovic, Max Mirnyi and Kei Nishikori.

Bollettieri only realised he had become famous when “One time at the US Open, I arrived at the front door and by the time my manager and I got through I had signed 300 autographs.” Not bad for a New Yorker, born to immigrant Italian parents, who dropped out of the University of Miami law school after five months and took up tennis coaching for $3 per hour, while the first of his eight wives travelled around the city to pick up tips from rival instructors.

Brian Gottfried, Bollettieri’s first success story from their first meeting in Springfield in 1961, told, “He was a great promoter, an electric personality and a great motivator, so I didn’t really think or know about his future. I knew what he did for me. He was a strong disciplinarian for one, but I related to him well because I liked the discipline. His motivational and technical skills were very good. You may say he didn’t have much of a playing history before that time, but he was a great learner and imitator and watcher. His heart is his biggest asset, I don’t know how his heart fits in his body. He never charged me a penny.”

When asked about his three biggest influences in more than 60 years of teaching the sport, Bollettieri told, “My parents always gave me the courage to try things. To be in the paratroopers that wanted to be the best of the best, and the famous football coach Vince Lombardi, who got me started with my first camps in 1968 at Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, which became the biggest summer camps in the world and sowed the seeds for what became the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy.”

Today, as he celebrates his 90th birthday, Bollettieri will rise at 5:30am to undertake his daily stretches, sit-ups, press-ups and lift light weights. He will then patrol the IMG Academy with the same level of enthusiasm and dedication to tennis that he helped revolutionise as a pioneer, safe in the knowledge that his holistic training model has become the standard for academic, athletic and personal development of young athletes in every major tennis city in the world. His legacy, too, is one of generosity and that the life lessons he provided are remembered by his former students to this day.

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Ruud Moves Closer To Clay-Court Hat-Trick, Claims First Set In Kitzbuhel Final

  • Posted: Jul 31, 2021

Top seed Casper Ruud is one set away from becoming the first player since Andy Murray in 2011 to complete an ATP Tour hat-trick. The Norwegian leads Spaniard Pedro Martinez by a set in the Generali Open final in Kitzbühel after claiming the opener 6-1 before rain stopped play.

When Ruud returns, he will be aiming to win a 12th consecutive match, having lifted titles at the Nordea Open and Swiss Open Gstaad in July. The 22-year-old’s strong clay-court form has seen him rise to ninth place in the FedEx ATP Race To Turin.

The Norwegian is aiming to match Murray’s achievement from October 2011 when the former World No. 1 lifted the trophies in Bangkok (d. Young), Tokyo (d. Nadal) and Shanghai (d. Ferrer) in three consecutive weeks.

Ruud, who also captured the Gonet Geneva Open crown (d. Shapovalov) in May, began the first set well. He controlled the tempo with his backhand before stepping inside the baseline to attack on the forehand. He raced into a 3-1 lead and was strong on serve, not facing a break point to move one set ahead after 40 minutes before the rain began to fall.

Spain’s Martinez is competing in his first ATP Tour final on Saturday. The 24-year-old secured the biggest win of his career by FedEx ATP Ranking when he overcame World No. 16 Roberto Bautista Agut en route to the championship match.

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Erler/Miedler Capture Kitzbühel Title

  • Posted: Jul 31, 2021

Austrians Alexander Erler and Lucas Miedler completed a dream week on home soil on Saturday in Kitzbühel. The wild cards defeated third seeds Roman Jebavy and Matwe Middelkoop 7-5, 7-6(5) to win their first ATP Tour title at the Generali Open.

Erler and Miedler were both making their tour-level debuts and teaming for the first time this week in Kitzbühel. The Austrians won 68 per cent (32/47) of their first-service points as they claimed victory in 90 minutes.

“It feels amazing, words cannot describe what happened today,” Meidler said. “We are happy, and in front of this home crowd, to win a first ATP Tour title together is unbelievable.

“We played well and the other guys played some good tennis. Our strength this week has been winning tie-breaks. We just focused on every point, we started well in the tie-break. We kept believing.”

