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Jocko Homo 12/20/2006 - 4:24 PM

[Ed. Note: Red Ayme: Do not read this until after Xmas. Love, Santa.]

Howdy. Not a whole lot of dust gathering under my feet these days, and I'm eagerly awaiting the next day that I can wake up to sunlight. I left the IMG Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla., at 5:15 AM, and I have a travel tip for any of you contemplating a trip to Tampa anytime soon. It features what might be the most confusing, work-in-progress, mismarked (always a good one!) road system I've seen in a long time. Can't remember the last time I got lost on what appears to be an easy, almost straight shot - all  on highway. It's no fun in the pre-dawn hours when you've got a plane to catch.

NbtaI hadn't been to Nick's academy in some years, and the place has changed from a distinctly underwhelming, almost industrial-grade facility consisting of a vast grid of tennis courts, a pool and a few low-slung, bungalow style outbuildings into a combination resort and NFL-worthy training complex, complete with an indoor basketball arena, a state-of-the-art training and fitness complex (the International Performance Institute) and a golf school.

But there's a parallel universe feel to the place to the place now. You enter through wide drive leading to a manned gate house; the security guard either opens the gate or asks  your business and issues you a parking pass. Inside, instead of the usual assortment of retirees and pasty-skinned tourists and well-dressed golf nuts, you see kids - all kinds of kids, in flip-flops and tennis outfits, belly-baring jeans and even ski caps. It's like the sophomore class of Walt Whitman High School in Anywhere, USA, laid siege to a resort, drove the old folks out, and started running their own show.

I'd no sooner walked into the reception area than Brad Gilbert came in through the glass doors on the far side, phone pressed to his ear. He informed me that before we could talk about Andy Murray or conduct an interview, we had to jump in the car and run some errands. Nick had asked Brad to pick up a Christmas present for one of his trusted lieutenants, Red Ayme, who mostly works with Tommy Haas these days. Red fancies "Philly Cheesesteak"  (think Checkers, or Sonic), a local fast-food place, so Nick was giving him a gift certificate to the joint.

Brad asked the manager at the counter if they issued gift certificates and learned they were available, $5 per coupon. The guy did a double-take when Brad asked for something like 30 of them. We ordered sandwiches, too, and caught up a little while we waited. Brad's a great guy; he's funny, irreverent and impish, and he's got no airs or pretensions to grandeur, and he'll talk sports with anybody, for as long as they 've(or he) got. He's a lot like Nick, who was a mentor to him, and to whom Brad is fiercely loyal. They're cut from the same cloth; each of them has a touch of the street-smart hustler and not a snobbish, arrogant bone in his body.

Brad thinks that the thing tennis most needs is a commissioner, citing the success of the NBA's David Stern. "You need a guy who'll crack the whip and make the tough calls, like Stern did in the Knicks fiasco (a reference to the recent on-court NBA rumble between the Knicks and Denver Nuggets, in response to which Stern swiftly handed out significant suspensions). And it shouldn't be someone from the tennis trenches, but a hard-nosed guy who knows and understands business, too."

We both agreed the guy who most closely fits that description at the moment is Arlen Kantarian, currently the CEO of the USTA's Pro Division. Still, it was relatively idle talk; it's hard to imagine the entrenched constituents giving up the little fiefdoms they've carve out, just to create unity in the game. Brad's son, Zack, who's heading to college to play tennis, was rooming with his father and Murray. So we took the sandwiches back to the condo and ate there. I'll have a fuller report on Gilbert and Murray after I transcribe the tape of our interview - the full monte, in an Q-and-A format, will appear in Tennis early next year, as part of a package on Murray's generation (it includes Berdych, Gasquet, Monfils, Djokovic and others).

Despite the massive upgrade at the IMGNTBA (take that, USTABJKNTC!), one thing hasn't changed. The nerve center of the IMGNBTA is still the covered walkway with the modest "stadium" court on one side, and the choice No. 1 practice court on the other. You can stand there in the shade, on the cement walk alongside the tall Gatorade water cooler, and watch, leaning on the fence on either side. It's where I first met Nick too many years ago to remember, and where I first encountered him yesterday. Same old Nick: shirtless, leathery tan, brilliant white teeth and bright, surprisingly light eyes, busting out all over with enthusiasm. He was working with Tommy Haas (Tatiana Golovin was on the next court over). He came over and embraced me, unleashing that trademark, gravely whisper: Peter boy, you gotta come see this new kid I'm working with. . .

NbI kidded Nick about the way he's been churning out player after player these days, each of them helping bury U.S. tennis into a deeper and wider hole. Half-joking, I said many of my readers were wondering what was up with that?  And was it true that Nick had made the USTA an offer to train eight youngsters, four of them hand-picked by the USTA and four by Bollettieri, with only one string attached: they had to be recruited as youngsters ("None of these 16 year olds," as Nick would put), and live the NBTA for 3 to 5 years.

Apparently, that was the offer, and it was turned down.

"I said to the USTA, 'You can take all the credit and get all the press. You just pick up the tab and we'll do the work." Nick wagged his head in disbelief and said, "Can you believe they wouldn't do it?"

I remembered that a few members of the Tribe had questions for Nick, so I asked about some of his top kids.

He's helping rain three promising juniors from Portugal, so it looks like TennisWorld spiritual adviser Miguel Seabra had better make sure his passport and visas are order. Nick reserved his highest praise for Michelle Larcher de Brito (the 13 year-old prodigy who won the Eddie Herr International  16-and-under at 12 last year). Near where were talking, a Japanese boy was lacing up his tennis shoes. Brad, who was jawing with us, said, "This kid is going to be awesome, probably the best player to come out of Japan since Shuozo Matsuoka. In fact, he's going to be better than Shuozo, for sure. And he's dedicated. He's up at like six every morning. You should see him! He eats these fish crackers and stuff."

Fish crackers and stuff, whoa!

It was both amusing and ironic to listen to Nick and Brad going on like this, partly because both of them have qualities I enjoy and value - frankness, animation and a blithe disregard for urbanity. Each of them, and Nick especially, is an easy mark for ridicule in the crowd that's awfully concerned with style points, even though the preoccupation doesn't earn them any, either, except among each other. And that's where the irony comes in. Brad is coaching a Scotsman, and Nick is as good example of an internationalist as you'll find in tennis; kids from the world over don't flock to the NBTA solely because Bollettieri is a dodgy, self-promoting, shades-wearing , opportunistic fraud.

Pretty soon, Nick was dragging me off to see his new War Room, a state-of-the-art internet center where Bollettieri's campers can review any match they recently played, on video, and then break down the actual footage into a kind of visual stat sheet, not only tallying things like unforced errors and errant first serves, but seeing them. You know what it's like to see a video of yourself hitting nine consecutive backhand passing shots over the fence? You can do it at Nick's.

Nick, BTW, is still on the court every day, pretty much from dawn til dusk. Awash in pro players and hotshot juniors, the academy has a pleasant and infectuous jocko homo vibe, driven by his loyal, former proteges, from Tommy Haas and Max Mirnyi to Serbian doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic to Maria Sharapova.

In the afternoon, I watched Murray and Gilbert practice, and then we all went over to the IPI. By the time I wrapped up our work, it was almost suppertime, and dark. There were some kids by the pool - teen-age campers, playing cards, messing around with computers, talking on their cell phones, parading around in their hip-hugger jeans and faux hip-hop gear, some of the girls bearing the unfortunate results of what appeared to be their first experiments with eyeliner and lip gloss.

I walked through the nerve center, where the lights were on over the two show courts. Nick was on the stadium court, dressed in a sweatshirt now, supervising a workout between two pros and a player. The player was a girl, hitting groundstroke rockets off both wings and popping in a decent little serve. I paused, and Nick introduced me to the kid, whose name is Greer Glodjo. I lingered alongside her mother, a chiropractor named Deidre Collette, chatting. Soon we were joined by Collette's husband  and Greer's father, Arman Glodjo, a mathematician and inventor.

We watched Greer working out. She beamed when she hit a winner and we all clapped. She ran like a deer, rallying with and even hitting winners against one of the pros, Reggie Moralejo. Greer seemed to really connect with Nick, even though he cut her no slack and asserted his authority if she started to hit lazy or flawed shots. At the end of one training segment, Greer and Reggie were both up at the net, exchanging volleys. They kept the ball in play, almost exclusively in the air, for a combined 94 volleys, and everybody collapsed in joy and laughter when the last ball was mishit and died in the net. That's right, ninety-four.

