The Bollettieri revolution and the spark it lit in India | Tennis News

The Bollettieri revolution and the spark it lit in India | Tennis News

In 1977, Jimmy Arias, the former world number 5, had the opportunity to go to Spain as the United States National U-14 Champion eager to further hone his tennis skills and spread the wings of promise. Instead, the 13-year-old from Buffalo, New York, chose a location closer to home and the beach.

Arias headed to Longboat Key, a waterfront town along Florida’s central west coast where the late trainer Nick Bollettieri resided. Bollettieri was not then a training institution. All he had was access to the few courts in town, a handful of American juniors to coach, and some space in his house to accommodate his most accomplished child to date.

Today, that kid is the director of tennis at a 600-acre sports facility teeming with thousands of young trainees, thanks to a pioneering concept known as the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy (NBTA), now IMG Academy.

Following the 91-year-old Bollettieri’s death in early December, Arias referred to ‘Nick’s influence’ as a ‘launch pad’ to not only shape the champions’ careers, but also to write an all-new playbook. training that would become the model all over the world.

A year after Arias parked at the groundbreaking coach’s house, Bollettieri found a 40-acre space, a million-dollar loan from his friend, and contributions from a few others to lay the groundwork for the NBA in 1978.

“I told several families that I was opening a school in Sarasota, offering room and board and tennis. I fielded 20 kids,” Bollettieri said in an interview.

He would go on to field 10 world No. 1s and several top 100 pros from this Florida center, which was the first to provide full-time, live tennis coaching alongside the academy program for children.

Arias, a 19-year-old US Open singles semi-finalist in 1983, was one of the academy’s early successes before Andre Agassi and Jim Courier registered as juniors.

Boris Becker would also become among the first No. 1 birds, a list that swelled as news of the academy spread: Monica Seles, Martina Hingis, Marcelo Rios, Jelena Jankovic, Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, have all worked with Bollettieri.

Equally important were countless others who called the academy home while rubbing shoulders with the cream of the crop, soaking up the skills of tennis as well as the values ​​of living in the environment created by the former skydiver .

“Nick flattened the world of tennis in a very Darwinian way,” Courier, a four-time Grand Slam singles champion, told ESPN in 2014. “He built an ecosystem of the greatest juniors in the world and also added pros. He created an industry.

The one who has become the model for tennis academies around the world. The Rafa Nadal Academy and Mouratoglou Tennis Academy, two of the world’s foremost modern tennis training institutions, are modeled after the NBTA, offering boarding and on-campus tuition.

Modeled in India

The same was true, to some extent, of an academy launched in India in 1985, the Britannia Amritraj Tennis Foundation (BAT) in Chennai.

“We used to see Nick quite often on the circuit. We knew Andre (Agassi) very well and we knew what Nick had been doing for almost 20 years,” said Anand Amritraj, the former world number 74 and one of the masterminds behind the BAT concept along with his brother Vijay and his mother. Maggie. on the phone from Los Angeles.

“He basically invented this whole live academy system. After Nick set up his thing in Florida, we sort of copied it, but not exactly. But our BAT was certainly modeled on that.

BAT’s focus, however, was different from the factory Bollettieri’s academy had become by then (in 1987 it was sold to IMG while Bollettieri continued to head coaching) . With the idea of ​​finding and preparing the next batch of Indian Davis Cup players, the Amritrajs set up the academy at the premises of a school, selecting eight boys from the first batch and sticking to that number. for years.

Anand had a key role in this recognition system. “Our first choice was Rohit Rajpal (current Davis Cup captain). We tried to choose boys between 11 and 14 years old. In 1986, my first choice was Leander (Paes),” he said of from the academy which has also given Indian tennis the likes of Gaurav Natekar and Somdev Devvarman.

On average, the academy changed two boys each year, keeping the other six intact. This is where BAT overlapped NBTA in concept and creation, being “the first of its kind in Asia with accommodation facilities”, as Vijay, the former world number 18, would say.

From training grounds to coaching, from accommodation to travel to tournaments, from food to education, everything has been taken care of. It was not a short-term engagement – Rajpal and Paes stayed there for four years, Natekar for five. While Vijay and Anand settled in and provided sponsorship, Maggie, the driving force behind her sons’ tennis career, “ran it all” with a personal touch. The only interest, like that of Bollettieri, was to produce high-level pros.

“She treated those eight boys like she treated us,” Anand said. “We picked the top eight kids, brought them to Chennai and gave them the best possible tennis and education support. We had two American coaches who came. The children went to the best school in Madras. We set up an apartment where the boys lived in four rooms. Their food, their nutrition, their national and international travel for tournaments, everything was taken care of.

“In India, it was by far the most successful system that gave India future Davis Cup stars. That was the idea behind it all, and Nick’s academy the master plan.

After managing this system for nearly two decades, BAT was liquidated in 2003. Finances became increasingly difficult after Britannia’s sponsorship ended. Therein lies the sustainability hurdle for a concept like this, which Bollettieri has managed to overcome for decades with the help of IMG.

“Finances, and you have to have someone as committed as my mother and whose only interest was in producing top tennis players,” Anand said of the challenges for academies like BAT who run the long run. “If you haven’t put all these pieces together, it won’t happen.”

This has not happened in India since. “Something like this (a top academy) would make a big difference (for Indian tennis),” Anand said. “But many pieces have to fall into place for that.”

And this is the hardest part of the revolutionary tennis training system for which Bollettieri has so perfectly created the path.

“It’s not an easy thing to replicate,” Anand said.

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