The wild cards upset top seeds Tomislav Brkic and Nikola Cacic as well as fourth seeds Ariel Behar and Guillermo Duran en route to the final. Erler has reached one ATP Challenger Tour semi-final this year, while Miedler has enjoyed runs to the last four three times. The last Austrian player to take home the doubles title in Kitzbühel was Philipp Oswald in 2019 (w/Polasek).

Jebavy and Middelkoop were competing in their third ATP Tour final as a team, having captured the 2017 St. Petersburg title.

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Carreno Busta Upsets Djokovic To Win Bronze In Tokyo

  • Posted: Jul 31, 2021

Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta bounced back from his disappointing semi-final defeat by upsetting top-seeded Serbian Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3 to claim the bronze medal on Saturday at the Tokyo Olympics.

The sixth seed, who defeated World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev on the way to the bronze medal match, played aggressively throughout against Djokovic, striking the ball with great power on his groundstrokes. After squandering a match point at 6/5 in the second set tie-break, the 30-year-old raised his level in the third set to record victory in two hours and 49 minutes.

“I won [the] Davis Cup, and I’ve gone far in other tournaments, but winning an Olympic medal is indescribable,” Carreno Busta told “I’ve felt the support from Spain, my family and people around me, and have received fond messages from those who saw me lose yesterday. I want to share this medal with all of them.”

View Order Of Play | View 2020 Olympics Results | View Draw

Carreno Busta was making his Olympics debut this week and came into the event full of confidence having captured his first ATP 500 trophy at the Hamburg European Open earlier this month. The Spaniard also lifted the AnyTech365 Andalucia Open title in Marbella on home soil in April.

In a high-quality first set, Carreno Busta showed resilience, fending off three break points across his opening two service games. The Spaniard then capitalised on Djokovic’s low first serve percentage of just 44 per cent in the first set to move ahead as he showcased a mix of power and precision on his backhand.

Both players were strong on serve in the second with no break points offered up as it moved to a tie-break. Djokovic then demonstrated his defensive skills, saving one match point at 5/6 before levelling when Carreno Busta fired a forehand wide. Carreno Busta did not let this set him back though as he regained his focus to storm into a 3-0 lead in the third set. The Spaniard hit seven winners in the decider, taking his sixth match point to claim victory.

Djokovic’s historic Golden Grand Slam attempt was ended by Alexander Zverev on Friday and the 34-year-old struggled to find his best form against Carreno Busta. After lifting the first three major championships of the season, the 34-year-old’s attention will now turn to the hard-court season.

“I’ve had some heart-breaking losses at the Olympic Games and some big tournaments in my career,” Djokovic told “I know that those losses have usually made me stronger in every aspect. I know that I will bounce back.

“I will try to keep going for the Paris Olympic Games. I will fight for my country to win medals. I’m sorry that I disappointed a lot of sports fans in my country, but that’s sport. I gave it [my] all, whatever I had left in the tank, which was not so much, I left it out on the court.”

The World No. 1, who won a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, will aim to capture a fourth US Open title in September and become the second male player behind Rod Laver in 1969 to complete the calendar-year Grand Slam.

Following his defeat, Djokovic and Nina Stojanovic withdrew from their mixed doubles bronze medal match against Australians Ashleigh Barty and John Peers due to Djokovic suffering with a right shoulder injury. It is the sixth time Australia have won an Olympic medal in tennis.

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Fritz Wins Opelka Epic To Reach Atlanta SFs

  • Posted: Jul 31, 2021

Nearly three hours, almost 50 combined aces and not a break of serve in sight: fifth seed Taylor Fritz battled to the brink against Reilly Opelka to win a 7-6(5), 6-7(3), 7-6(4) epic on Friday and book a place into the Truist Atlanta Open semi-finals.

Fritz is into his fourth semi-final of the season, and his second in as many weeks after reaching the last four in Los Cabos. Opelka saved two match points in a nail biting second-set to take them the distance, but Fritz held his nerve to take down the fourth seed. 

