NEWPORT, R.I. -- They tried to humble Nick Bollettieri before they finally welcomed him into their club of tennis immortals.
His presenter at Saturday's hall of fame induction ceremony, broadcaster and former player Mary Carillo, poked fun at the Bradenton teaching legend's eight marriages and his creative use of the English language.
She fondly imitated his raspy voice and his struggles to remember names.
Here's how Bollettieri, the larger-than-life 82-year-old who still stalks area courts, responded in his long-awaited acceptance speech.
"Now I know exactly how it feels for those who reach the top of Mount Everest," he said. "May I say the view from up here is amazing."
This was not a day to be humble.
Bollettieri has coached 10 players to a No. 1 ranking, including Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Monica Seles and Boris Becker. In 1978, he founded the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, the first full-time tennis boarding school. That school later became IMG Academy, Manatee County's 450-acre, 900-student sports training behemoth.
Supporters had wondered why it took so long for the hall to recognize Bollettieri. He was twice denied entry.
"For a while there, I thought I was
going to be the Susan Lucci of the tennis world," said Bollettieri, referring to the soap opera star nominated for a Daytime Emmy 18 times before finally winning. "So your vote means the world to me, it really does."
Bollettieri joined players Lindsay Davenport and Chantal Vandierendonck, executive Jane Brown Grimes and broadcaster John Barrett as inductees at the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Davenport spent 98 weeks ranked No. 1. She won the 1998 U.S. Open, 1999 Wimbledon, 2000 Australian Open and 1996 Olympic gold medal to go with three major doubles titles. She finished the end of four years ranked No. 1.
Chris Evert was among those at the ceremony. The tennis great described Davenport's game as "so loud, so strong and aggressive."
"Hitting the ball and making contact was always something that came very natural to me," Davenport said during a news conference. "It was a blessing. It happened at a very young age. I didn't realize that it was that hard to do and I had a special talent, and it took a long time to put that altogether.
"That's what made it so fun to me, the sound and what I could do with the shots and see how hard I could hit them," she added. "Everything else about the game took work and was a struggle, but that was something and that was the reason why I fell in love with it."
Carillo delivered an eloquent tribute to Bollettieri.
"It's taken Nick a lifetime to get here, and I've spent the better part of my life watching him get here," she said. "I've watched him teach, absorb, dispel, defy, embrace, create, laugh, holler, get serious, get wisdom. He's not afraid of love or loss. I've seen him marry and divorce and marry and divorce and try again and again. Because that's who he is."
Carillo mentioned financial struggles that led Bollettieri to sell his stake in IMG Academy in 1987. The tennis school still bears Bollettieri's name.
"He sold his place; they kept his name," she said. "Smart, because Nick is why kids came. And there have been thousands of kids who came, and a bunch of them are here today."
As he ended his acceptance speech Saturday, Bollettieri insisted his career is far from over.
"Retire. There's no such word in the small dictionary of words that I do have. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I'm just beginning my journey, baby. I will never be remembered for my business sense or my luck with marriages or putting my family first, and that was not easy. ... What I will be remembered for is daring to follow my passion and hopefully igniting the spark of passion in others. That's what it's all about," he said.
Bollettieri did admit his hall of fame company left him in awe.
"It's not often that I am humbled, as those who know me will tell you," he said, "but being on it alongside the four of you today is something I will cherish for the rest of my life."