Oh. Did I mention that Greer Glodjo is six years old?

Nick is 75. I'll bet he'll be in the Player's Box at the U.S. Open, if and when Greer makes her debut there.

I said good-bye to Nick, told him it was to visit the again. I wished him luck with Greer, and said I had a funny feeling I'd seen this movie before. "You'd better stay in shape, ou're not getting any younger, you know?"

Nick laughed, but there was a note of wistfulness in his voice when he said, "Peter. There's never going to be another place like this, ever."


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Posted by Viv 12/20/2006 at 04:57 PM

A very interesting day's work, Pete. Thank you.

Posted by sportsfreak 12/20/2006 at 05:49 PM

Great "Insider" news!!

Posted by Meredith 12/20/2006 at 05:49 PM

A lot of people hated Brad Gilbert when he was doing commentary for ESPN. I actually loved him!!! He has so much enthusiasm for the sport and he knows his stuff. He seems like a genuine fan who gets super excited (like me) over good quality matches.

It will be interesting to see what he can do with Andy Murray and if Murray can actually pack on some muscle.

Andy Roddick was an idiot for letting Brad go. I think it cost him a couple of big titles.

Posted by Sam 12/20/2006 at 06:09 PM

Meredith - I'm with you. I really liked Brad as a commentator. In addition, he's a very good coach.

Posted by Sherlock 12/20/2006 at 06:19 PM

Great stuff, Pete. I could read your insider accounts all day long.

Meredith, agreed about Andy and Brad. Not sure what the real reasoning was there, but that had to be a setback for Andy's progress, no doubt.

Posted by Sherlock 12/20/2006 at 06:31 PM

Also seconding Meredith's thoughts on Brad and Murray. Murray's at that exciting stage, from a fan's perspective, where in the next couple years he's either going to mature and put it all together, or just plateau and always be a bit of a tease in the results category.

Posted by Viv 12/20/2006 at 06:37 PM

I have high hopes for Murray in '07, Sherlock, so I'd rather it's the first of those two scenarios which you anticipate that actually transpires. Having had a good year this year, I really hope that he's not in for a let down in the next.

Posted by dibs 12/20/2006 at 06:39 PM

Meredith: As a fellow Brad enthusiast I was telling a friend and fellow tennis fan recently how much good I thought he'd do for Murray. The response was that it was with Brad that Roddick started to drift behind the baseline. Roddick beating Sampras at 18, and El Ayanoui in Aus were a couple of examples cited of pre-Brad him having the attacking he seems to be going back to.

Since that conversation a couple of other people have expressed concern that Murray will get even more defensive in style now that he's working with Brad.

Just wondered if you, or anyone else here, had any comment on that. I didn't manage to come up with a 'Brad defence' that convinced anybody!!

Posted by dibs 12/20/2006 at 06:42 PM

Should probably have made clear the conversations referred to were all in the UK where Brad is probably not as well known - or appreciated!

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 12/20/2006 at 06:43 PM

I really don't know what to think about the whole academy thing. If its really just a question of finding kids who are willing to put in the hours, then pretty soon the US will be back in its historic position of tennis dominance, basically due to nothing more than population.

However, there is the slightly annoying statistic that junior and pro tennis in this country was far better when there were no academies than it is now.

On the other hand, if you have read any of the Harry Potter books boarding school sounds like fun. Who's to say that the kids at Bollettieri's aren't having the time of thier lives? I surely can't say. Although it sounds like Andre Agassi did not have so much fun.

One thing is clear, and that is that the percentage of kids who could ever hope to earn a living playing tennis is as small as any sport. So you sort of wonder if that six year old out there grinding away will ever regret it.

Posted by mri 12/20/2006 at 06:52 PM

i thought Gilbert was taking too much credit for Roddick's success and he did all the talking, instead of letting his pupil who was employing him in the first place to do the talking. Roddick winnig the Us open was only natural that year, when Fed lost to Nalbie.Roddick was a better player all along that year. And I think the same thing's happening with Roddick and Connors, with Connors taking the credit. But only this time Connors is much more accomplished and Andy definitely was in a slump and needed some inspiration.

Posted by Lucy 12/20/2006 at 06:52 PM

Very evocative, Pete. The Academy sounds kind of... fun. I actually never thought of it that way before.

"The thing tennis needs most is a commissioner"

No kidding. Although yeah, it's hard to see it happening. It would require way too many people and too many egos ceding control to an Arlen Kantarian type.

Six years old. Sigh.

Posted by dibs 12/20/2006 at 07:09 PM

Dunlop Maxply wrote:

"However, there is the slightly annoying statistic that junior and pro tennis in this country was far better when there were no academies than it is now."

Which made me wonder how many of the Americans in the, say, top 50 went to Academies. Anyone know?

Re the Harry Potter reference I'd love to see Federer v Nadal on broomsticks!!!

Posted by ptenisnet 12/20/2006 at 07:21 PM

However, there is the slightly annoying statistic that junior and pro tennis in this country was far better when there were no academies than it is now.

But DM
If the above is any indication, the academies arent really operating on an american kids only philosophy.

Posted by jb 12/20/2006 at 07:29 PM

I've always liked Brad - I like that he's so impolitic, in this world of political correctness. And he knows his sh-t, so he always had something interesting to say. Not the typical drivel.

I dunno - I didn't think Andy's retreat to back court happened until after they broke up; but I may be wrong. imo, for whatever reason, Jimmy is able to tell Andy to do something, and he actually does. Not sure how long it will last, their partnership I mean, but it definately has been successful.

Brad and Andy - that seems a more volatile relationship. It will be an interesting year though!

Posted by Dunlop Maxply 12/20/2006 at 07:35 PM

I sort of see the question as "when do you decide that you're not going to earn a living on the pro tour?" I think the best age to decide that question is, say, 23 or so.

"Huh?"

I can hear the thoughts now. The point is, that the amount of money being spent, by someone (probably parents) on that six year old in Pete's story, and on kids under the age of 16 all around the United States is not only astronomical in a relative sense, but its astronomical compared to how much money was being spent on the kids, who later, as men, made upo 60+% of the U.S. Open draw of 1981. You can talk to anyone you know in their late 30's or older who were sectionally, or nationally ranked as junior players, played in college or on the tour, and other than kids whose parents were pros, no one was taking a lesson a day.

Its a free country, and I'm certainly stopping short of saying academies are doing any harm to the kids who go there.

But pros are simply not made at age 6, or, for that matter, 12.

There is a whiff of basically finding parents willing to pay alot of money about the whole thing that, as a parent, I can certainly understand, but as someone with experience, I wonder about in terms of value.

What you may get for that money is certainty that, at a very young age, no one is hitting more balls a day than your kid, so if they are not number one in their age division is probably because they simply don't have it, yet, to circle back to the beginning, why do you need to spend a fortune to find that out early?

You'll find out eventually anyway.

Posted by Lisa 12/20/2006 at 07:39 PM

fabulous piece, especially the ending.
Okay, shall I say right. here. and. now. that we need a preview of the Andy Murray material?? Ah, we were teased with the taking of the questions to having to wait for my mag to arrive.

Posted by Rosangel 12/20/2006 at 07:39 PM

Meredith: I think if Andy Murray himself thinks that Brad is not doing his career any good, he'll say so at whatever point he's sure of that. He's ambitious, astute about tennis, motivated (usually) and not short on opinions, nor shy of sharing them. The fact that his Mum Judy is a very respected and successful coach herself will only help him in forming/expressing his own opinions.

Posted by Sherlock 12/20/2006 at 07:52 PM

Hank, brilliant analysis as usual.

I was trying to digest the whole Greer issue before commenting. I'm curious to hear from Pete how time Greer actually spends down there with Nick & Co? Her parents may be great people, but folks, good lord, get a flippin' life will ya? Take her back home and let her play with dolls for hours, jump on the trampoline, go to the playground, watch Scooby Doo with friends, ride bikes around the neighborhood, and generally have at least a chance in hell of being somewhat normal. If tennis has to become 70's Romanian gymnastics, forget that. I'll take my chances going Academy-less.