“We had plans to have dinner last night, and we were talking all day this morning before the match,” Fritz said of playing good friend Opelka. “It’s all love… We know we’re going to play each other so many more times. We’re normal before the match too, making jokes going down in the elevator heading down to the courts before the match, and then we go back to normal after the match.”

Fritz improved to 5-1 in his ATP Head2Head over Opelka after winning 91 per cent (62/68) of first-serve points in the match. The two big servers kept the points short and played first-strike tennis, with Opelka saving all four break points he faced – including two match points in the second set. Fritz, who didn’t face a break point, claimed the lone mini-break in the third set to close out the victory after two hours and 55 minutes.


#NextGenATP Brandon Nakashima also advanced to the semi-finals with a 7-6(5), 7-5 victory over Jordan Thompson. The 19-year-old reached his first tour-level final last week in Los Cabos, and is now into his second career semi-final in Atlanta.

Nakashima awaits the winner of third seed Cameron Norrie and Emil Ruusuvuori in the semi-finals, while Fritz will next face the winner of five-time champion John Isner and Christopher O’Connell.

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Nadal, Norrie Drawn In Same Citi Open Quarter

  • Posted: Jul 30, 2021

World No. 3 Rafael Nadal has landed in a tricky section of the Citi Open draw as he begins his quest for an 89th tour-level title. The top-seeded Spaniard is set to make his debut in Washington D.C., and he could meet one of the most in-form players of the season in an early hard-court test. 

The Spaniard will be contesting his first hard-court tournament since the Australian Open in February, where he reached the quarter-finals before falling to Stefanos Tsitsipas in a five-set battle. Nadal has amassed a 22-4 record on the season after lifting trophies in Barcelona and Rome, but has not competed since reaching the Roland Garros semi-finals (l. to Djokovic) after withdrawing from Wimbledon citing physical and mental fatigue. 

View full Washington DC draw. 

Should he reach the quarter-finals, top seed Nadal could get a big test in the form of seventh seed Cameron Norrie, who lifted his first ATP Tour trophy a fortnight ago in Los Cabos. Norrie is one of the winningest players on Tour, and he trails only Tsitsipas (40) and Andrey Rublev (36) with 35 matches won in 2021.

But that’s not the only challenge Nadal could face as he seeks his first hard-court title since Acapulco last year. He has landed in the same half as fourth seed Grigor Dimitrov, whom he could meet in the semi-finals. But plenty of unseeded threats also loom large, including big-hitting Nick Kyrgios and #NextGenATP Brandon Nakashima. Nadal will start his campaign against the winner of Jack Sock and Yoshihito Nishioka. 

Kyrgios, who won the title here in 2019, will face Mackenzie McDonald in the first round. He would set up an intriguing matchup with 13th seed Benoit Paire should he advance.

Second seed Felix Auger-Aliassime anchors the bottom half of the Washington D.C. draw, where youth rules as #NextGenATP Jannik Sinner, Sebastian Korda and wild card Jenson Brooksby are also in the mix. Fifth seed Sinner and 12th seed Korda could meet in the third round after landing in the same section, which also features third seed Alex de Minaur. De Minaur qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but had to withdraw due to a positive COVID-19 test.

Auger-Aliassime will face the winner between Andreas Seppi and a qualifier, with a potential third-round clash against 16th seed Frances Tiafoe. Should he advance, big-hitting Reilly Opelka, the eighth seed, could be his opponent in the quarter-finals.

Did You Know?
Nadal is seeking to become the second Spanish champion to win in Washington D.C., and the first since Alex Corretja in 2000.

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Ruud Eyes Clay-Court Hat-Trick, Faces Martinez In Kitzbühel Final

  • Posted: Jul 30, 2021

Top seed Casper Ruud is one match away from lifting his fourth singles trophy of the year after taking down Arthur Rinderknech on Friday in a rain-interrupted 6-3, 7-6(7) victory at the Generali Open in Kitzbühel. 

