When I first began coaching, I did not know too much about the game of tennis (I played on my college team at Spring Hill in Mobile, Alabama). This means that I had to learn quickly and digest it all as quickly as possible.
In the end, I learned as I gained experience. Most of what I learned was from my students.
When I first started coaching Boris Becker in the early to mid-90s, I just sat back or stood behind him several feet. I did this for several days and finally, “Mr. B” asked me if I could talk.
In a very polite way, I said, “Yes, but when I do speak to you, I better know what I am saying in a very simple way and then walk away.”
In 2016, Boris was interviewed by Showtime for a documentary on my life. Boris told them I was a genius because I saw the little things, gave him a very simple tip, and walked away!
Wow, at first I was simply scared to say anything at all. This is what I learned from Boris Becker:
1. Have a plan: Be prepared and when you get on the court, forget everything else in the entire world and be ready to play the first ball.
2. When it’s time to play, you be ready to play.
3. When you step onto the court, there’s nothing else in the world, except for its 7,200 feet. You own every foot of that court!
4. Yes, you can have one or two big shots, but you must also develop the rest of your game. By doing this, you will be able to hit your big shots more often.
Lastly, Becker and I as a team never discussed court strategy until just before he walked onto the court. He would nod his head and ask me for one simple tip! He was fantastic not only as a player, but also as a very generous man!
I can still remember in the mid-90s, a few months before the Australian Open, Mary asked me to start coaching her again.
Before saying yes, I wrote her a letter and explained my thoughts. Mary came to me the next morning with her eyes full of tears and blurted out, “Why did you write I was overweight and close to being fat?”
My answer was, “Because you are overweight.” Without hesitation, she said, “I will do exactly what you ask of me.”
Her traveling coach was Sven Groeneveld, who is the very best in the coaching arena.
Our team worked a total of 6-8 hours per day on the court, in the gym, and at night with Sven, watching her eat and keeping her from hiding dessert under her bed.
Believe me, she paid the price in so many ways in order to be fit again.
However, she never, ever complained in any way. As a result, she went on to win the Australian Open in 1995 and reached No. 3 in the world.
This is what I have learned from Mary and will share with you:
1. When your technique breaks down, nine out of 10 times it is because your foundation breaks down. The same goes for your balance.
2. For consistent technique, get into shape. You can’t hit a ball if you can’t move your feet to the ball!
Today, Mary Pierce is as fit as a fiddle and stays in contact with me, always asking if I need anything.
Yes, I am sure some of you will say I could have been a little softer in my letter. Maybe so, but my approach in combination with Sven’s turned out to make an impact long after her playing days.
Mary, you are special and I truly love you.
When Jim came to the IMG-Bollettieri Tennis Academy, his mother, Linda, wrote me a thank-you letter for giving him a full scholarship and the opportunity to work with me.
Additionally, she asked me to change his baseball grips on his backhand. So what did I do?
I made no change on his backhand, yet in order to protect it, he learned to run around it and hit his killer forehand, even if he was well into the backhand side.
To do this, he had to have the guts to give up 25% more of the court than other players. He also had to cover 25% more of the court to make up for it. This all meant having to make a tremendous mental and physical commitment.
He had become a physical bulldog, building both his body and mind, and fighting off the hungry dogs that were after him.
This is what Jim Courier has taught me:
If you want to be a champion, accept what has to be done, and pay the price to do it!
Yes, Jim became a champion not only on the tennis court, but also with outside activities including:
1. The U.S. Davis Cup Captain
2. Becoming one of the best tennis television commentators
3. Becoming a true family man
4. Starting a seniors tour
When I ask for his help, Jim is a good friend that doesn’t say, “I’m too busy” but says. “You can count on me!”
Wow, I am so darn lucky and so darn proud to have been part of Jim Courier’s road to success.
Jim never once said, “WHY me? Why do I have a neutral backhand?” Instead, he said, “HOW can I protect my backhand?”
He gave all he had physically and mentally to build a killer forehand.
Let’s just get right to the point! Monica Seles was far from being athletic. Yet once again, she was not one to say, “WHY me?” Instead, she agreed to find a way to offset her lack of athleticism.
Monica taught me to accept my unorthodox body. However, she taught me to focus on the fact that I had quick hands and eyes, and an ability to stand right on the baseline.
And guess what? I learned of her ability to hit with both hands from both sides, making contact with the ball so early that her opponents had very little time to get in position. They could not even get their racquet on the ball.
All of you can learn so much from the several hours Monica put into hitting at targets placed in key locations. This deliberate style of practice, along with help from her father, brother, and I continued seven days a week and well after sunset!
Not many players will stand inside the baseline for the entire match.
Monica Seles’ career never reached the point she expected it to, all because of a tragic attack by a spectator. She did, however, accomplish a lot and should be proud of everything she did.
The entire Bollettieri family thanks you Monica for your love, support, and being by my side when inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame!
A Tip from Monica Seles:
All players should spend half of their practice time inside the baseline, learning how to make early contact. By doing this, you will develop a habit of coming forward, especially on defensive returns or weak second serves.
Sometimes God is over generous. He can give you the eyes, hands, and feet that are not given very often. I’ve learned from Andre Agassi to not take these gifts for granted.
As a coach for Agassi, I have learned that a character like his can have a truly different work ethic. It can even be considered “bad” at times, and I mean bad. At times, I would stop and close my eyes to his unique dress code and eating habits.
Andre was always up and down, but I learned that’s how it is with an athlete like him. The barometer will always have fluctuations.
When all is said and done, Andre has taught me to:
1. Be a better listener
2. Understand what is beneath the surface, not just surface-level traits
3. Accept off-the-wall dress codes and be ready for any unknown factors!
Ultimately, I am guilty of not prosecuting Andre Agassi. However, I thank God for my decision because I stand by not only what he did for tennis, but also what he has done with his foundation. He wants to make sure all children in need receive an education and hopes they can be special. Oh yes!
Agassi also taught me that teamwork is always a plus, especially while he had Gil Reyes by his side. He was Andre’s physical trainer, as well as the man that kept calmness for the entire team.
Read more articles by Nick Bollettieri
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