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Van Assche, 18, Converts Hot Streak To First Challenger Title

  • Posted: Dec 05, 2022

Van Assche, 18, Converts Hot Streak To First Challenger Title

Lajovic wins first Challenger title since 2018

French teenager Luca Van Assche had one target for this year: win an ATP Challenger Tour trophy. With time nearly expiring on the Challenger season, the 18-year-old accomplished his goal Sunday at the Maia Open.

Van Assche, who has reached four Challenger finals in the past two months, won his maiden ATP Challenger Tour trophy in Maia, Portugal, where he rallied from a set down to defeat Austrian qualifier Maximilian Neuchrist in the championship match 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.

“It was a great week for me, I’m so happy to win,” Van Assche said. “When I lost the first set [in the final], I was thinking about it like, ‘I cannot lose four finals!’ I continued to fight and it worked. It was my goal to win a Challenger this year and I did it at the last tournament of the year.

“This is the biggest day of my career so far and I hope there will be other days like this in the future. This is a little step in my big career.”

ATP Challenger Tour 

Van Assche, who is one of nine teenage Challenger champions this year, is the youngest French winner since Corentin Moutet won the Brest Challenger in 2017. The teen is just the sixth French champion aged 18 and under in Challenger history, joining Richard Gasquet, Sebastien Grosjean, Gael Monfils, Fabrice Santoro, and Moutet.

The #NextGenATP youngster, who started the year ranked outside the Top 500, went on a late-season surge, including reaching the final at the Lisbon, Brest, and Valencia Challengers. The title in Portugal lifts the 2021 Roland Garros boys’ singles champion to a career-high 138 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

Players from France have combined for 22 Challenger titles this season, marking the second most Challenger titles by a country in a single season, behind Argentina’s 23 Challenger titles, which the Argentines collected this year.

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In Maia doubles action, British duo Julian Cash and Henry Patten defeated home favourites Nuno Borges and Francisco Cabral in a match tie-break to triumph. The former collegiate tennis stars Cash and Patten have earned a record-setting 10 Challenger doubles titles this year.

At the Maspalomas Challenger, Serbian Dusan Lajovic won his first Challenger title since March 2018 (Le Gosier). The former World No. 23 defeated Canadian Steven Diez in the championship match 6-1, 6-4 to be crowned champion at the eó Hotels Maspalomas Challenger.

“I started the match really well,” Lajovic said. “I’m happy I was able to gain confidence very early and that gave me a calm peace of mind to continue playing with the same rhythm. I was able to keep the consistency level very high.”

<a href=''>Dusan Lajovic</a> in action at the 2022 Maspalomas Challenger.
Dusan Lajovic in action at the 2022 Maspalomas Challenger. Credit: MediaPress Global

Lajovic, who turned pro in 2007, dropped just one set all week en route to triumphing at the Challenger 80 event in Spain.

In 2019, the Serbian enjoyed his career-best season on the ATP Tour. Lajovic finished runner-up at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters (l. Fognini) and won his maiden Tour-level title at the ATP 250 event in Umag.


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Tsitsipas, Nadal, Felix Comebacks Among ATP Tour's Best Of 2022

  • Posted: Dec 05, 2022

Tsitsipas, Nadal, Felix Comebacks Among ATP Tour’s Best Of 2022

Rinderknech, Kecmanovic also make our Top 5

This week, continues its annual season-in-review series, looking back at 2022’s best matches, biggest upsets, most dramatic comebacks and more. In this installment, we look back at the best comebacks on the ATP Tour this season (excluding the Grand Slams), featuring Nitto ATP Finals competitors Stefanos Tsitsipas, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Rafael Nadal. On Tuesday we will focus on the best Grand Slam comebacks of the year.

5) BNP Paribas Open, R2, Nadal d Korda 6-2, 1-6, 7-6(3)
Rafael Nadal’s perfect start to the season — a run which included three titles — was on the line in Indian Wells, and the Spaniard stayed hot against Sebastian Korda by winning his 13th set in a row dating back to the Australian Open final.

But the American took command of the match on home soil, outhitting Nadal in a dominant second set and moving within two points of victory at 5-2 in the third. Once again, Nadal showcased his fighting spirit by clawing his way back from that double-break deficit, taking advantage of some late nerves from Korda, who idolised the Spaniard growing up.

