Nick Bollettieri, Pioneering Tennis Coach, Dies at 91

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Nick Bollettieri, the legendary Hall of Fame tennis coach who taught the likes of the Williams sisters, Andre Agassi and Maria Sharapova, has died. He was 91.

He died Sunday night at his Florida home after a series of health issues.

Born in Pelham, New York, to Italian immigrants, Bollettieri coached tennis to earn money on the side as he studied for a law degree at the University of Miami. He was also a high school football quarterback and a paratrooper in the U.S. army. He eventually dropped out of school to pursue coaching full-time.

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He called himself the “Michelangelo of Tennis” despite never playing professionally and helped 10 players go on to be No. 1 in the world rankings.

In 1977, he founded the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, which is now the IMG Academy, after borrowing $1 million from a friend to build a live-in tennis academy for his students. The Academy has since expanded to include other sports.

He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2014, becoming only the fourth coach to be honored. In that same year, another one of his proteges, Kei Nishikori, reached the U.S. Open final. Six of his pupils are already in the Hall of Fame.

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“I forged my own path, which others found to be unorthodox and downright crazy,” Bollettieri said in his induction speech at the hall. “Yes, I am crazy. But it takes crazy people to do things that other people say cannot be done.”

Billie Jean King posted a tribute on Twitter, writing, “Our sport lost one of its most passionate coaches & advocates. Nick was always positive & was able to get the best out of everyone fortunate enough to work w/him.”

Tommy Haas, former world No. 2 and one of Bollettieri’s former pupils, posted a moving tribute to the coach on Instagram.

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“So many memories, I am not sure where to begin. Nickiiiii, that’s how I have called you for the longest time,” Haas wrote.“Thank you for your time, knowledge, commitment, expertise, the willingness to share your skill, your personal interest in mentoring me, and giving me the best opportunity to follow my dreams. You were a dreamer and a doer, and a pioneer in our sport, truly one of a kind.”

Germany’s Sabine Lisicki, the 2013 Wimbledon runner-up, said Bollettieri “shaped the game of tennis”.

“You have given so many children a place to work for their dream. Supporting them with your knowledge and the belief that anything is possible. I was fortunate to be one of them,” Lisicki wrote on Twitter. “You will be dearly missed!

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