OR: Who was the best player you think you coached, if I can ask you?
Bollettieri: I would say the most talented player was Marcelo Rios. But he didn't reach his potential. He sat at number one for two weeks. Why? He didn't appreciate players, he didn't appreciate the audience, he didn't appreciate children waiting hours to get an autograph, and so he did not respect the sport. The players thought he was a complete ass. But he had talent and worked hard. And in the end he was only number one for two weeks. So talent alone doesn't make a champion. It takes more than that.
OR: Who do you think is the best player ever?
Bollettieri: When you look back in time, almost every player had some sort of weakness. I cannot find a weakness in Novak Djokovic’s game -- no weakness at all. Three or four years ago, they thought he didn't train. Then he went to a nutritionist and took the gluten out of his diet and now, to me, he moves the best, he can hit the drop shots, he's got a good serve, he's got a good return, he's got fantastic ground strokes. To me, he's the most perfect player without a weakness in the history of the game. I didn't say the best player because he doesn't have the same Grand Slams that Federer and Sampras have. But if he continues playing, it's going to be hard not to put him in among the best of the best.
OR: Do you think someone like Sampras, or even some of the older players, would be as competitive as they were during their careers if they were playing now? Or is it just the physical characteristics of a player that allow him or her to dominate?
Bollettieri: I think it's the time that you're born in and what's going on. Today it's the whole world playing. Today it's the big athlete; if I had Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and some of these female soccer players, hell -- I'd give you another champion. You've got to have some athletic ability today. Size and movement and physical strength are all big parts of the game today.
OR: What do you view as the high point of your career?
Bollettieri: I think the high point of my career is doing something nobody else ever did. This started at the Colony Beach Hotel, with having kids live in my house. But you need support, you need believers, my boy, and I was lucky to have those. That's why I was able to help people.
OR: That goes back to the teamwork concept.
Bollettieri: Without a team you can't make it. For instance, on my website NickBollettieri.com, the Blue Angels let me use a video: two jets coming at each other at a combined speed of 1000 miles an hour -- and then turning away at three feet from each other. That's trust. That's teamwork. That's what it's all about. It's the mechanics making sure the plane flies, it's the people who give the pep talks, it's the whole damn thing. And remember, the Blue Angels, when they put on their shows, are videotaped and then they go into a room and re-play those videos and they've got to speak up where they didn't do things the way they should have done them. So it's a team effort that makes it possible for the person to reach their potential.
Remember something: nobody in the history of sports said it better than a gentleman who helped me get started in my summer camps. He said, "Nick, you belong with children." He said also, "My team's never lost, we just ran out of time." Vince Lombardi, voted the greatest NFL coach in the history of football, that's what he said to me. And you put this down: parents today should not judge their children on just results, they should judge their children on effort. If they put one-hundred-percent effort and still lose, they're a champion.
Parents today, their first words they ask when their kid comes home from school are: did you pass, did you get an A, did you win your match, did you throw a touchdown? Instead of doing what my grandmother did: hey sonny, bene qua, were you a good boy today, did you try, did you do everything the teacher said? Yes, grandma. Good boy, go out and play. That's how my grandmother greeted me. Parents today say: do you know your father is working two jobs for you to take lessons? We put a mortgage on the house, how could you lose? Why do you think these young children call close balls out when they're in? The fear of telling their parents.
OR: How many people did you have in the U. S. Open in 1984?
Bollettieri: We had very close to 30 people in the main tour at the U. S. Open, yes, sir.
OR: How many top-ten players have you coached over the course of your career?
Bollettieri: I think we had 170 Grand Slam winners and we've had 10 of our students reach number one in the world in singles.
OR: Take us, for one second, through your personal fitness routine. How do you keep in such great shape at 84 years old?
Bollettieri: I do this by discipline. I'm up very early, I lay down on the big rubber ball, I do my sit-ups. I do periodic workouts at the gym, light weights, but I do a lot at home with rubber bands. And a multitude of sit-ups. I watch my diet. I'm very short on desserts, I watch what I eat all the time. I'm still the same weight and height and waist size as I was when I played football. 153 pounds, 32-inch waist, that's it. And why? Because I look in the mirror. I tell people that I feel special and then I go out and try to do special things and that's why our website is different than anybody else’s. It tells all about these things plus tennis and why IMG is still the best in the world. This is because we keep on adding more facilities and learning how to do the job we do far better than we did it 10 years ago. That's why IMG is still the leader.
Nick Bollettieri is a Hall of Fame tennis coach and the founder of the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, now IMG Academy. He has been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.