Nadal broke easily to close to 3-5, then used two trademark passing shots to level the match at 5-5. After fending off a break point in the ensuing game, he was the steadier player in the tie-break as he won the final five points of the match. 

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“I thought I was lost today… and in Australia, very similar feeling,” Nadal said in his post-match presser, comparing his win against Korda to his miraculous comeback against Daniil Medvedev in the Aussie Open final. “But that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to keep trying or keep fighting.”

The then-35-year-old would extend his personal-best season start to 20-0 by reaching the Indian Wells final before falling to Taylor Fritz in a match which made our list of Biggest ATP Tour Upsets Of 2022.

4) Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships, R2, Kecmanovic d Evans 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(4)
On the fourth of what would be six match points saved, Miomir Kecmanovic hit one of the shots of his life to deny Daniel Evans victory in Tokyo. Emboldened after escaping 40/0 earlier in Evans’ 5-4 service game, the Serbian produced a superb defensive tweener to turn the point around at Ad-in.

“It was amazing, It’s the first time I ever made that shot in a match,” he said of the circus shot. “I’m beyond happy that I was able to do it.”

After four deuces and two more match points, Kecmanovic broke to level the match at 5-5 in the deciding set. Brimming with confidence, he saw a match point of his own go begging on return at 6-5 before closing out the tie-break by winning its final four points.

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“That was the first time that I was able to do that,” Kecmanovic said of his great escape. “I was completely tuned out of the match and I just went for it in that moment.”

The eighth-seeded Evans had won four straight games to recover from 1-4 in the set and bring up his chance to serve out the match. Instead, it was Kecmanovic who advanced to his eighth quarter-final of the 2022 season. He followed that up with a ninth tour-level quarter-final appearance two weeks later in Naples, an October result which lifted him to a career-high Pepperstone ATP Ranking of No. 28.

3) Rolex Paris Masters, R2, Auger-Aliassime d. Ymer 6-7(6), 6-4, 7-6(6)
Felix Auger-Aliassime’s 13-match win streak was on the verge of being broken by Sweden’s Mikael Ymer, who turned in an inspired performance in Bercy. After taking a tight opening set, Ymer led 4-1 in set two and created two break points to all but seal his progress at the ATP Masters 1000.

But a Felix fightback kept the Canadian in the match. By finding his serve to hold, Auger-Aliassime sparked a run of seven straight games as he took control. Still, the drama was far from over: Ymer twice erased a break deficit in the third set and moved within two points of victory at 5/4 in the tie-break.

After three-and-a-half hours of high drama, Auger-Aliassime celebrated an unlikely comeback win that was even more surprising by the measure of break points: Ymer created 17 looks on return, converting just three times, while Auger-Aliassime was an efficient four of five on his chances.

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“Somehow I found a second wind after saving those break points at 4-1,” the Canadian said after the match. “I played better and better, coming through the court much better, serving better. It was pretty epic. Three hours and 30 minutes on the court, quality rallies. He was making me work all the time. Definitely a win to remember.”

Auger-Aliassime’s comeback — particularly the seven-game run which flipped the match — was built on relentless attacking. He played 31 per cent of his shots from attacking positions in the contest, according to INSIGHTS: In Attack statistics. But in the clutch moments, he also found success in the long rallies which Ymer was winning for much of the first two sets.

The victory held significance beyond the tournament itself, as Auger-Aliassime was fighting for his Nitto ATP Finals debut, the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin coming down to the wire in its final week. A few hours after the win, his qualification was confirmed following defeats for Taylor Fritz and Hubert Hurkacz.

The 22-year-old — who entered Paris on the heels of three straight titles in Florence, Antwerp and Basel — would extend his winning run to 15 matches before falling in the semis to eventual champ Holger Rune. Two weeks later in Turin, a win against Nadal highlighted his first appearance at the year-end event. But his year did not finish there: Auger-Aliassime earned three more singles wins and one doubles victory at the Davis Cup Finals as he helped lead Canada to its first title in the competition.

2) Gijon Open, QF, Rinderknech d. Carreno Busta 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(16)
Arthur Rinderknech collapsed to the court after saving nine match points to beat Pablo Carreno Busta in Gijon. Overcome with emotion, the Frenchman lingered on his back as he soaked in the moment.

More than the match itself, Rinderknech was thinking of his late grandmother, who passed away earlier in the week in France.

“It’s difficult to say something right now,” he said after the victory. “The match was crazy. I want to give this win to my grandma that passed away five days ago. I wasn’t able to be there in France with my family. So I play for her this week, and this win is for her.”

