It’s a question 88-year-old Nick Bollettieri hears quite often.
When are you going to retire, take it easy, enjoy life?
And the answer is always the same. Never.
“There’s no such thing as retirement,” said Bollettieri, who was in town earlier this week for a tennis clinic at the Winston-Salem Open. “When I climb the highest mountain, I am always looking for another one.”
Bollettieri has climbed many mountains and shows no signs of slowing down. After Winston-Salem, Bollettieri traveled to Philadelphia for another tennis clinic for inner-city youth and then it will be on to New York for two weeks and the U.S. Open, where he will be running more tennis clinics. He estimates he travels at least 150,000 miles annually, giving tennis clinics and motivational speeches all over the world.
“If you retire, your mind goes dormant,” he said. “You people who retire, why don’t you go down and work with the inner-city programs, work with your grandchildren? If you think you deserve the easy chair, shame on you. You are finished in life.”
Bollettieri is best known for starting the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy on 22 acres of land in Bradenton, Fla., in 1987. Today that facility is run by International Management Group (IMG) and has expanded to more than 600 acres, with nine sports and more than 15,000 people participating in the various programs each year. When Bollettieri isn’t on the road, he’s in his office at IMG every day, weekends included.
Bollettieri has worked with many of the all-time great tennis players, including Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Monica Seles and, of course, the Williams sisters. When asked to name his all-time favorite player, he was stumped.
“That would be very difficult because each one was so different,” he said. “I can answer who was the most talented player and that was (Chile’s) Marcelo Rios. But he was only No. 1 for three weeks. He didn’t say hello to children, didn’t respect the other players. He was nuts.”
Agassi might have been Bollettieri’s most challenging pupil.
“There’s 52 cards in a deck and Andre was the joker,” he said. “He broke all of the rules. But God said, ‘Look into this person’s soul.’ Andre taught me to look and now look what Andre is doing today with his (charitable) foundation.”
Another rule-breaker was Goran Ivanisevic, who was the only player to win Wimbledon as a wild card.
“Oh my gosh,” Bollettieri said. “I walked into his room one night and.... Since this is a family newspaper, let’s just say that Ivanisevic was not alone.
Bollettieri, who grew up in Pelham, N.Y., near New York City, was first introduced to tennis as a junior in high school when his uncle casually suggested the two of them go out and hit the tennis ball. The 16-year-old Bollettieri, who was captain of his high school football and basketball teams, didn’t think too much of the idea.
“I thought tennis was a sissy sport,” he said. “But I did pretty good and when I went to college (Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala.) I actually made the tennis team when a couple of guys got hurt.”
Bollettieri is proud of his Italian heritage. “We Italians all feel we are the best,” he said. “We love life and we have passion. And of course we love our Italian food. And we are a kind people.”
The father of eight children, Bollettieri is currently married to his eighth wife, Cindy. “I just broke the record for being together,” he said. “We are at 15 years now.”
Bollettieri has also just finished writing a book, “A Coach’s Journey: Lessons Lived, Learned and Shared.” The book will be published in December.
“It took me 14 months to write because I wrote it with a pen and a notepad,” he said. “I don’t know how to use a computer. This will be one of the most outstanding books ever written about a person like me, about who I am, and with a limited knowledge of tennis.”
The clinic Bollettieri conducted at the Winston-Salem Open involved nearly 20 participants of all ages and received rave reviews when it was over.
“I did this clinic last year and I got a lot more out of it this time,” said Ken Luckay, 63, a physician from Roanoke, Va. “Nick keeps everything simple. It was really worthwhile. I learned to follow through with my forehand and backhand instead of stopping.”
Luckay, who was celebrating his birthday, headed back home after the clinic with his wife, Melinda, but they will be back on Thursday for the quarterfinals, semifinals and Saturday’s final.
“We think it’s a great tournament,” he said. “We really enjoy it.”