How Nick Bollettieri borrowed millions and lost them all for his academy

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How Nick Bollettieri borrowed millions and lost them all for his academy

Nick Bollettieri - the legendary coach who worked with Agassi, Courier, the Williams sisters, and with many other great names -, revealed, for TennisHead magazine, how he built the famous academy that had been wearing his name until he ran out of money.

The whole idea of making an academy didn’t just rise in Nick’s head. It was provoked by a number of external factors. Here is what happened. The famous coach was training players in many places until he received a working opportunity in Florida.

“For years I had been teaching tennis in places as diverse as Puerto Rico, Wisconsin, Long Island and Miami. In 1976 I took a call from a friend, Mike DePalmer, who told me there was a teaching opportunity at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort at Longboat Key, near Sarasota on the Gulf coast of Florida”, Nick told TennisHead.

It wasn’t clear if Bollettieri will take the opportunity or not, but he confessed he was seduced by the beautiful scenery of the coast and by his love for surfing. ”When we arrived at the Gulf Coast the sun was shining and the surf was up.

Holy cow, I’ve always loved surfing. I turned to Julio and said: “Maybe we’ll take this place”. Landscape aside, what triggered Bollettieri’s decision to set up his own tennis boarding school were the words of Carling Bassett - a player which would climb as high as number 8th in the WTA rankings.

“It was during my time at the Colony Beach that I started to think – between lessons and riding the surf – about setting up my own teaching establishment. The wheels were set in motion when little Carling Bassett, who was one of the kids taking lessons, came up to me and said: “I’m going home with you”.

I said: “What do you mean?” She said: “My daddy wants me to stay with you!””, Bollettieri confessed. As you probably sensed, Carling Bassett was the first student of Nick’s new teaching establishment, but it didn’t take long until the second one came.

“Carling, who went on to become the world No 8, became our first live-in student. Jimmy Arias, who became world No 5, followed her. Holy mackerel, we soon had 10 kids staying in the house!” exclaimed Nick. The academy was frequented by more and more students, but the resources were not sufficient for the currently 88 years old coach.

Therefore, he obtained a lofty sum from a friend. “In 1978 I bought a tennis club in West Bradenton and then a 20-room motel to accommodate our growing band of students. Finally, in 1981, a wonderful friend by the name of Louis Marx lent me a couple of million dollars to buy a plot of land in Bradenton and we built the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy there.

I went after the best students both in the US and overseas and gave them all scholarships, because it was those players who attracted the paying customers”, Nick told. Nick loved to build young talents, but this pursuit got out of his hand.

He lent so many scholarships that he found himself being forced to sell the academy due to lack of financial resources. “The only trouble was that I handed out so many scholarships that the business ran out of money, so in 1987 I sold the academy to IMG, who have done a magnificent job with it ever since.

I’ve always been a big dreamer, but man, what the IMG Academy is now is way beyond my wildest dreams”, the coach admitted. Anyway, maybe this was the better unfoldment for his academy as, in the meantime, it became one of the greatest sports campuses in the world.