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The first of Carreno Busta’s nine match points came on return at 4-5. Rinderknech escaped that jam, then saw two break points of his own go begging in the ensuing game. The Spaniard had another three match points early in the tie-break before Rinderknech earned the first of his six match points at 8/7. 

In a contest that was largely dominated by the server, with just two breaks across three sets, the pressure of the marathon tie-break saw the script flipped. From 9/9, 13 of the final 16 points went the way of the returner, including a run of nine in a row that was ended by an aggressive service point from Rinderknech, who clinched victory with a volley winner.

“I was trying to fight, but it was difficult,” the Frenchman added. “I just thought about my grandma and I was going to give it a shot no matter what and try to win this match. Fortunately, I was able to win this one for her, so it’s great. I just don’t know how I did it. The tie-break was just ridiculous.”

1) Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, QF, Tsitsipas d. Schwartzman 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-4
A Friday full of of quarter-final drama was punctuated by the biggest thriller of them all as Stefanos Tsitsipas edged Diego Schwartzman under the lights in Monte Carlo.

The defending champion Greek looked set for straightforward progress to the semis, leading 6-2, 5-2, but fell victim to a late Schwartzman surge. The Argentine battled back to win the set in a tie-break, then raced out to a 4-0 lead in the third.

But there was one more extreme twist to come, as Tsitsipas roared back to win the final six games of the match. As the third seed rediscovered his rhythm, he pulled Schwartzman around the court with improved width and depth to reclaim the initiative.

There was plenty of late intrigue within those last six games, with a break-point save required at 4-4 and a majestic diving volley — a shot-of-the-season candidate — bringing up the first of two match points for the Greek.

Watch the full match replay on

“It was a very dramatic match with a lot of ups and downs, and I think that was the key match in that tournament,” Tsitsipas told in November as he reflected on his season. “I remember feeling — after winning that match, the next day, having to play my semi-final — I kind of felt fearless, I felt that I really had nothing to lose. I was in very good form at the time, after having played such a long match and feeling my shots more and more during the course of the match. I felt pretty confident going into my semi-final.”

Tsitsipas went on to power past Alexander Zverev and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina to retain his title in Monte Carlo.

“It’s probably the most difficult thing one can do, to go back-to-back at a tournament,” the Greek added.

See more in our Best of 2022 season review landing page here.

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#NextGenATP Stars Nominated For Newcomer Of The Year In 2022 Awards

  • Posted: Dec 05, 2022

#NextGenATP Stars Nominated For Newcomer Of The Year In 2022 Awards

Shelton, Tseng, Rune, Draper and Lehecka all made big strides in 2022

They are among the brightest young stars on the ATP: Ben Shelton, Chun-Hsin Tseng, Jack Draper, Jiri Lehecka and Holger Rune. And all five are nominees for the Newcomer of the Year in the 2022 ATP Awards, to be announced later this month.

Selected by players, the award goes to the #NextGenATP player who entered the Top 100 for the first time in 2022 and made the biggest impact on the ATP Tour this season. 

Player Age Career-High (Date)
Ben Shelton 20 No. 97 (21 November)
Chun-Hsin Tseng 21 No. 83 (8 August)
Holger Rune 19 No. 10 (7 November)
Jack Draper 20 No. 41 (7 November)
Jiri Lehecka 21 No. 59 (8 August)

Ben Shelton, 20
From NCAA college tennis to the ATP Challenger Tour and the ATP Tour, Shelton made his mark at every level in 2022.

The American clinched the prestigious NCAA singles title in U.S. college tennis in May, representing the University of Florida. That achievement kick-started a meteoric rise for Shelton, who subsequently earned a 35-8 record in Challenger events either side of upsetting Lorenzo Sonego and Casper Ruud to reach the third round of the Western & Southern Open.

That run in Cincinnati prompted Shelton’s decision to turn professional prior to the US Open in August, and the 20-year-old has barely stopped winning since. He made four Challenger finals in six tournaments to round out his year, and in November became the youngest player in Challenger history to lift three trophies in as many weeks. Having started 2022 at No. 573 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, Shelton ended it a career-high No. 97.

“It’s definitely gone quick,” said Shelton after finishing his season with 15 straight wins. “I’m going to take this offseason and slow down a bit, enjoy myself, and also focus on some things I can improve.”

