Magazine article The Spectator

Whose Service Is Perfect Freedom

Magazine article The Spectator

Whose Service Is Perfect Freedom

Article excerpt

Whose service is perfect freedom William Scammell MY ACES, MY FAULTS by Nick Bolletieri Robson, 17.95, pp. 346

Ghostwriters and sportspersons have a weakness for excruciating puns. Virginia Wade's autobiography was called Courting Triumph, Anne Jones's A Game to Love. Peter Bodo's recent `Tales of Greed and Glory in the Harsh New World of Professional Tennis' entitled itself The Courts of Babylon. Now we have Nick Bolletieri, spin-doctor to the stars, taking us `Behind the Scenes with the World's Most Famous Tennis Coach'. Dick Schaap ghosts the snappy prose, Coach turns in the anecdotes and the exhortations.

When the camera pans around at the grand-prix tournaments, you can't miss Nick. He's the one with the deep-fried tan, the wraparound sunglasses, the hair en brosse, the competitive smile, the restless energy of a mover and shaker, craning his neck in all directions, one born to see and be seen.

A self-confessed `hustler, a wheelerdealer' who `wanted to be rich' and `loved feeling like a big shot', he cultivated the right people, worked his ass off, and somehow convinced an army of coaches, sponsors, parents and teen wonders that his Tennis Academy in Florida could and would turn out a string of world-beaters. Lucky Nick landed the young Andre Agassi and Monica Seles, the troubled Mary Pierce, and more recently Boris Becker, when his career had slumped. Along the way he coached such as Jimmy Arias, Carling Bassett, Kathie Horvath, Aaron Krickstein, Jim Courier, David Wheaton, even Brad Gilbert (author of Ugly Tennis, and now Agassi's mentor), a list which suggests that he must have done something right, even if former pupils badmouth and repudiate him. McEnroe says he `doesn't know anything about tennis', and the US Tennis Association regularly turns down his frequent offers to help it out. His current crop of stars includes Anna Kournikova - as I write she has just blasted away Chanda Rubin at Wimbledon and Mark Philippoussis, he of the big serve, the colourful bandana, and the soulful good looks.

Bolletieri's life story emerges, in timehonoured sportsbook fashion, between dramatic encounters on court between various of 'his' players, most of whom seem to have fallen out with him at one time or another. He grew up in a `mixed neighbourhood' in New York; served as a paratrooper in the army; put in 15 years as a coach at the Dorado Beach Hotel in Puerto Rico; married five times, but preferred partying on the beach and `my cherry-red 1972 Mercedes 450 SL' to the dull business of family and fatherhood. Nonetheless, he worked his ass off some more, got his Academy established (75 courts, basic tuition $30,000 a year, eventually sold to the IMG management group for seven million), and convinced a lot of people, including himself, that

I am the best coach in the world . . . a master motivator and shrewd tactician . . . What I'm best at is making my players feel good about themselves. I try to get to their minds. Then I try to get more out of them than they think they have to give.

This frequently involves writing them long, inspirational letters, quoted at length, a mixture of evangelical guff, cut-the-crap straight talk, and vague techno-speak, such as `increase racquet speed' and `develop muscle memory on the serve motion'. …

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