Dear Nick Bollettieri,
The International Tennis Hall of Fame has bypassed you for induction into its ranks as part of the Class of 2010. You're pissed. Sad. Maybe you want to eat a lot of raw cookie dough right now. No "hang in there" or other bumper sticker words of encouragement are going to make you feel any better about such an egregious, clearly personal snub. Why go on?
But like Clarence the dough-faced Angel from It’s a Wonderful Life, I'm here to show you what tennis would've been like had you never been born.
Let's take a walk over to Martini's…er…your world famous tennis academy. What, it's not here anymore? That's right. It's still the tomato field it was before you broke ground with that shovel 30 years ago. Instead of the future stars of the game, the only thing that grows here is ketchup. Spooooky.
Off to the Australian Open, 1991. The first major won by the indomitable Jana Novotna. That's right, your star pupil Monica Seles isn't hoisting your first trophy. Jana is. It would spur a run of confidence in Novotna that would see her rise to the occasion again and again. Fast forward to the French, where Bollettieri boys Jim Courier and Andre Agassi aren't battling it out for you’re the title. No, with all your kids out of the way, Michael Chang steals the day. A one-slam wonder no more! Ditto Goran Ivanisevic, who has a clear path to Wimbledon glory in 1992 without Agassi there to stink it up. In fact, without Andre, the tennis world welcomes four new major champs to the history books: Andre Medvedev, Todd Martin, Rainer Schuttler and Arnould Clement. Oh how they celebrated in France!
And oh how they're celebrating in the Ginepri household, as in 2005 Robby becomes a Grand Slam finalist.
And yet, with so much celebrating, it all feels a little…wrong.
Without Monica, Steffi Graf has a free ride, often putting a cardboard cut-out of herself at the baseline and forcing her opponents to soil themselves into default. And oh those pesky Williams sisters. Without them in the way, Marion Bartoli and Dinara Safina both go on to Grand Slam glory. There is no Maria Sharapova. (Are those storm clouds gathering?) No Anna Kournikova. (Lighting!). And, most earth shatteringly, Jelena Jankovic never becomes the No 1 player in the world!
Nick, calm down. I know.
Where would Andre have been without Nick?
Walk with me friend, to the outer courts. Look at all that serve and volley! That's right, without your brutal push of the modern baseline game, players actually come in. Without you to pump up the volume, trading the need to keep unforced errors low in exchange for more guaranteed winners from the back, the net is everyone's friend! No need for technology to catch up. Those old strings'll be fine.
Sure, some might argue Andre would still have been Andre without you. Or Monica still would've been Monica. Certainly the Williams sisters would still have been the Williams sisters. But how can they know?
I do. Come along, Nicholas. The darkest is yet to come.
Where are we? An Outback Champions tournament. And look, there's Agassi. Doesn't seem so bad. But Andre isn't a best-selling author, nor is he happily married to Steffi. He's still with Brooke, crashing the tournament for a crack at Michael Chang's autograph. And it's not actually a seniors tournament. Jim Courier isn't around to start it, so Chang is just in the middle of a pick-up game with some local wannabe by the name of Tommy Haas. Now we're at Phancy Phingers. That nail technician degree Serena's currently working on? She earned it years ago. She'll get your cuticles right good. Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova never made it over to America, turning Madison Avenue into a post-apocalyptic wasteland where Jelena Jankovic scavenges on her hands and knees for lip gloss, a crazed look in her eye.
While you didn't coach the likes of Federer and Nadal, the style of tennis they needed to hone to bring them to the top no longer dominates. So they're currently in Basel and Hoboken, New Jersey, respectively, both working for Hot Dog on a Sticks.
The one bright spot, all the champion doubles specialists who did make it into the 2010 International Tennis Hall of Fame aren't having to defend themselves and their inclusion in light of your obvious absence, as they're being forced to do now. And the very point of the HoF isn’t being called into question.
All the players you influenced, however you influenced them, directly or indirectly, weren't there to inspire us because you weren't there to inspire them. Strange, isn't it? How one man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?
So you see Nicholas, you've really had a wonderful life.
A toast to Nick, the richest man in town.
Now bring on the 2011 ballot.
James got his wings! Follow him at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.