Chun-Hsin Tseng, 21
Perseverance paid off for Tseng in 2022.

After plenty of hard graft and toil in his bid to make his mark at the top level, the 21-year-old enjoyed a breakthrough season this year. A series of strong performances on the ATP Challenger Tour combined with the first three ATP Tour match wins of his young career propelled Tseng more than 100 spots to a year-end No. 86 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings.

“For me it was an incredible journey because when I was around 280 or 300, I was stuck there for two or three years,” Tseng recently told “For me it was tough, but suddenly [this year] I became Top 100. I was very surprised because at that moment I didn’t really expect that I would go that fast.”

Tseng reached three ATP Challenger Tour finals between February and April and came away with the trophy in Bengaluru and Murcia before notching his maiden ATP Tour main-draw victory in August against Nick Chappell in Los Cabos. His performances ultimately earned him a spot at November’s Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals, where he was the first Asian player to compete at the 21-and-under season finale since Hyeon Chung in 2017.

“There was a time I was always confused on court and made some wrong decisions and things just didn’t go well,” said Tseng of his journey to the Top 100. “But I just keep trying to work hard every day and try to improve myself because I believe that will bring me to the top level.”

<a href=''>Chun-Hsin Tseng</a>

Tseng in action in Milan in November. Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour

Holger Rune, 19
Two red-hot streaks of form defined a stunning 2022 season for Rune.

If a string of top-quality wins during the European clay-court season were a sign that the Dane had the game to compete with the very best on Tour, his late-season charge on indoor hard courts proved his ability to convert those attributes into title-winning performances against the very best in the world.

Rune lifted his maiden ATP Tour title at the BMW Open by American Express in Munich in May, just two days after turning 19, before upsetting Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final at Roland Garros. The Dane then responded to a moderate run of mid-year results like a seasoned pro, claiming two further titles while winning 19 of his final 21 matches of the year.

That sublime run included championship match appearances in Sofia and Basel, and Rune defeated World No. 5 Tsitsipas in straight sets to win the Stockholm Open. He capped off his year with the biggest title of his career, battling past Novak Djokovic in a thrilling Rolex Paris Masters final to break into the Top 10 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings for the first time.

“I’m feeling lovely to be honest, it’s the best feeling,” said Rune after his run to his maiden ATP Masters 1000 crown in Paris, where he defeated five Top 10 opponents in a row. “If you told me four weeks ago, I would be Top 10… I would be like ‘What, sorry?’ Now I’m here and I’m super proud.”

Jack Draper, 20
The list of Draper’s 19 tour-level victories in 2022 makes impressive reading. It includes wins against Top 10 or former Top 10 stars Taylor Fritz, Diego Schwartzman, Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem and Felix Auger-Aliassime. Perhaps even more notably, he beat them all in straight sets.

Having claimed four ATP Challenger Tour titles in the first three months of the season, it didn’t take long for Draper to prove that his powerful lefty game was ready to do damage on the ATP Tour. He reached the semi-finals in Eastbourne, the quarter-finals at the National Bank Open Presented by Rogers in Montreal and the third round at the US Open before rounding out his year by reaching the semi-finals at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals.

“I think the most satisfying run was [at] the US Open,” Draper told in November. “I feel I beat two players in [Emil] Ruusuvuori and Auger-Aliassime who are top players and people I have been watching the past couple of years… The Tsitsipas win as well in Montreal. Playing those top players and getting wins and feeling comfortable is crucial.”

Draper’s exploits helped the 20-year-old jump from No. 265 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings at the start of 2022 to No. 42 by the year’s end, a perfect springboard for the Briton as he looks to hit new highs in the 2023 season.

Jiri Lehecka, 21 (Czech Republic)
It didn’t take Lehecka long to break new ground in 2022. The Czech qualified for his first Grand Slam main draw in January at the Australian Open, where he pushed Grigor Dimitrov to four sets in the first round.

Three weeks later, Lehecka arrived at the ABN AMRO Open in Rotterdam as the World No. 137 seeking to reach his maiden ATP Tour main draw. This time, however, he did more than just qualify. Then 20, he upset Denis Shapovalov, Botic van de Zandschulp and Lorenzo Musetti for his first ATP Tour wins before pushing Tsitsipas to three sets in the semi-finals at the indoor ATP 500 event.