Posted by Rosangel 12/20/2006 at 08:11 PM

As I've started talking about Andy Murray, and vaguely in response to what DM said, he and his elder brother Jamie both benefited enormously from the fact that their mother was Scotland's national coach, therefore able to put together a training programme for them at a young age, and also able to assess their progress realistically. Murray went away from home at the age of 15 (to stay at the Sanchez-Casal facility in Barcelona); in his case, it wasn't necessary before then, as his coaching was handled either by his mother or another coach who later took over and travelled with him as a junior (Leon Smith). He was already a successful junior. In Barcelona he was able to get access to not only coaching, but more different types of courts (and mostly outdoor, unlike the situation in Scotland in the cooler months). In addition, would have had the opportunity to play the very active Spanish local Futures circuit, and occasionally to practice with visiting pros - the likes of Carlos Moya.

Whether Andy could have got to where he is today without his family background is very questionable. And by the time he was 15, I think a lot had to do with his own motivation and personal qualities. The academy in Spain helped, no question, but by the time he went there it was already clear he had a lot of talent and drive.

BTW, I think Bolletieri's was considered as an option for Murray, but Barcelona was closer to home, so it would be easier for him to see his family.

Posted by Samantha 12/20/2006 at 08:13 PM

Great article Pete, but I got to mention Brad was just awful as a commentator on ESPN. He was always so rude to Cliff who I enjoy. I just think he should have shown more respect. He was awful as an announcer, but I think he was the greatest coach. Did anyone notice that Roddick's decline began right after he dropped Brad? I heard he was jealous of all the attention Brad was getting. To be frank about Murray, Brad is dreaming if he thinks he has another Andrea on his hands. Murray just doesn't have grandslam ability. Guys in less then a month and Justine will be back to taking names and kicking butt. Go Justine!

Posted by Lisa 12/20/2006 at 08:24 PM

Rosangel:
I agree with your assessment of Andy. However, consider that his having a parent "in the know" is not a whole lot different than the likes of Taylor Dent, Martina Hingis and many others.
However, Judy knew that the UK interstate system wasn't giving Andy enough of a challenge and Spain would. I think she was able to step outside of the box and be objective.
I know that Andy blames the old UK system for the problems that his brother Jamie had with the LTA I just don't know the particulars.
I have heard that there is going to be an Andy biography and asked about it last week at a major bookstore in London and they seemed to be unaware of it.

Posted by vanfan 12/20/2006 at 08:28 PM

That was a fun read. Thanks Pete.

Posted by Sam 12/20/2006 at 09:07 PM

Pete: Players were actually hitting volleys at Bollettieri's academy? :-)

Posted by VE 12/20/2006 at 09:09 PM

Pete,

Nice article, but way to ruin Red Ayme's Xmas. You surely know the entirety of the tennis world is reading this thing.

Posted by steggy 12/20/2006 at 09:12 PM

Hrm. Maybe I should put up a warning for Red to not read it, if he should happen to wander by..

Posted by Sanja 12/20/2006 at 09:44 PM

Great read Pete!

I felt like I was there. It seems kind of like fun but it also seems a little cold warish - akin to making robots or something.

I miss Brad in the commentating box also. I've always had the impression with him that you would always know were you stood. I admire that forthright quality in people. I hope you needled him about the Raiders. Oh and Metallica. (Just kidding. Kind of).

I also think the Murray/Brad matchup is one of the top intriguing story lines for 2007 so I'll take that. AO just around the corner. Get here already!

Sam - volleys! *gasp* heh.

As a side note, I thought that Red and Haas split? I thought he had a new coach last year.

I'd be interested to know how many coaches are employed at Bollettieri's? Who teams the coaches up with players? How are they contracted? Is a coach free to leave when/if an offer comes up? Is there a systematic approach to training off the courts? Are there group lessons? Can players bring their own coaches in? Does he implement a training regime? Or is this all individual based? Price based? Talent based?

Posted by Pete 12/20/2006 at 09:50 PM

Full disclosure: Red got his present that day; Santa's cover was not blown.

Dunlop: I think Nick's track record speaks for itself, re. Agassi Courier, Arias, Wheaton, KrickstKein, Gilbert, Seles, Sharapova, Haas,et al. . . don't forget Korda, and other Europeans.

Sherlock - most tennis champions don't spend their youth riding bikes and such; the few who do are the exceptions.

Posted by skip1515 12/20/2006 at 09:57 PM

Nice work, Pete.

On a trip to Florida in the early 80's to see tennis academies I got to meet Bollettieri at the Academy. We were told Nick was around the corner and, sure enough, there he was, sitting on a chaise sunning himself with a reflector.

He was very gracious, and in the course of his conversation with my boss (whom he knew from the tennis world) he mentioned that, like you Pete, we should "see this kid I'm working with...." At that moment in time, though, the "kid" was Brad Gilbert, of whom Nick said, "He's so tough. He'd cut your b_lls off."

I don't doubt Bollettieri's enthusiasm or integrity. Nor do I doubt his interest in making money. These are not mutually exclusive traits, and I don't mean to suggest that. But academies do take develop a reputation as 'the' place to be once a few players get some headlines, and that attracts other quality players, which attracts other quality players, ad infinitum. Seen in that light Nick's offer to the USTA comes across as less than wholly philanthropic.

I don't mind that, I just mind anyone (not you, Pete) painting it as a selfless act.

Similarly, and as an extrapolation of Hank's comment, by the time a kid's hit 10 gazillion balls between, oh, say 4 and 12 years of age, it gets real difficult for parents (especially) to distinguish between what's skill and what's talent. After a lesson a day for years, plus practice, plus physical training, many kids with average ability will be pretty damn impressive as players. Or hitters, anyway. The one thing they will have unquestionably demonstrated is motivation, and they're entitled to credit for that.

But they'll need it, and more, to make it in the bigs.

There are a ton of kids whose parents are funding academies, spending serious, serious money reaching for tennis' version of the brass ring. If it was just about getting a free ride at college they could save their loot and probably pay for university that way.

No, this is about making it Sharapova big, and by definition few, if any of them will do that. To believe otherwise about their chances or academies is to burn a blind eye.

Posted by skip1515 12/20/2006 at 10:00 PM

Also to *turn* a blind eye.

Posted by Tokyo Tom (tt) 12/20/2006 at 10:07 PM

Could be total rubbish - but I seem to remember that it was a personality thing as much as a judgement about BGs ability to help AR progress his game. A case of too much energy for one room on a constant basis. Strong opinions about all things sports not just tennis. Sure losing to RF before it became a shared experience on a regular basis did not help the dynamics.

I do agree with some posters that BG is obviously a great coach and motivator (look how much helped AA) and I also enjoy hearing his views as a broadcaster. He wasn't afraid to express an opinion.

Posted by FoT 12/20/2006 at 10:18 PM

Good blog Pete...

I agree with most of you - I think Brad was good for Andy R. and don't really know why they parted. I also liked Brad on ESPN.

It will be interesting to see what he can do with Murray because Murray is such a negative person on court! (one reason I don't like him)... So Brad has his work cut out for him.

Posted by Meredith 12/20/2006 at 10:24 PM

I think the Bollettieri Academy is kind of sad. Only a handful of kids out of hundreds will ever make it on the professional tour and even less will make it to the big time.

I feel bad for those kids who sacrifice a normal childhood to stand on the cusp of greatness, but never quite reach it.

Posted by jb 12/20/2006 at 10:50 PM

" I feel bad for those kids who sacrifice a normal childhood to stand on the cusp of greatness, but never quite reach it. "

On some level though - if a kid loves a sport - and some kids DO love to play with an incredible single mindedness, who's to say that they're not having a blast? they're surrounded by other kids, all equally obsessed why can't they be having a great, though different time?

Some will decide as teens they don't have the focus and dedication, and leave. Others will struggle on without the talent, you could put them in the 'sad' category. Though no sadder than any other 'wanna be' that struggles along against odds. A few will be able to make a living on the pro tour.

Its hard to judge. But I know I have friends who spent every minute they could on the courts. They begged rides over and had to be ejected at nite. Given the opportunity, I think they happily would have gone to an academy.

The trick is to determine which kids are there because they eat n' breath the sport, and which are there because their parents want it. And on some level, isn't it better to at least try? and not to wonder what could have been?

