MONTREAL – Behind every great champion is a great coach, especially in individualistic sports like boxing and tennis. When I think of the most beautiful relationships between a coach and his student, I think about D’Amato and Tyson, Eddie Futch and Joe Fraser, and Patrick Mouratoglou and Serena Williams.
Since the age of 5, tennis has always been a sport that has fascinated me.
Ironically, when I was 5 years old, the great tennis star was Andre Agassi. Having not yet won a Grand Slam, you could sense that it was only a matter of time before he will win his first Grand Slam.
Like the sentence that started this article, behind a great champion is a great coach; this sentence is just as true when the name of that great coach is Nick Bollettieri. Agassi was Nick’s favourite protegee and Agassi got Nick’s ultimate devotion. At first, it seem to be love at first sight… The honeymoon will soon stop and the ugly divorce will mark those two men until now.
It was a painful divorce.
Nick Bollettieri has a reputation that leaves much to be desired and if he had ever been my coach, I would never have survived his training camp without having a burnout and possibly burning my tennis racket as if it were Jimi Hendrix’s guitar during his performance at Woodstock without getting down on my knees, but rather crying for my life.
In order to understand this last paragraph I just wrote, I strongly recommend you to watch the documentary about his career as a tennis coach called Love Means Zero on Crave TV. Already in the title, it gives you a glimpse of the character.
This documentary opened my eyes even more to this world that is so lonely which is tennis. The relationship between a student and a coach is almost symbiotic. In this documentary, Nick is not shy about saying that he pushed his students to their limits and that he wanted to win at all costs. He wanted his students to fight each other (on the court) to the point that they hated each other to get his affection.
To his favourite students, he made them feel like a father figure to them. The day that student started to lose, without any compassion, he would cut ties with them in a rather drastic way and move on to his next star player.
In this documentary, we discover or rediscover the complexity of a relationship between coach and student, but what is most striking is when the coach turns out to be a narcissist who had very little regard for those around him.
It is fortunate that not all coaches are like Nick Bollettieri, but there is no denying that the Agassis, Couriers, Seles, Williams sisters of this world have been at the top in large part because of Bollettieri.
He recruited the best students in the United States and internationally and offered them scholarships. Despite his reputation, students continued to enroll in his tennis academy. Parents would pull out their checkbooks to allow their children who wanted to play tennis at any cost to become part of Nick Bollettieri’s arsenal.
As reporter Pat Jordan mentioned in his Los Angeles Times article, “They plead with Bollettieri to turn that obsession into consistent results, fame, wealth. So he tries”.
To his parents and their children, Nick Bollettieri was their John the Baptist of tennis except with a healthy dose of tough love and narcissism.
After watching this documentary, I still love tennis and I got a new perspective of the mindset that a tennis player can have. To understand a tennis player, I believe you have to analyze the coaches and mentors that they have had. But what happen when this relationship still hurt from the coach’s side and from the student’s side that became a champion like Andre Agassi and Kathleen Horvath?
Time does not necessarily heal wounds.