A quarter-final run in Kitzbühel and an ATP Challenger Tour title at home in Liberec helped propel Lehecka to his career-high Pepperstone ATP Ranking of No. 59 in August and he ended his 2022 season on another high by reaching the final at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals.

“Now I will focus for sure to keep in the Top 100 and to stay there,” said Lehecka after his championship match run in Milan. “To move on and forward to make that transition from the ATP Challenger Tour level to ATP Tour level, and to [reach the] Top 50 even faster.”

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Agassi, Evert, King Pay Tribute To Nick Bollettieri

  • Posted: Dec 05, 2022

Agassi, Evert, King Pay Tribute To Nick Bollettieri

Tennis community mourns the loss of coaching icon

Tennis coaching pioneer Nick Bollettieri passed away aged 91, it was announced Monday.

Bollettieri, the coach of 10 former World No. 1s, was a magnetic force in the tennis community known for his unmatched energy. Former players, including Andre Agassi, Tommy Haas, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, and other members of the tennis community took to social media Monday to share their condolences.

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Nick Bollettieri, Visionary Coach Of 10 World No. 1s, Dies Aged 91

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Alcaraz Becomes Youngest Year-End No. 1, Nadal Extends Top 10 Record

  • Posted: Dec 05, 2022

Alcaraz Becomes Youngest Year-End No. 1, Nadal Extends Top 10 Record

Seven 25-and-under players finish in the Top 10

The ATP today published the 2022 year-end Pepperstone ATP Rankings on with Spaniards Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal headlining a season of record-breaking performances and milestones. Alcaraz and Nadal are the first countrymen to finish No. 1 and 2 since Americans Pete Sampras and Michael Chang in 1996.

Alcaraz, 19, is the first teenager and youngest player to finish No. 1 in the 50 editions of the year-end Pepperstone ATP Rankings, while Nadal, 36, is the oldest to finish in the Top 2. Nadal also finishes in the Top 10 for a record-extending 18th consecutive year and ties Roger Federer for the most Top 10 finishes overall with 18.

Alcaraz is the first player other than Nadal, Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray to finish No. 1 since Andy Roddick in 2003. He also makes the biggest jump to year-end No. 1 in history, rising from No. 32 at the end of 2021.

Alcaraz and No. 11 Holger Rune, also 19, are the first pair of teenagers to finish in the Top 15 since 1990 (No. 5 Sampras, No. 9 Goran Ivanisevic and No. 15 Chang). Rune finished 2021 at No. 103 before breaking into both the Top 100 and the Top 10 during the 2022 season.

Alcaraz is one of three new faces in the year-end Top 10 along with No. 6 Felix Auger-Aliassime and No. 9 Taylor Fritz. Auger-Aliassime, 22, is the youngest Canadian to end a year in the Top 10 and second overall (Milos Raonic in 2014 at No. 8 and 2016 at No. 3). Fritz, 25, is the youngest American in the year-end Top 10 since No. 6 Roddick, 24, in 2006.

Djokovic finishes in the Top 5 for the 15th time in the past 16 years. He was also ranked No. 1 for 20 weeks during the season, bringing his record total of weeks atop the Pepperstone ATP Rankings to 373.

Three players were ranked No. 1 in 2022: Alcaraz (16 weeks through 31 December), Djokovic (20 weeks) and Daniil Medvedev (16 weeks). Alcaraz and Medvedev are the first pair of players to debut at No. 1 in the same season since Roddick and Juan Carlos Ferrero in 2003.

At least seven players 25-and-under finished in the Top 10 for the second year in a row (8 in 2021). Joining Alcaraz, Auger-Aliassime and Fritz in the 2022 year-end Top 10 are 23-year-old Casper Ruud of Norway, 24-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece and 25-year-olds Andrey Rublev and Hubert Hurkacz.

2022 Year-End Pepperstone ATP Rankings Top 10
1) Carlos Alcaraz –
Second Spanish year-end No. 1, joining five-time year-end No. 1 Rafael Nadal

2) Rafael Nadal – Ends year at No. 2 for eighth time and in Top 2 for record 13th time

3) Casper Ruud – Best year-end ranking for a Scandinavian player since No. 2 Stefan Edberg of Sweden in 1992

4) Stefanos Tsitsipas – Ends year in Top 10 for fourth straight season, equalling year-end high from 2021

5) Novak Djokovic – Finishes in Top 5 after winning record-tying sixth Nitto ATP Finals championship