The Norwegian added an 11th consecutive victory to a head-turning win streak that has seen him claim back-to-back trophies at the Nordea Open in Bastad and the Swiss Open Gstaad. Ruud, who also won at the Gonet Geneva Open earlier in the season, will take on Pedro Martinez in the Kitzbühel final as he seeks to claim his fifth career title – and lift his third trophy in as many weeks.  

“When I won in Gstaad, I was already thinking about it a little, that maybe I can try and get a hat trick. That would be unbelievable,” Ruud said. “And now I have fought my way to the final here, and I have the chance to play for it tomorrow. I will try to fight even more again tomorrow.” 

Ruud is seeking to become the first player since Andy Murray in October 2011 to win three ATP Tour singles titles in as many weeks. Murray achieved the feat by lifting the trophies in Bangkok (d. Young), Tokyo (d. Nadal) and Shanghai (d. Ferrer). 

The top seed had to fight through French alternate Rinderknech in order to reach the final. He broke early to take a 4-1 lead, and kept his composure after a rain delay halted play for several hours. Upon resumption, Ruud converted his fifth set point to close out the opening set. 

He had to save a set point in the second-set tie-break as Rinderknech saved two match points and took a 7/6 lead. But Ruud, who didn’t face a break point in the match, reeled off the next three points to seal the victory after one hour and 45 minutes.


“I think I played steady the whole match and with few mistakes. That was the plan all along, to try to feed him with a lot of balls as much as possible,” Ruud said. “He has a lot of big weapons, but sometimes when he plays it can be high-risk and there can be mistakes. I think I did the plan very well.” 

Ruud will take on Martinez next after the Spaniard rallied from a set down to take down Daniel Altmaier and book a place into his first ATP Tour final. Martinez won 74 per cent (42/57) and broke his opponent’s serve four times to seal the 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory. 

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Think Pink! How Opelka & Schwartzman Have Turned Heads

  • Posted: Jul 30, 2021

You can normally identify Reilly Opelka by his booming serve and his 6’11” frame. This week at the Truist Atlanta Open, just look for pink.

Opelka and Diego Schwartzman during the European clay swing debuted an eye-catching pink tie-dye kit, which was made in collaboration with Italian fashion brand MSGM. The American has great interest in the fashion world, and he was really happy with the outfit, which he is wearing again this week in Georgia.

“This is my favourite kit hands down, the one Diego and I are both wearing. And I also like it because it’s just Diego and I wearing it,” Opelka said during the clay swing. “A lot of brands you see so many other guys just wearing the same stuff, it gets repetitive. You see [John] Isner, [Sam] Querrey and some of the other guys wearing a really classy, timeless Fila look with that lavender purple, and then Diego and I are wearing this loud tie-dye. It just changes it up a little bit.

“[WTA player] Sonya Kenin has a cool MSGM kit as well. I think it adds some diversity in one brand in tennis, which doesn’t happen at all.”

Reilly Opelka
Photo Credit: Julian Finney/Getty Images
Opelka enjoys the collaboration with designer Massimo Giorgetti’s MSGM, and he is especially pleased with the pink colour.

“Collabs that aren’t well done in my opinion are ones that aren’t on brand. You just have one brand that’s really hot with another brand that’s really hot. Just because you have two hot brands doesn’t mean they mix well,” Opelka said. “But I think they’re really on brand with one another.” 

Schwartzman, who made the quarter-finals in Paris with the kit, was happy with the fresh look.

“I really love it,” Schwartzman said at the time. “For me, if the people like [it], I like [it]… I think it looks good. I like to be on court with new clothes and different [looks].” 

This is not the first tie-dye kit they have worn. Both also sported a shirt with rainbow colours last year, including at the Western & Southern Open (picture below).

Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
Bold does not always work in fashion or tennis. But according to Opelka, this pink collaboration has hit the mark. Call it an ace.

“A lot of times in the high-end fashion space people just collab to collab since they both have big-name brands,” Opelka said. “But I think this one is more precise.”

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