Posted by L. Rubin 12/20/2006 at 10:52 PM

Sherlock,

Good points, as always. Six years old is awfully young Personally, I don't see how the parents allow the estimable Bollettieri to get in their daughter's face--I'd kick his a$% (with all due respect).

I used to have very little tolerance for Gilbert (an overgrown child, really). Slowly, however, I've developed a grudging admiration for the man, and this has much to do with my distaste for Chris A-Hole Fowler. The latter beats up on Gilbert remorselessly, and even dared, haughty snob that he is, to challenge Gilbert into naming two Scottish cities (this, after Gilbert signed on with Murray).

--Liron

P.S. Wasn't it Bodo that (long ago) referred to Nick's school as the Bollettieri Academy of Forehands? Priceless!

Posted by Lucy 12/20/2006 at 10:53 PM

I was going to say the same thing, Tokyo Tom. In general, I'd caution against second-guessing a player's coaching arrangements. (There are obvious exceptions, like for instance everything Jelena Dokic ever does.) Even if it seems that Roddick lost a little on the technical side after he and Brad split, if the personal differences were too great it's hard to see how their arrangement could've continued to work.

Instinctively, I have the same reaction as Sherlock to the idea of a 6-year-old kid sweating it out on the tennis court, but as Pete pointed out, that kind of thing is the norm among the high achievers in a sport like tennis. That's why it's so refreshing when someone's life doesn't seem to have been all about tennis - we're always quick to commend players who have anything resembling a grounded perspective. I don't know that any of the top pros would trade their achievements for a more normal childhood, but there's the larger and less visible truth that many kids are trading off a childhood for none of the benefits of stardom. It's a tricky business.

Posted by Tari 12/20/2006 at 11:03 PM

I understand the instinctive reaction you and Sherlock made regarding the idea of a 6 year old, and "living" tennis at that age, Lucy. I do think, though, that I see many of these kids as the type that would mostly love this.

I have a nephew that is crazy about anything involving hitting a ball - and this was from age three! I was amazed that I could pitch a ball to him for hours at that age and he wouldn't tire of
it! "More! More!" (It sure made babysitting fun and easy, too!) :)

Posted by Tari 12/20/2006 at 11:12 PM

that should have been *reaction you two HAD, Lucy. (I just know I'm going to get the typo or double post award *groan*)

Posted by Lucy 12/20/2006 at 11:42 PM

That's the complicated part, Tari. I've had the same experience with my young cousins - throwing a ball around until I can take it no more, spending hours and hours shooting hoops, that kind of thing. So I know a lot of kids do want to spend every waking minute of their day doing one thing again and again - if that happens to be tennis, well, why not? I guess I just worry about the point at which it becomes exploitative - as JB says, the ones who are there because their parents want it. Although I guess that usually shows itself up in a lack of dedication, when the kid gets old enough to assert him/herself.

Posted by MWC 12/21/2006 at 12:30 AM

Responding, and agreeing with Maxply, I'll submit that it isn't about going to academies for juniors. It is about How many balls and how many hours on the court. It certainnly is possible for a player who does not attend Bolleterri's or some other academy to hit as many, if not more balls than their academy counterparts. There are numerous coaches and tennis professionals in the US, too many to mention, who are quite capable of directing a junior's stroke development. It all comes down to the dedication to playing. The more time you put in, and the more balls you hit (properly), the better you are going to get regardless of where it happens.

Posted by Sherlock 12/21/2006 at 03:19 AM

"Personally, I don't see how the parents allow the estimable Bollettieri to get in their daughter's face--I'd kick his a$%"

Perfectly stated, Liron. I'd be right there with you. :)

Pete, thanks for the reply. I can certainly appreciate that. But I would like to nail down some specifics. Are we saying that most of the top 50 in the world today were sent away at the age of 6 to an academy of some kind? If not 6, then 8? 10? And how long are they sent away at those ages?

Tari, and Lucy too, excellent point about kids that soak up as much as you can give them. They can certainly be like that. I was like that with basketball as a kid. I played night and day, every chance I could. Went to summer camps, etc. But doesn't it seem a bit of a stretch to go from there to sending junior away to an academy? I could play all day long, but my friends and I could take a break and run to the store for ice cream, then come back and play some more. And at night, I'm doing homework, seeing my parents, and sleeping in my own bed. I'm sorry, but to me, at 6 years old on up to an age I haven't quite decided for myself yet, it's nothing but exploitative.

In the end, I guess it's all about the risk/reward. As others have said, if you're hitting as many balls as the academy kids, that's what counts. Greer, at age 8, or 9, or 10, will be just as good if she is home playing at a local court, hitting a ton of balls, with some input from an adult who has some clue about teaching basic tennis. If not just as good, it will be close. And the gap will never be great enough to make up for the risk of sending her away. No way in the world.

Posted by Rosangel 12/21/2006 at 03:26 AM

Lisa: What you say explicitly above is kind of what I was driving at. With Murray, as for a number of others, having a family member who was tennis-aware and able to be supportive was a strong - though - not the only - factor - in his development. Academies can be helpful, but in his case, it was at a later stage in his development than for many Pete mentions, and he had specific reasons for doing it. In Murray's case he himself had a big hand in choosing the academy in Spain (I believe it was recommended to him by one Rafael Nadal); his Mum and family saw where his needs were and were able to source some funding and also put up some of it themselves.

Iit would be interesting to do some research on the top players today to see how important the family thing is versus/as well as having access to an academy or formal national training programme. Family background in tennis was also important in Tim Henman's case. In the UK there's no-one else who's major enough to consider in such an analysis; Rusedski moved here from Canada.

Posted by steggy 12/21/2006 at 03:52 AM

Meredith wrote: "I think the Bollettieri Academy is kind of sad. Only a handful of kids out of hundreds will ever make it on the professional tour and even less will make it to the big time.

I feel bad for those kids who sacrifice a normal childhood to stand on the cusp of greatness, but never quite reach it."

***

I feel worse for the ones who make it.

I don't have the ability here to pull a firm statistic out of thin air, but we'd all agree that the one kid that makes it from the tennis veal farm to the Show is a rare thing.

In return for all that youthful hard work and no-prom sacrifice, they get to work even harder, never spend more than a few weeks a year in their own beds, and worst of all very few ever define themselves beyond what they can do on a tennis court. So when they finally retire, around age 30, they're a little confused as to what to do with the rest of their lives.

Oh sure, they can go empty their bank accounts, obsessively play golf (which is just a lazy form of tennis), hit the clubs, and capitalize on whatever fame they found as a Pro. A few years on and they realize, "hey, without the game, I'm nothing." So they go and futz around on the Senior circuit if they're men or go have babies and play exhibitions non-stop like Kournikova, if they're women. (Yes, there are exceptions. I'm not discussing those.)

The players that didn't make it to the show (or escaped early) usually wind up going to college on full playing scholarship -- which is where most of the veal go once they get their GED -- and live their lives with a balance of tennis and other things.

Tennis (and those academies) can teach many things; the benefits of hard work leading to a payoff is but one of them.

As for the veal farm vs. non-veal farm training.. well, any dunce with a video camera and Tennis for Dummies can teach a kid how to play the game. Tennis is a simple game, after all. You can read half a dozen books and learn/teach tactics. I doubt the training and coaching is any better at those farms than it is under any private coach available in the phone book.

What the veal farms give a kid is a better chance at promotion. By that, I mean a better chance of an agency seeing that they're a marketing man's tennis wet-dream of the future.

A parent can either go broke sending their kid to a boarding tennis academy, or they can go broke *not* sending their kid to one. The money invested is roughly the same, in the end. The only difference is when the ultimate payoff might occur.

Posted by Pam 12/21/2006 at 03:55 AM

I realize that being a pro takes endless dedication, but hopefully that 6 year old girl has a somewhat normal childhood. Players such as Nadal, and even Davenport, have proven that one can succeed without spending every minute of one's life on tennis.