6) Felix Auger-Aliassime – Led ATP with 45 hard-court wins, including victories against Alcaraz, Nadal, Tsitsipas and Djokovic

7) Daniil Medvedev – Reached World No. 1 in February, finishes in Top 10 for fourth consecutive season

8) Andrey Rublev – Posted 4-0 record in 2022 finals to end third straight year in Top 10

9) Taylor Fritz – First American in year-end Top 10 since No. 10 John Isner in 2018

10) Hubert Hurkacz – Only Polish player to finish in Top 10, doing so for second year in a row

2022 Year-End Pepperstone ATP Rankings Quick Facts

  • 471 spots jumped by Ben Shelton – most in year-end Top 100 (No. 568 in 2021 to No. 97 in 2022)
  • 217 spots jumped by Jack Draper – most in year-end Top 50 (No. 259 in 2021 to No. 42 in 2022)
  • 37-year-old John Isner is oldest player in year-end Top 100 at No. 41
  • 25 players 30-and-over finished in the Top 100 (31 in 2021, 40 in 2020)
  • 16 players 25-and-under in Top 30 – up from four in 2014 and most since 17 in 2008
  • 13 players from USA in year-end Top 100 – most since 14 in 1995 and most of any country in 2022
  • Nine Americans in year-end Top 50 – most since nine in 1996 and most of any country in 2022
  • Nine #NextGenATP players in year-end Top 100 (born in 2001 or later)
  • Four Britons in year-end Top 50 for first time (No. 14 Cameron Norrie, No. 27 Daniel Evans, No. 42 Jack Draper, No. 49 Andy Murray)
  • Two Aussies, No. 22 Nick Kyrgios and No. 24 Alex de Minaur, finish in Top 25 for first time since 2003 (No. 9 Mark Philippoussis, No. 17 Lleyton Hewitt)

The 2023 ATP Tour season begins on 29 December 2022 with the 18-country United Cup, which will take place across Australia in Brisbane, Perth and Sydney.

View Full 2022 Year-End Pepperstone ATP Rankings

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Nick Bollettieri, Visionary Coach Of 10 World No. 1s, Dies Aged 91

  • Posted: Dec 05, 2022

Nick Bollettieri, Visionary Coach Of 10 World No. 1s, Dies Aged 91 pays tribute to a coaching pioneer, with exclusive insight from some of his former pupils

Editor’s Note: This is an updated version of a story that was first published on in July 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 has passed away aged 91, 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.

Bollettieri first hit a tennis court with an uncle, John Lightfoot, at the New Rochelle County Club. From there, he translated the philosophy of Vince Lombardi, and the discipline and dedication required to jump out of an aeroplane at 14,000 feet 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 in 2021. “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.”

On learning of Bollettieri’s passing Monday, ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said: “It is with great sadness that tennis bids farewell to a true legend of the sport. Nick Bollettieri was an inspiration – guiding so many of the game’s greats to the highest of heights. He had an unwavering care and passion for tennis, over so many decades, and will be remembered as one of the game’s greatest coaches. He leaves behind an indelible legacy that will continue to shape our sport forever.”

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 used video analysis to help to develop the likes of Carling Bassett, Kathleen Horvath and Jimmy Arias, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier, Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova through daily drills and competition. In 2021, Arias 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.” Courier, like Seles, had unrivalled work ethic.

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,” said Arias. “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.”

A decade later, when there was criticism that Bollettieri couldn’t teach his players how to volley, Courier, Agassi and Seles simply began hitting swinging volleys, now a staple shot.

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 Pepperstone 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 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 six in the morning and Andre said, ‘Don’t forget I have a hair appointment at 2:30 p.m.!’”

Agassi remained a perennial favourite, and as a young American teenager taught Bollettieri the importance of listening. Bollettieri was 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 the Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, which became the biggest summer camps in the world and sowed the seeds for what became the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy.”

Bollettieri worked tirelessly, creating an environment young players needed to thrive. He would rise at 4:30 a.m. each day after just five hours’ sleep; undertake his daily stretches, sit-ups, press-ups and lift light weights, and his first lessons would begin a half-hour later. Bollettieri played golf, body surfed and swam as part of his routine. He patrolled 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.

Bollettieri’s legacy is one of generosity and that the life lessons he provided are remembered by his former students to this day. Today, the IMG Academy in Bradenton – and the tennis world – will fall silent in homage to Bollettieri, who started out as a philosophy graduate and onto lead a life that defied expectations.

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