Bollettieri favoring Agassi as teacher's pet for now

July 17, 1992|By Ashley McGeachy | Ashley McGeachy,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Nick Bollettieri has coached many top tennis players -- 1992 men's and women's Australian and French Open champions Jim Courier and Monica Seles, No. 14-ranked Aaron Krickstein and Jimmy Arias.

But Bollettieri has never coached a player during the height of his or her success. Until now.

Bollettieri has been Andre Agassi's coach since 1986, when Agassi emerged as a talented 16-year-old. Less than two weeks ago, the six years of hard work finally paid off when Agassi won Wimbledon, his first Grand Slam victory -- and the first for Bollettieri.

"I enjoyed it more for him [Bollettieri] probably than anybody, excluding myself," Agassi said Wednesday after his 7-5, 6-4 loss to Kevin Curren at the NationsBank Classic in Washington. "Nick has wanted a Grand Slam title for so long, and he's given up so much to be with me and you start wondering if you really let him down after a while. . . . That's not an easy burden to carry on the court."

Bollettieri is a short man with tanned skin and a big smile who owns the country's premier tennis academy in Bradenton, Fla. Krickstein was Bollettieri's star pupil in the early 1980s when, at 16 years, two months, he became the youngest player in the modern era to win a professional tournament. Although he reached No. 6 in the world when he was 22, he has never won a Grand Slam.

"We are all at Nick's as youngsters," Krickstein said. "It's a great place to go if you are young and love tennis and like to practice and you like that kind of atmosphere with a lot of kids."

But, as Krickstein and Arias will attest, Bollettieri's academy is not an easy place to be.

"You have to sacrifice a lot to go down there," said Krickstein, who left Bollettieri when he was 18. "I think for some people, when they reach a certain age, it's time to move on. For me I just wanted a change."

Arias, who was one of the first teen-agers to flock to Bollettieri's, felt overlooked when Krickstein got all of the coach's attention.

"For a while I got the star treatment but then Krickstein came along and he put a lot of his attention in Krickstein," said Arias. "Then Andre came along.

"Nick goes with who he thinks is playing best. It doesn't make the other players feel too good."

Bollettieri's devotion to Agassi didn't make top-ranked Courier feel too good. At the Lipton International Players Championships in Key Biscayne, Fla., one year, Courier and Agassi played. Bollettieri was outwardly cheering for Agassi.

"Since they were both pupils, I thought that was weak," Arias said. "Obviously, so did Jim."

Courier left Bollettieri's shortly thereafter and has since rocketed to No. 1 in the world. But now, even without Courier, Bollettieri has his Grand Slam champion. "I think it was a big monkey off of Agassi's back to finally come through and win," said Krickstein, who lost to Guillaume Raoux in the second round of the NationsBank, 7-5, 2-6, 6-3.

"But it's also kind of a weight lifted off of Nick's back as well. He was probably more happy than Andre, if you can believe that. He's waited all of his life to have that happen."

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