I hope what I'm about to post is not too off topic. In the other thread during our wild card discussion, Steggy threw out a suggestion that someone look up all of the wild card tournament winners. Due to how unorganized the WTA site is (they don't list seedings, WC or Q for tournament finalists before 2002 in their archives), it would take forever to go back all the way. I therefore looked at the 1996-2006 period for the ATP and WTA tours. I probably missed a few, but here's what I found:

WTA
1996 Berlin, Germany (WC and seeded #1)Graf def. Habsudova 46 62 75
1996 Eastbourne, Great Britain (WC and seeded #1)Seles def. (7)MJ Fernandez 60 62
1997 Bol, Croatia (WC in the qualies)Lucic def. Morariu 75 67(4) 76(5)
1997 Strasbourg, France (WC and seeded #1)Graf def. (WC in the qualies)Lucic 62 75
1997 Canada (WC and seeded #1)Seles def. (8)Huber 62 64
1998 Warsaw, Poland (WC and seeded #1)Martinez def. Farina Elia 60 63
1998 New Haven, CT (WC and seeded #4)Graf def.(2)Novotna 64 61
1998 Leipzig, Germany (WC) Graf def. (2)Tauziat 63 64
1999 Antwerp, Belgium (WC)Henin def. Pitkowski (1) 61 62
2000 Eastbourne, Great Britain (WC and seeded #6)Halard-Decugis def. (5)Van Roost 76(4) 64
2000 Bratislava, Slovakia (WC and seeded #6)Bedanova def. Oremans 61 57 63
2001 New Haven, CT (WC and seeded #3)V. Williams def. (1)Davenport 76(6) 64
2001 Bahia, Brazil (WC and seeded #1)Seles def. (2)Dokic 63 63
2001 Bali, Indonesia (WC)Widjaja def. Kruger 76(2) 76(4)
2001 Linz, Austria (WC and seeded #1)Davenport def. (3)Dokic 64 61
2002 Bogota, Colombia (WC)Zuluaga def. Srebotnik 61 64
2002 Brussels, Belgium (WC)M. Casanova def. (1)Sanchez-Vicario 46 62 61
2003 Philadelphia, PA (WC and seeded #2)Mauresmo def. (3)Myskina 57 60 62

For the women I counted 18 wild card wins. Of those, 6 were unseeded. Graf was a wild card winner 4 times (once unseeded), while Seles was a wild card winner 3 times (all seeded). Additionally, only 5 of the wild cards were first time winners (Lucic, Henin, Bedanova, Widjaja, Casanova). Amazingly, Lucic was actually a wild card in the qualies, came through to win her event, and then as a wild card in the qualies of her next event, reached the final where she lost only to a wild card Graf. Eastbourne and New Haven seem to be wild card hot spots, as both locations had 2 wild card winners in the 1996-2006 period. Finally, as you can see, wild cards haven't had much success in 3 years!

ATP

1996 Umag, Croatia (WC and seeded #4)Moya def.(3)Mantilla 60 76(4)
1996 Long Island, NY (WC and seeded #5)Medvedev def. Damm 75 63
1996 Bogota, Colombia (WC and seeded #1)Muster def.(4)Lapentti 67(6) 62 63
1996 Moscow, Russia (WC and seeded #2)Ivanisevic def. (1)Kafelnikov 36 61 63
1997 Dubai, United Arab Emirates (WC and seeded #2)Muster def. (1)Ivanisevic 75 76(3)
1997 Bologna, Italy (WC and seeded #2)Mantilla def. (8)Kuerten 46 62 61
1997 Tashkent, Uzbekistan (WC and seeded #2)Henman def. (3)Rosset 76(2) 64
1997 Beijing, China (WC and seeded #1)Courier def. (5)Gustafsson 76(10) 36 63
1998 Adelaide, Australia (WC)Hewitt def. Stoltenberg 36 63 76(4)
1998 St. Petersburg, Russia (WC and seeded #1)Krajicek def. (4)Rosset 64 76(5)
1998 San Jose, CA (WC)Agassi def. (1)Sampras 62 64
1998 Scottsdale, AZ (WC)Agassi def. Stoltenberg 64 76(3)
1998 St. Poelten, Austria (WC and seeded #1)Rios def. Spadea 62 60
1998 Nottingham, England (WC and seeded #2)Bjorkman def. (7)Black 63 62
1998 Vienna, Austria (WC and seeded #1)Sampras def.(3)Kucera 63 76(3) 61
1999 Hong Kong, China (WC and seeded #3) Agassi def. Becker 67(4) 64 64
1999 London, England (WC and seeded #2)Sampras def. (3)Henman 67(1) 64 76(4)
1999 Nottingham, England (WC)Pioline def. (Q)Ullyett 63 75
1999 Toulouse, France (WC)Escude def. Vacek 75 61
2000 Estoril, Portugal (WC)Moya def. Clavet 63 62
2000 Halle, Germany (WC)Prinosil def. Krajicek 63 62
2001 Atlanta, GA (WC)Roddick def. Malisse 62 64
2001 Houston, TX (WC)Roddick def. Lee 75 63
2001 St. Poelten, Austria (WC)Gaudenzi def. (WC)Hipfl 60 75
2001 WIMBLEDON (WC)Ivanisevic def. (3)Rafter 63 36 63 26 97
2001 Umag, Croatia (WC and seeded #1)Moya def. (5)Golmard 64 36 76(2)
2001 Kitzbuhel, Austria (WC and seeded #6)Lapentti def. Costa 16 64 75 75
2002 Vina del Mar, Chile (WC)Gonzalez def. (1)Lapentti 63 67(5) 76(4)
2003 Scottsdale, AZ (WC and seeded #1) Hewitt def. (WC) Philippoussis 64 64
2004 Doha, Qatar (WC) Escude def. Ljubicic 63 76
2004 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands (WC) Llodra def. (WC and seeded #1)Coria 63 64
2004 Long Island, NY (WC and seeded #2)Hewitt def. (9)Horna 63 61
2005 Vina del Mar, Chile (WC and seeded #1)Gaudio def. (2)Gonzalez 63 64
2005 Munich, Germany (WC and seeded #1)Nalbandian def. (5)Pavel 64 61
2005 New Haven, CT (WC)Blake def. (5)Lopez 36 75 61
2006 Chennai, India (WC and seeded #1)Ljubicic def. (3)Moya 76(6) 62
2006 Marseille, France (WC)Clement def. (6)Ancic 64 62
2006 Houston, TX (WC)Fish def. Melzer 36 64 63
2006 Newport, RI (WC) Philippoussis def. Gimelstob 63 75
2006 Beijing, China (WC and seeded #3)Baghdatis def. (4)Ancic 64 60

Not surprisingly, wild card wins happen more often with the men. I counted 40 wins, and 18 of those were unseeded. First time winners as wild cards were Hewitt, Escude, Roddick, Llodra and Baghdatis. Repeat wild card winners are Agassi (3 times, twice unseeded), Hewitt (3 times, once unseeded), Moya (3 times, once unseeded), Sampras (2 times, all seeded), Ivanisevic (2 times, once unseeded), Muster (2 times, both seeded), Roddick (2 times, both unseeded) and Escude (2 times, both unseeded). Additionally, both Agassi and Roddick accomplished wild card wins in consecutive tournaments. Lastly, Umag, Long Island, Beijing, Scottsdale, St. Poelten, Nottingham, Houston and Vina del Mar all had 2 wild card winners each in the 1996-2006 period.

I was wondering if this changed anyone's mind about wild cards?

Posted by steggy 12/21/2006 at 04:07 AM

Pam: Interesting list. I suppose my next question would be, how many of those cards were granted due to last-minute pullouts from some other player, or a player, on the fly, deciding he wants to play a tournament next week instead of going on vacation?

(PS don't go look that up; it'd be too painful. :)

Posted by steggy 12/21/2006 at 05:00 AM

Pete's got a Chat scheduled for 2pm EST today; you can submit your questions for him here:

http://proxy.espn.go.com/chat/chatESPN?event_id=14035

Posted by Viv 12/21/2006 at 06:24 AM

Lisa: As far as I'm aware, two biographies of Murray have been published this year.

They are "Andy Murray: The story so far" by Rob Robertson and Eleanor Preston, published June 1st '06 and "Andrew Murray: Wonderboy" by Euan Reedie which was published on June 2nd '06!
I'd say they might both still be available at amazon.co.uk

Posted by skip1515 12/21/2006 at 06:31 AM

What I posted about academies wasn't too positive, I know, but we shouldn't discount the value of being able to play regularly against a bunch of your peers who are as good and determined as you. A post or two ago we were talking Warrior Moments; I doubt Spartan fighters trained at home with their folks.

