Bollettieri reveals his formula for success; BOOK OF THE WEEK

My Aces, My Faults by Nick Bollettieri and Dick Schaap (Robson Books, hardback, pounds 17.95)
Click to follow
The Independent Online
There is a lot of argument about Nick Bollettieri's merits as a coach. John McEnroe, for instance, once said he "doesn't know anything about tennis". It is unlikely there will be similar controversy about his literary ability since this autobiography, written with Dick Schaap, reveals very little.

Engagingly superficial in tone, far too much of the book is taken up with unnecessary self-justification over the inevitable spats and splits that occurred with his myriad pupils. Boris Becker, Andre Agassi and Mary Pierce are highest on this list.

Yet Bollettieri does have some stories to tell. As he frankly admits, when he first started coaching on public courts he did not even know what an Eastern forehand grip was and had to send his wife (the first of five) to watch other coaches work.

Bollettieri's only qualification for being a tennis coach was the fierce desire to be one. Working a 171/2 hour day he learned quickly and his business practices were at times unorthodox. Once, when short of funds, he stole not only several sets of nets, posts and sets of lines, but also the courts themselves, 100lb bags of Har-Tru American clay being removed after dark from an adjacent resort.

From such unpromising beginnings the law school drop-out, inveterate sun-tanner and former US Army paratrooper turned himself into the world's most successful coach. Like most magic formulas, the ingredients were simple: love of tennis and hard work.

His first proper school, which was to become the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, was founded in 1978. Far more could have been told about the development of an enterprise which has become the best of its kind. The production line was soon up and running and at one time three future world No 1s were on the books: Monica Seles, Agassi and Jim Courier. The new wave includes the recent French Open champion, Iva Majoli, and rising stars such as Anna Kournikova and Tommy Haas.

Bollettieri's favourite student was Agassi. Special rules had to be found for a player who had developed something of a love-hate relationship with the game after his father had brought him up to hit 14,000 tennis balls a week.

After their break-up Agassi wrote poignantly to Bollettieri, saying: "When I saw you in London my heart was crying out to the only father I felt like I ever had and to the second father I felt like I had lost."

It is obvious from all this that Bollettieri's greatest talent is working with children and the reason for this is perhaps that he himself is curiously childlike. A driven man of considerable emotion and sensitivity, he reveals himself as a thoughtful analyst of the game; but his strength is as a motivator and confidence-builder. Overall, he emerges as a likeable person and, while it is certainly no tour de force, this is a readable book.

Simon Jones