Tennis Prose



Brian Gottfried Recalls 60 Year Friendship With Nick Bollettieri

By Scoop Malinowski

Former ATP world no. 3 and 1977 Roland Garros finalist Brian Gottfried said he first met Nick Bollettieri when he was just nine years old. “1961 – that’s when I first met Nick. He had been at Victory Park in North Miami Beach. I had been introduced to tennis six months earlier by Eddie Herr, who the junior tournament was named after. I believe Eddie worked for the city. He created the Sunshine Cup which was like a junior Davis Cup played right after the Orange Bowl. So the international players who played the Orange Bowl then stayed to play Sunshine Cup. Eddie would go to tennis clubs and ask if anybody could house the junior players. We housed a Japanese player. That’s when I was introduced to tennis. I was taking lessons at Victory Park. This guy came up to my parents and asked if they were okay with if I went to live with Nick and train for tennis in the summer, where he took summer coaching jobs up north. My parents asked around about Nick’s reputation and they were told, “Don’t even think about it, do it.” I went to live with Nick the next summer, I was nine. I lived with him for five summers. He became like a second father to me. I’d play the junior tournaments out of where he worked in the summer. The first summer was in Springfield, Ohio. The second year was in Chicago. The third year was in New York at Port Washington. Nick was the pro at Nassau Country Club, a grass court club. When the US Open was on grass, there would be some pro tournaments before on Long Island and one was played at Nassau. The top amateurs like Arthur Ashe, Clark Graebner and Cliff Richey played at Nassau.”

“The fourth year Nick built the Port Washington academy with Mr. Zausner. They brought in Harry Hopman later. Then Nick and Harry had a disagreement and Nick left. And Hopman developed McEnroe, Gerulaitis, Carillo, Fritz Buehning.”

“I remember in the second year in New York, Nick became the tennis pro for the Rockefeller family. He had previously worked at Dorado Beach in Puerto Rico, which was owned by the Rockefellers. I remember we’d drive from Long Island to Tarrytown so Nick could teach the Rockefeller family every day. They had two clay courts at their compound. What’s cool about the tennis world – as you probably know – is the people you see when you’re young, you see when you’re old. I was thirteen at the Rockefeller’s. There were a lot of players there. One good one was Jay Rockefeller who became governor of West Virginia. Fast forward when I was playing the pro tour, I did a function at The Greenbrier in West Virginia and Jay Rockefeller was invited as governor to play a pro-am. And so we met again twenty-five years later. It was really cool to re-connect. Things like that, tennis takes you around.”

“Lasting memories of Nick… it could have been the time when I was twelve. I had a favorite hat – an old Australian floppy hat. When my father bought it, it was white. I never washed it. It was my lucky hat. Tennis players, if you win, you keep doing the same things. Like Nadal with his water bottles. So the hat was one of my early favorite charms. So one day at Nassau Country Club, I walked into the shop and Nick grabbed my hat and threw it on the ground. He said, ‘Will you wash it?!’ So that’s a memory [smiles]. Another one was at the dinner table. I used to hate tomatoes. Nick would make us eat everything on our plates. So I remember thinking, How can I get rid of these tomatoes? We sort of had a running joke about tomatoes for many years.”

“I remember about six years ago he was asked to go to Qatar to evaluate their junior program. He asked me to go with him. So I went. Everybody there wanted to be around him. He had such a big crowd around him. That was really cool to see. Everybody wanted to see him and listen to him.”

“Another one was when Nick built three clay tennis courts in a cornfield in Springfield, Ohio after a disagreement with the guy at the park. So Nick built three clay courts in the middle of a cornfield for the juniors to train at. Literally there were cornstalks around the courts. He got into a fight at National 12s with a parent when I was playing. He was fierce, passionate, disciplined. I wouldn’t say I had his outward fire on court but I had his discipline. When I went to live with him those five summers, he never asked for a dime. What I remember is the size of his heart. He certainly helped me a lot.”

“He touched so many lives. Not just tennis players That’s what I think he would like to be remembered for – how many lives he touched positively.”

The last chapter…

“We’d go to see him, we could talk for hours. We’ve been spending a lot of time there over the last months. Different people would come in – coaches, players, friends. We’d go into old stories. We could sit around talking for hours and hours. The last week he was non-responsive. Before that he was responsive. He didn’t have the energy. Twelve people in the room. He still wanted to be around people. He wanted to have things going on around him. He got phone calls from junior players asking for coaching while he was laying in bed.”

Nick Bollettieri, tennis titan, visionary, pioneer, trailblazer, passed away at age 91 on Sunday on the last day of the 2022 Eddie Herr tournament which was played on the grounds of his old Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy.

Brian Gottfried won 25 ATP singles and 54 ATP doubles titles, including Roland Garros doubles in 1975 and 1977 and Wimbledon in 1976.

· ·


  • Bunner Smith · December 7, 2022 at 8:36 pm

    Awesome , Brian ! … Nick and I go way back to PR in 1976 , then to the Colony … He was one of the most generous genuine people anywhere … He gave so much to everyone…all he asked for was a commitment to be the best you could be … I’m still running the program he started in 2018 … when it was clear he was unable to continue, I stayed on because I knew he loved these kids … He was so proud to see our first 2 graduates go to on to SCF with paid tuition by the program … Helping kids do better his entire life … If it wasn’t for Nick … I would never have become the teacher I am today … He was the best teacher on the court I ever have seen…
    You know what I mean … he gave the best lesson of any pro I ever saw …anywhere… He could make you want to be better … to be the best !

  • Brian Parrott · December 8, 2022 at 3:30 am

    Great tribute to Nick … never realized that Brian was a Nick pupil and that Nick started Port Washington Tennis Academy too

  • Ron Marks · December 8, 2022 at 4:34 am

    Great story Scoop as always…so cool Brian G had that history with Nick! Keep ‘‘em coming💪

  • Jeffrey Mandell · December 8, 2022 at 8:16 am

    Brian: I was fortunate to make both Nick and your acquaintances too that first year at Nassau CC. I remember Nick’s passion and on the court a few times with you… your ability ! Yes, we go way back with Nick ! He was one of a kind !



Find it!

Copyright 2010
To top