A player can't get the constant, high level of competition from varied opponents available at an academy at home unless they live in one of tennis' hot spots (Southern Cal, Florida, Spain, etc.). Even then it's tough to find more than a few people willing to practice and play with the intensity an academy fosters. This is one of the biggest draws of an academy: the concentration of good players attracts more good players. As steggy said, I'm not sure the coaching is light-years better than anywhere else, but the day in, day out hitting sure is.

Whether it's worth the financial and emotional cost is another issue.

Posted by Pete 12/21/2006 at 07:40 AM

Pam, awesome legwork, you get the Gold Star of the day. The silver star is split between dissenters Sherlock, Dunlop and Skip, who underlne some of the downsides of the academy approach. One thing to keep in mind is that more than any other sport (compare, say, soccer, or the NFL), development is a freewheeling, flexible, multi-faced excercise in cat-skinning. And the one thing I am sure of goes back to some comments by Tari, Lucy and others - sometimes, you can't KEEP an 8-year old away from ball hitting. That's the gift of passionate focus and desire and I'd love to see what the psychsociologists say about it.

One other thing. I am convinced, but cannot prove, that Nick B. would be doing what he does even for $15 bucks ann hour. His wealth is the academy (literally, not assessed-value wise) and his reputation.

Posted by Samantha 12/21/2006 at 07:41 AM

I think what is sad about all the young tennis players and their parents is that the only ones who come out ahead are people like Bolletteri who run these expensive schools and charge what is equal to a good college education. About 99% of the kids that go to Bolletteri academy will never make it in the professional game and are just kidding themselves and wasting money that could be used for college. But of course greedy, arrogant Nick would never have the decency to tell the parents and kid, hey, you're wasting your time and money, your kid just doesn't have it. I've seen him on TV alot and he comes off as very conceited and always promoting himself. A side note on Justine, she was recently named the Belgium player of the year, eat your heart out jealous, two faced Kim. Go Justine!

Posted by steggy 12/21/2006 at 07:47 AM

Mornin' Pete.

Posted by Lita 12/21/2006 at 07:47 AM

I think Nadal was coatched by his uncle at a really young age. I recall reading that he won the balleares tournament at the age of 8 (or something similar). It looks like Nadal spent a lot of his youth playing tennis and football until his dad made him choose which sport to committ to. I am pretty sure he was hammering tennis balls a lot as a child to be able to win at the age of 8 the tournament. He didn't seem to have a "normal childhood" per say, but his family did try to make the best for him, and still do by the look of it.

As for tennis pros whose lives go bunker once they quit the circuit the best example is Bjorn Bork. No disrespect to the man. He truly was a great tennis champion. But facts show that after he retired his life really went down hill and seems to continue that way.

There are great champions who didn't go to those academies(Michael Chang and Rafael Nadal would be good examples). But they still had to play a hell of a lot of tennis each day to make it and be successful. Their families were tennis oriented and gave them all the support they needed.

Maybe choosing which tennis academy your kids attend is like choosing a University? I had the priviledge to visit a tennis academy over thanksgiving on the west coast. I really enjoyed my time there. The coatch and the director were really nice. I was impressed by the friendliness of the staff and of the students (it was genuine). I had a great time that day. That would be a place I would recommand.

Maybe the whole tennis academy is not a bad concept. You just have to choose which one is more suitable for your kids. As an aunt of really young tennis players I would only be worried that where the kids go is a place where they can also develop a healthy personnality. I don't know how much counselling is present in these academies. No offense to Kournikova/Sharapova, but they are not the type of women I want my nieces to turn into.

BTW, sorry for the dumb question but what is a tennis commissioner?

Posted by Samantha 12/21/2006 at 07:52 AM

I wonder if anyone know the exact percentage of kids at the Bolletteri academy who actually make it in the pros? I don't mean players ranked in the l00 but top players. I bet it's very low, so I say save your money and go to college at least you'll have a job when your 3O. Go Justine!

Posted by Tari 12/21/2006 at 08:09 AM

Okay. I have a few questions: Is Greer at the academy, staying without her parents? How young do the academies take children, I mean living there, without their parents?

Good points, Sherlock. I could never be separated from my kid like that, so I'm probably being a little disingenuous in my observations on this. He's 13 now, and I still couldn't do it! :)

Interesting stuff, though.

Posted by Olivejuice 12/21/2006 at 08:13 AM

I think that any way you look at it, either going to a tennis academy or being coached privately, with the intention of becoming a pro, takes up a huge part of a kid's life. I think it's all about balance. I can see both sides of the spectrum here and I can't really decide which one is right or wrong. It think it totally depends on the person.

Posted by sophie 12/21/2006 at 08:48 AM

This is from Wikipedia:

"The NBTA was the first full-time tennis boarding school to combine intense training on the court with a custom-designed academic curriculum. What was once a program of primarily on-court training has evolved into a multi-faceted approach which includes blending the technical and strategic on-court training with specialized performance physical training and mental conditioning. The Bollettieri approach not only builds athletes on the court, but more importantly, Nick’s high expectations of each of his students prepare them for a successful life off the court as well".

So there you have it - apparently you get educated, practise tennis skills and are successful off court as well - nirvana! I wonder if some parents enrol their kids at birth.

Posted by Rosangel 12/21/2006 at 08:49 AM

Lita: Though it's true that his life looked a mess immediately post-retirement, as far as I know Bjorn Borg is coaching young players in Sweden these days, and has a young son with his third wife; he didn't look as though life was treating him too badly when I saw him on the BBC recently. The story about the near-sale of his trophies doesn't seem to have had such deep significance as many assumed - amazingly, he says he just didn't think it through properly, but reconsidered when so many people contacted him after the story came out.

I'd suppose that the amount of sacrifice that a young player has to make is all relative. His or her individual circumstances will tend to determine how he/she views it. If you are Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer, and start with a love of the game which makes you want to pursue it, it was probably all worth it, and you won't regret the times you spent practising when you could have been doing something else with your friends, or, in Roger's case, living at home. Someone like Andre Agassi is interesting in this regard, because although he now seems to have defined himself in terms of tennis (which has certainly helped him reach goals that he wouldn't have done in the same way otherwise), he was pushed into the game and trained by an ambitious and obsessive father, and happened to respond in a way that became positive for him over the long term. Whether Andre Agassi himself views some of the childhood experiences foregone as a sacrifice or as a step on the road to later success would be an interesting question (perhaps Pete knows the answer). I certainly get the sense his being drawn to Steffi Graf and she to him would have had a lot to do with similarities in their childhood experiences and a certain emotional void that both had to deal with as a result (of course, in Steffi's case, there seems little doubt that she was determined to be a champion from an early age, though her father was instrumental in her development also).

It's the children who will not ever have the ability to make it through the system to the top who, if they are in any way pushed by ambitious parents, are being forced to make real sacrifices in terms of family life and the like, in pursuit of a dream that will remain forever elusive. A child who is much more self-directed and who has found the love of the game for him or herself, as many do, probably will not see it in the same way, whether it involves going to an academy at a young age or not. Academies will work for some individuals and not others. There are some children who will benefit from being away from home; others will suffer.

Posted by Rosangel 12/21/2006 at 08:56 AM

I don't want the above to sound wrong. Agassi clearly did have a talent for tennis at a very young age, more so than his elder siblings, but he was also pushed hard by his father - I got the sense that it was harder than he might have pushed himself.

Posted by Todd and in Charge 12/21/2006 at 09:43 AM

Great column, Pete. Nick's a friend and client and I've known his family personally since the Victory Park pool days in North Miami Beach back in the early 60s. He's the real deal, and whatever "wealth" he's acquired over the many decades he has been coaching young kids he's more than earned and has mostly shared generously with others.

One point on the academies I've seen -- they're a bit like Rudolf's raindeer camp. The favored breakouts are the ones on the show courts, getting all the attention, and the rest of the kids are trying to become the favored kids, and otherwise are there to help support the academy financially and to hit balls with the future stars. So from what I've seen talent does rise to the top, and the format seems to work. Ask Agassi's hitting partners from the days he was there. Many of them are giving lessons and running programs here in South Florida.

Posted by ro'ee 12/21/2006 at 10:12 AM

Pete, if we're thinking about the same player, the portugese girl is Brito, with a "B", who played an exhibition with Gastao Elias at Estoril

Posted by steggy 12/21/2006 at 10:23 AM

Looks like the 2007 gameplan hasn't changed much for the House of Williams:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/tennis/6199085.stm

Posted by Lisa 12/21/2006 at 10:33 AM

Thanks for the book references Viv. I had fallen asleep shortly after my post.

