Today, famed coach Nick Bollettieri celebrates his 89th birthday. To mark the occasion, we reel back the years and explore an iconic, frequently seen picture of Bollettieri, flanked by four promising teenagers who all attended his famed academy—from left to right, Martin Blackman, Andre Agassi, Bollettieri, Jim Courier, David Wheaton.
The picture was taken in August 1987, snapped by Bollettieri’s son, James, a friendly surfer and avid photographer everyone called “Jimmy Boy.”
Nick Bollettieri: These were my young bucks. This was like family, baby.
Courier had recently reached the finals of the USTA Boys’ 18 championships.
Jim Courier: We were training as a group in suburban New York prior to the US Open at the home of one of Nick’s investor friends, Louis Marx. I was a kid on the U.S. national team with a dream.
Nick Bollettieri: Louis Marx had loaned me the money to build the academy and there he was for me again, letting me and my boys use his home in Golden's Bridge to train there for a week or so.
Wheaton was in the middle of a year that would see him finish as the No. 1-ranked junior in the U.S.
David Wheaton: We were The Inevitables, at least in our minds. Inevitable, as in determined and destined to be the answer to the question repeatedly being asked at the time: “Where is the next great generation of American tennis pros?” In our minds, it was not a matter of if, but when we would barge through the door.
A year earlier, Blackman had won the USTA Boys’ National 16 championships.
Martin Blackman: We were confident, motivated and hungry to prove that we would be the next generation of champions. We were also friends, and although fiercely competitive, very supportive of each other.
Jim Courier: Andre was already established as a pro and the rest of us were trying to get up there to join him on tour.
Earlier that summer, Agassi had lost in the first round of Wimbledon. But that August, he upset Wimbledon champion Pat Cash at an ATP tournament in Stratton Mountain, Vermont, going all the way to the semis before losing in three sets to world No. 1 Ivan Lendl:
Andre Agassi (from his book, Open): Stratton Mountain, I conclude, is my magic mountain. My anti-Wimbledon. Last year I played above my level here, now I’m playing twice as well. ... For half an hour, I gave the best in the world all he wanted. I can build on that. I feel good.
Nick Bollettieri: I had these four alone. This was the pack, baby. This was my dream. We were going to show the world all we could be.
Martin was very laidback. He was always a quiet guy in his own way. He had all the tools, a big all-around game.
Jim is and always will be a bulldog, putting it in your face and coming after the ball. He fought you physically.
David was a person that never bragged. He had an all-around game. And even though his mother wasn’t there literally, she was there, watching over him.
And Andre? You never know. One afternoon, he’d be there with this, another time he wouldn’t show up. But I knew how to work with him.
David Wheaton: Nick was (and still is) a force. His relentless high-energy positivism commanded attention, quickened my step, and drove me to do better. Whatever success I had as a tennis player would not have been possible without Nick’s impact during this important, formative stage of development.
Martin Blackman: Nick was a great motivator. His biggest strength was creating environments where discipline and hard work were demanded, not asked for.
Nick Bollettieri: I did it by the seat of my pants, baby. It was day to day. But I never feared failure.
Jim Courier: Nick was confident that he could get us where we needed to go, and he was correct.
Andre Agassi (from Open): I finish 1987 with a bang. I win my first tournament as a pro, in Itaparica, Brazil, all the more impressive because I do it before a crowd of initially hostile Brazilians.
By the end of 1987, Agassi was ranked No. 25 in the world; he would soar to No. 3 the next year. Courier went from No. 346 at the end of ’87 to No. 43 by December ‘88. Wheaton entered Stanford University in the fall of ’87 and turned pro the next summer. Blackman reached the finals of the National Boys’ 18s in ’88 and went on to play for two NCAA championship squads at Stanford.
Agassi earned eight Grand Slam singles titles and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2011, six years after four-time Grand Slam champion Courier. Wheaton reached a career-high ranking of No. 12 in the world. Blackman rose to No. 158 and began a coaching career while still in his 20s.
Nick Bollettieri: I’m proud most of all of how these boys became men—not just great tennis players, but even better people. Look at all the things they’ve done.
The Andre Agassi Foundation for Education, launched while Agassi was in his early 20s, has raised more than $180 million and in 2001 opened the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. The Foundation has long been considered one of the most successful philanthropic efforts ever undertaken by an athlete.
In addition to his work as an analyst for Tennis Channel and other television networks, Courier was the U.S. Davis Cup captain for eight years and is the founder of InsideOut Sports & Entertainment, an event production company whose very name is a tip of the hat to the powerful forehand he honed at the Bollettieri Academy.
For more than 15 years, Wheaton has hosted The Christian Worldview Radio Program, a weekly one-hour program that airs on 250 stations across America. He’s also written two books, University of Destruction: Your Game Plan for Spiritual Victory on Campus and My Boy, Ben: A Story of Love, Loss, and Grace.
Blackman has been the General Manager, USTA Player Development, since June 2015, responsible for partnering with the U.S. tennis community to identify and develop the next generation of world-class American tennis players. He also worked as Senior Director of Talent Identification and Development for the USTA from 2009 to 2011.
Asked how it is to look back now at that photo and reflect on who they were and what they became:
Martin Blackman: Gratitude. Gratitude for the opportunity that Nick gave me to go after my dreams and gratitude for the great friendships that I made at the academy. I’m very proud of what Andre, Jim and David accomplished, and even more happy to see the men that they have become and how they have used their success to help others.
David Wheaton: To go a little deeper, at the time of this photo, I was resisting who God created me to be—a worshiper of Him. But God would use his time and the years that followed to bring me to my senses and understand my need to be right with Him and the peace that would result. Having a seven-year-old son now, this photo holds memories and lessons (both positive and negative) to try to pass on to him.
Jim Courier: It’s a classic shot of a wonderful time in my life and I’ve always enjoyed seeing it. It tells me that I should have gotten better haircuts. Martin was the only one who actually had that part right at the time.
Nick Bollettieri: Nick was a guy that was driven by one thing: Take a person to the level of their ability. And remember, it’s all about winning. It’s not about conversation, but about production.
Who will remain in this year's 21 & Under Club, and which new players will join them?
Find out all week on TENNIS.com and Baseline.
Monday, July 27: Sofia Kenin | Monday, July 27: Elena Rybakina | Monday, July 27: Alex de Minaur, Dayana Yastremska, Casper Ruud | Tuesday, July 28: Stefanos Tsitsipas | Tuesday, July 28: Thiago Seyboth Wild | Wednesday, July 29: Amanda Anisimova | Wednesday, July 29: Brandon Nakashima | Thursday, July 30: Coco Gauff | Thursday, July 30: Caty McNally | Thursday, July 30: Jannik Sinner, Iga Swiatek | Friday, July 31: Felix Auger-Aliassime | Friday, July 31: Carlos Alcaraz