Tennis: Dormant talent awaits stimulus of mettle guru: The world's most successful tennis coach, Nick Bollettieri is setting up summer camp in Britain to target blue-collar hopefuls. Guy Hodgson reports

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The Independent Online
NICK Bollettieri's critics maintain he produces only one type of player: a huge forehand, a respectable serve and a non-existent volley. And wouldn't Britain be delighted to have just one player so limited?

The conveyor belt of champions that is the Bollettieri Academy in Florida includes both world No 1s, Jim Courier and Monica Seles, among its alumni as well as Andre Agassi and David Wheaton.

In the past he has ushered Jimmy Arias, Aaron Krickstein and Carling Bassett into court circles. Which is why anticipation is running through the domestic game at the news the American coach is joining forces with David and John Lloyd to introduce his methods in this country.

A summer camp will be set up next year to assist the search for the new Jeremy Bates, never mind a reincarnate Fred Perry, and a residential complex will follow. 'If the kids can get confidence in themselves through having fun at the beginning,' he said, 'then hopefully we will get some good players, then great ones and then maybe a top player.'

A top British player. The very thought moistens eyes at the All England Club.

'This is something I've wanted to do for a lot of years,' he continued. 'Britain is about tradition, it has one of the key tournaments. It gives me hope that we will be able to get tennis to grow on all levels.

'It's not our aim to go around and take all the top young players. That's not our way. We want to build our own nucleus which will take three to five years. If anyone comes in and says they are going to do it before then they're doing some wishful thinking.'

Wishful thinking was all that Bollettieri had when he began coaching at dollars 1.50 a half-hour to pay his way through law school. Then he chanced upon a gifted 10-year- old playing on north Miami Beach 30 years ago, and four Grand Slam doubles titles and an appearance in the French Open final later, Brian Gottfried had given his mentor credibility. It launched a line that runs through to Iva Majoli, the 14- year-old Croat who is ranked 140th in the world and won her first satellite tournament a fortnight ago, and in one year meant he had nearly 30 players through to the main draw at Wimbledon. That is something Britain has not managed without the dealing of wild cards for decades.

'We don't want people to think we know more than the English coaches,' Bollettieri, who remains Agassi's personal coach, said. 'I've been fortunate in getting a lot of publicity because we've had a lot of good players come through and that's put me in the limelight. It's not that I know more, it's just that I had an idea, a system that if you put enough good players together and raise money to help those who don't have the money, then something's going to happen.'

It is the prospect of the political bull's-eye, the C1s and C2s, being targeted that is particularly interesting as tennis in Britain has still to shed its image as a game for the upper classes.

'Already the president of Adidas UK has said he is very anxious to help this programme and I hope other sponsors will follow,' Bollettieri said, noticeably warming to the collaboration as his conversation went on.

'I'm excited because David Lloyd, he doesn't sleep, he's like me. He's always going at it and that's the kind of guy I like being with. He is an outstanding businessman, has several centres in existence and several more on the drawing board. John Lloyd brings playing credibility and a softer sell.

'What we bring to the table is years of experience and the credibility that will hopefully help us get sponsorship to make sure that the boys and girls who are less fortunate with family funds but have ability will be able to participate.'

Initially senior Florida personnel will come to this country and then the scheme will continue on an exchange basis, coaches and children from this country going over to the United States and vice versa.

'I think it will be terrific for the kids to practise with children from 43 other countries. And the coaches will get a chance to see what we do both on and off court and how we run our summer camps and full-time academy.'

Among the youngsters are five 14-year-olds, all national No 1s, from Russia, Germany, Romania, Canada and France, making a crop which he describes as 'pretty darned good'.

But who is the best? His answer was instant. 'Agassi,' he said. 'He's got wonderful hands, the best in tennis. Two years ago I had the choice to make between Wheaton, Courier Seles and him. I took Agassi and I'd do it over and over again. He's an exciting guy.'

Britain would have been ecstatic even with his cast-offs.

(Photograph omitted)

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