While to some it sounds very cruel for parents to have their children striking a tennis ball at an early age. But, consider how many parents sign their children up for t-ball or soccer at 3 years old? Is that more palletable (sp) than starting tennis at 3?
I suspect that most children who start at 3 years old start in group drills.

And, haven't we all heard and seen tales of daddies at youth baseball games getting completely out of control? Don't those kids have to practice like maniacs, too?
The difference is that tennis is an individual sport so at some point they're pretty much going it alone.

And as for the usual high school experiences, let's not forget that not everyone had a "golden" experience in high school. Okay, I was fortunate. But think of how many who did not go to the prom or homecoming who actually went to high school.

I tend to like the idea of an academy rather than a parent-coach. I think the line gets blurred between parent and coach at times. This can lead to the potential problem of a fractured relationship. I mean, a player like Andy Murray can fire his coach Mark Petchey with few emotional ramifications. But say Maria Sharapova or the Williams sisters fire their parents--they are fracturing a more precious relationship than that of a coach. They're severing a blood relationship--even when it's needed.
Also, consider the child/player's emotional self when they're being "yelled at." Are they being yelled at by daddy or by the coach?

So academies such as Nick's really have their place in the tennis world as they help players develop their game, their fitness and mental strengths.


Posted by essie 12/21/2006 at 10:42 AM

A six-year old at a tennis academy!!! That is so sad. What's wrong with her parents joining a country club and having her work out with the pro there? At home. Where she belongs.

Anyway, great story Pete, very interesting. I have never liked Brad Gilbert and I'm sure there was a very good reason Andy Roddick dumped him. Andy is better off without him, even if he did have to go through a lot. Andy has come out on top with Connors. He's much better off. I'm also thrilled that Gilbert won't be on ESPN anymore. He is the worse commentator since Pam Shriver and not listening to him will be a pleasure. He was obviously not well liked by the other commentators either, so everybody is better off without him. Good luck to poor Andy Murray. I don't see him winning anything special in 2007 because he just doesn't have the talent and he's far too negative on court. He needs an attitude adjustment.

Posted by mmy 12/21/2006 at 10:48 AM

Steggy:

"Looks like the 2007 gameplan hasn't changed much for the House of Williams:"

Oh, crap, here it goes again.

Posted by steggy 12/21/2006 at 10:50 AM

mmy: *nod* It's a shame.

Posted by Lisa 12/21/2006 at 10:57 AM

As for Brad Gilbert, I liked him as a commentator because he told us lockerroom tales and interesting information that Pammy and Mary did not. Also, he brought a lot of street cred to ESPN sitting next to Chris Fowler (who I do think is sort of hot) who is not well-versed in tennis.
But, since Andy is one of my favorite players, I'm glad Brad ditched the desk job for my Scot.

Posted by Olivejuice 12/21/2006 at 10:59 AM

I really like Brad Gilbert but did anyone else ever notice that when he wore a suit jacket when he was commentating that it always seemed too small or something? The sleeves were too short. Looked like he just threw it on to dress up a bit. I always had to chuckle at that. Maybe I'm the only one that noticed.
I think he's a pretty accomplshed coach and I think he will do some good for Murray. We'll just have to see.

Posted by Tokyo Tom (tt) 12/21/2006 at 11:01 AM

T&iC makes quite a bit of sense - I had a couple of friends who would share lessons with me and we would go out and hit for hours. As a Junior, it becomes obvious where and when the separation occurs - In my case it was trying to break into the top six at Uni. I had a good friend and sometimes mixed partner who was a county player and had the same experience but at a slightly higher level. So as T&iC suggested there is that ah ha moment for most - and why not allow young ones that love the game have a good go at it and see how far they can go. Even if one fails, there is the life time enjoyment of playing a high standard.

The same is true for almost any sport that has a professional calling and it is up to the parents to ensure the best interest of their children are observed (although we know tennis is not unique with parents who do not exercise the best judgement).

Posted by rafa fan 12/21/2006 at 11:34 AM

I think all children should be shipped to the nearest camp right after birth, so that the parents are not burdened in any way with raising them.

Posted by Ray Stonada 12/21/2006 at 11:37 AM

Aren't both things true? That Nick is a great coach with the best track record of producing pros AND the academy experience is seriously emotionally difficult for many young juniors? Baghdatis has said that if he had to do it over, he wouldn't have left his family to train in Paris as a kid. And he's cream of the cream as far as success goes, a Grand Slam contender. But he questions whether it was worth it; there are sensitive people for whom the experience of leaving home as a young child is authentically damaging.

Children from all walks of life say this: young dancers, actors, and athletes. My mother was sent away from home to a boarding school in another city at eight, and always told me about those days as the saddest and most difficult of her life.

To me the issue is not so much whether the academies produce the best players, but whether one wants to subject one's child to that. If it was my son or daughter, I wouldn't want them to leave home, until and unless the desire was strongly coming from them. I don't believe this is possible for a six-year-old. Maybe a teen could decide for themselves.

But I don't know enough to answer this question: does missing out on top-class competition and academy training before the age of, say, 15, make it drastically less likely to succeed on the pro tour?

Posted by mmy 12/21/2006 at 11:41 AM

Looking at the top 5. When did Roger go off to train? Certainly not when he was 6. Rafa didn't at all. Ljubicic had to relocate due to civil war. Davydenko went to live with his brother.

Posted by Heidi 12/21/2006 at 11:41 AM

Thanks very much for this report, Pete. For someone who grew up not playing... well, much of any sport, the look inside a tennis academy that trains six year olds is so fascinating.

This is part of why the sport has to keep bringing in recreational adults -- get the parents, and their wee children will play. I know it's true for me.

Posted by mmy 12/21/2006 at 11:43 AM

Re Brad

He really did seem to get into 'conflict of interest' territory in his commenting. He could give 'inside info' sure, but he also had fish to fry in his comments.

Posted by jackrabbit 12/21/2006 at 11:43 AM

Pete any news on how Gael Monfils is doing at Nick's?

Posted by Lisa 12/21/2006 at 11:45 AM

Ray,
I think a lot of the things you say are probably correct. But, aren't the odds of a player making into the top of the elite better if the child goes to an academy at about 10? I think that gives them a leg up for the higher level junior tournaments and boosts their way into the Orange Bowl.
But being a top-rated junior doesn't necessarily mean that success will translate to the pro tour, but it doesn't hurt them either.
Truthfully, I think Donald Young should have stayed in the juniors rather than veer onto the ATP at 15 years old. This year in the Orange Bowl, he didn't fare so well. Nadal started the tour but he's the exception to the rule.

Posted by Ray Stonada 12/21/2006 at 11:52 AM

Good rundown, mmy: So it appears leaving home when extremely young isn't necessary. Which leaves a pretty good basic plan: let your kids play as much tennis as they want, at home, until their teens. If they have outstripped all local facilities by that point, AND desire to play more and give more time to tennis, consider an academy.

Now I just gotta go have a couple kids with someone with some tennis genes.

Posted by Ray Stonada 12/21/2006 at 11:57 AM

I hear you, Lisa, but I was thinking that I'd rather keep my kids with me than put them in an academy at 10 just to up their odds of success a little - after all, the odds of success on the pro tour are already so infinitesimal that it's probably best to act as though your children are NOT going to be making a living out of tennis.

But I should admit, I'm not a parent nor do I know much about junior tennis. I'm just speculating based on what people are saying here.

(Interesting that a lot of people I know who played tons of tennis growing up don't like to compete anymore. I think it depresses them that they'll never be as good as they were when they had time to hit for four hours a day.)

Posted by Sam 12/21/2006 at 12:08 PM

"Interesting that a lot of people I know who played tons of tennis growing up don't like to compete anymore."

A family friend that was a good player in high school, and who I hit with regularly one summer, was that way. A few years after he was out of high school (I was in my mid-20s at the time), I asked him if he still played, and he said that he was burned out and hadn't picked up a racquet since high school. I had envied him for being a good high school player (I took some lessons in high school but didn't really get into the game until a few years after college), but when I heard that I no longer felt that way. I actually felt better off (even though he was a far better player), since I was playing because I enjoyed the game and didn't have to worry about being burned out.

