The International Tennis Hall of Fame may continue to inexplicably ignore the accomplishments of Nick Bollettieri, but the coaching legend is beginning to get a lot of love from the community that he helped put on the tennis map.
The 81-year-old coach, who has had an enormous impact on the sport for more than three decades, will be honored throughout the week at the 2013 Sarasota Open tennis tournament, a $100,000 USTA Pro Circuit event to be held April 13-21 at The Tennis Gardens at the Longboat Key Club.
The tournament, which includes a 16-player women's invitational event in addition to the men's tournament, is held just a long lob from where Bollettieri got his start in the area after arriving at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort in 1978.
“We are delighted to have something like this in our community,” Bollettieri said about the tournament he has attended annually. “It enhances tennis in so many ways. It would be terrific if I can help that process.”
More than helping, Bollettieri will be recognized for the influence he has had on the game. It will start, Sarasota Open tournament co-director Tony Driscoll said, with the naming of the women's event as “The Nick Bollettieri Sarasota Women's Open.”
“It will be called that in perpetuity, as long as there is a tournament here,” Driscoll said.
Driscoll released details of several events connected with the Sarasota Open and Bollettieri is at the centerpiece of many of those proceedings.
There will be a Kick-Off Party and Casino Night, the top fundraiser for the event's charities, hosted at The Hub on Mar. 30. The affair, which will include celebrity dealers, features a U.S. Open travel package.
The wild card tournament will be held April 5-7 at the Sarasota Bath and Racquet Club, with the winner advancing to the qualifying tournament for the Sarasota Open.
The tournament week officially kicks off with a Pro-Am event to be held April 14. There are 16 spots available (four have already been filled) for people willing to pay $1,000 for the chance to compete against eight professional players from the Sarasota Open tournament draw and eight more celebrities provided by Bollettieri.
Bollettieri said he is working hard to line up players to join him at the event. He certainly has a long list of people to contact.
Over the years, Bollettieri has had a hand in coaching 10 players who reached No. 1 in the world. And many more who impacted to game. Among players who honed their games at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy were Andre Agassi, Monica Seles, Jim Courier, Mary Pierce, Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova.
The academy got its start at The Colony with players like Jimmy Arias and Anne White. It grew into the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton and eventually was sold and became part of IMG Academy.
Bollettieri is credited with changing the way academies are run and spent time on the road coaching Agassi, Courier and Boris Becker.
Today, Bollettieri continues to work with many of the young players who attend the academy. Several students at the academy took part in the women's event last year. This year that tournament will carry Bollettieri's name.
“Nick is an icon in tennis,” Driscoll said.
The main draw for both the men's and women's tournament begins April 15. The women's final will be held the night of April 20. The men's final will be held April 21 during the day. Past winners of the men's tournament include James Blake, Kei Nishikori and Sam Querrey.
April 19 has been designated Nick Bollettieri Day and the coaching guru will rightly be honored.
April 20 will feature a Kids Day and “Exhibition with Bollettieri and Friends.”
“I am hoping to bring in a lot of kids and do something like they do at the U.S. Open,” Bollettieri said. “I think it would be fantastic to bring in kids who cannot afford to go to an event like this.”
Driscoll has confirmed that the USTA will be bringing its 50-foot production truck and that tournament action will be streamed live world-wide.
Anyone interested in tickets to the tournament, pro-am, or sponsorship information, should call 941 809-8996 or visit sarasotaopen.org.
This week Bollettieri is excited about another event — a college tennis match between Florida State and Pepperdine to be held at IMG Academy on Sunday.
The Seminoles, ranked No. 28 in the country, will be playing their first-ever dual match at IMG. They are led by Dominic Cotrone, who grew up playing tennis in Bradenton and was the Sarasota Herald-Tribune Player of the Year in 2010 after winning a state title for Bradenton Christian.
Cotrone has made dramatic improvement in the past year and currently plays No. 1 for FSU.
Pepperdine comes into the 1 p.m. match as the nation's No. 5-ranked team.
There is no charge to watch the match. The match will be broadcast on a live stream at live.imgacademies.com and Bollettieri will be one of the commentators.