Posted by Meredith 12/21/2006 at 12:10 PM

Pete, I have an idea for a fun post topic, which everyone could comment on and play around with. (perfect for the off season too)

The ATP/WTA desperately needs to market tennis to get more viewers. The 'New Balls' Campaign which featured Safin, Federer, and Roddick was really very clever. You should have your readers come up with some creative ideas for a new way to advertise the sport and it's players/characters. Also, new ideas to market this new generation coming up.

As the tennis dork I am, I think it could be fun to hear everyone's ideas...

Posted by Well Left 12/21/2006 at 12:10 PM

jackrabbit- get over to ESPN and ask Pete. That's a really good question!

Posted by Sanja 12/21/2006 at 12:13 PM

I'm REALLY bummed about Venus. I was really looking forward to Hopman Cup with her and Taylor. Please Serena! Play the AO!

Posted by Lisa 12/21/2006 at 12:20 PM

Ray,
A good friend of mine and her husband toured an academy for their then 9-year-old son and decided that if he went, he'd be there part-time---on weekends but he'd practice at our club during the week with the assignments the academy would send home with him. I know several families that do this with their kids and even so, their kids are still not the highest ranked kids in the south although they do have the points for entry into national tournaments.
The family is so grounded that the funny thing about this kid is that his goal is to make high school varsity tennis. He forgot that he was regularly beating many of the particular school's varsity players.
I think each family has to do what is best for them. In this instance, my friend has developed cancer and they've worked hard to make sure that her illness and surgery does not interrupt their kids' lives. Their tennis genius still goes to tournaments every weekend and his ranking hasn't slipped at all.

Posted by Rosangel 12/21/2006 at 12:28 PM

http://sport.scotsman.com/tennis.cfm?id=1651452006

The above link may be of some interest to those thinking about examples of young tennis prodigies (this one being in Scotland).

Some children, even very young (though possibly age six is exceptional) are highly motivated. As a parent, what is the right thing to do if your gifted child needs and wants to move away from home to further his/her future career, or try to fulfil dreams? Many successful tennis players are highly motivated, individualistic, stubborn, resilient people with a focus on results. It's one of the things I love about them. Those characteristics are present in many children; they don't suddenly appear in a child's teenage years. As a highly motivated, resilient stubborn and results-focused person myself (occasionally to the point of obsession), even as a young child, there is nothing I would have let stand in my way of achieving certain things that I thought essential to my future, and that definitely included staying away from home when necessary. At their peril would my parents have tried to stop me doing those things. All people are different, and all I'm trying to say, really, is that there are cases where staying away from a home in a certain environment, academy or otherwise, will work best for a younger person. I don't think you can generalise, though. It would be totally wrong for me to generalise from my own experience. But although some parents push their children too much, I'm sure many other parents have found themselves faced with the dilemma of how to handle a very ambitious young child - to keep them at home, or to let them go and try to meet certain goals that they care about passionately. Perhaps not usually at age six, but surely at nine or ten?

Note: although Federer started playing at the age of six, with private coaching starting at ten. He didn't go away from home to train at the Swiss National Tennis Centre until he was fourteen. Even then, it was just about close enough to Basel that he wasn't totally cut off from his family. From reading the biography of him, I recall that he wasn't initially happy there, but settled eventually..

Posted by Olivejuice 12/21/2006 at 12:28 PM

Lisa - I think you are absolutely right when you say that Each family has to do what is best for them. For some kids it is not traumatic to be sent to an academy when they are six. For the majority it might be. I don't think it is right for anyone to say it is right or wrong to do it this way or that. It just depends on the child and the circumstances.

Posted by Pete 12/21/2006 at 12:41 PM

Sammy - You would be surprised at how honest and realistic Nick is in evaluating kids; I've been present a few times when he had to deliver bad news, and excused myself so Nick could do it in privacy.

Posted by Victor 12/21/2006 at 12:41 PM

As Ro'ee said, the girl's name is Brito.

Posted by Sanja 12/21/2006 at 12:42 PM

Lisa that seems a family with priorities in order.

Letting a 9 or 10 year old (forget 6 - that's insane) decide that it is best for them to live away from family and do 24/7 tennis goes against pretty much everything I would want to teach my kids to value in life.

Posted by Lisa 12/21/2006 at 12:44 PM

great article Rosangel. I like the idea of the parents living there with the student. There would be some semblence of a family life while the child benefits from world-class coaching.

Posted by Pete 12/21/2006 at 12:54 PM

I'll have more for y'all on academies after I write my ESPN post and partake of holiday pizza with my colleagues.. . Also

I put Steggy on the phone with Nick yesterday and he offered her a full scholarship

Todd - you knucklehead! Why didn't you tell me before you know Nick so well?

Sorry about the error on "Brito", Roee, I tried to fact-check the name spelling etc. on the run and under pressure to post, and now I understand why nothing came up (I tried under "Prito"). I'll fix.

On Monfils - He was there until the day before I arrived and allegedly worked hard.

I had a nice chat with Tommy Haas, who went out of his way to come say hi and catch up with me. I always appreciate player who are friendly and/or well mannered.

More soon.

Posted by Sanja 12/21/2006 at 12:57 PM

Go Hasi!

(Pete question of the day at WSJ.com - what is better a live tree or a fake one? Quite a discussion).

Posted by Ryan 12/21/2006 at 12:57 PM

Time for the Lunch Break Lurk--what's shakin in TennisWorld?

Posted by Pete 12/21/2006 at 12:59 PM

Sorry, am having trouble nailing down the Brito/Prito thing; seems like the only likely candidate is a boy, not a girl, junior. . . I'll have to get Mikey to weigh in on this. ARe you out there Miguel ?

Posted by Ryan 12/21/2006 at 01:02 PM

Anyone explain the "Red, don't read till after Christmas" thing?

Posted by steggy 12/21/2006 at 01:03 PM

Ryan: That's because Pete talked about what Nick was giving Red for Xmas.

Posted by Ryan 12/21/2006 at 01:06 PM

Ohhh yeah that's right. HA. I thought Red and Tommy split up?

Posted by Lisa 12/21/2006 at 01:17 PM

I think the biggest thing that families and kids need to consider is the "regret factor." Do the parents want to regret not giving their kids the opportunity to go to an academy; and do the kids want to regret not having the stereotypical teenage and family life.

The deal is that these kids--if they're at the point to consider an academy--are not stereotypical. But, the families can strike up with some sort of compromise so when the kid is older, he can look back and think the right decision was made with his life.

Posted by Ray Stonada 12/21/2006 at 01:22 PM

It's slightly sad to me that to succeed in tennis, it seems you need parents who can afford to belong to a country or tennis club and pay for lots of private coaching. (Or even parents who could consider moving to another city while their child attends a tennis academy - how does that work?) Or, lacking club membership, parents who take it upon themselves to coach their children many hours per week.

No wonder the rest of the sports world considers tennis something of an elite sport; it's drawing on a relatively tiny segment of the population that has access to those things.

Posted by Miguel Seabra 12/21/2006 at 01:26 PM

Just saw the entry...

Pete, check my last mail to you (from 2 or 3 days ago). Ro'ee is right, it's Brito -- Michelle Larcher de Brito, a 13 year-old girl that last year broke Maria Sharapova's precocity record at the Eddie Herr International by winning the 16s at 12. The other pretty good prospect is 16 year-old european vice-champion Gastão Elias, the boy who went from the qualifying to the first round of the main draw at the Estoril Open.

Michelle Brito went with her family (father, who is actually a coach and trains her; mother and two twins) to Bolletieri's when she was 9. She signed with IMG two years ago, I guess. She lives studies there -- it's great to play tennis and study at the same time, that's why I think it's a good formula.

Gastão Elias waited until last September decide which management group he would choose. He picked IMG and he will be based in Bradenton with his coach Luis Miguel Nascimento.

Gotta go. Pete, if you have any doubts you can call.

Posted by Olivejuice 12/21/2006 at 01:26 PM

I was thinking that same thing too, Ray. It was even mentioned that parents stay with kids when they go to an academy but could an average household be able to do that? It would require money to be able to do that.

Posted by Miguel Seabra 12/21/2006 at 01:28 PM

Gee, sorry about the type-os in my last post -- but I'm in a hurry..

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