As Tennis.Life gets going in earnest over this first week of the BNP Paribas Open with wall-to-wall coverage from all over the grounds, we introduce Bobby Blair, the founder and CEO of Tennis Life Media LLC.
Read on about his vision of tennis through a lifetime in the game, and his vision for Tennis.Life.
I attended my first U.S Open in 1984. That was not only my first Grand Slam tournament, it was my first experience ever at a professional, big-league tennis tournament.
I was 19 years old, and never in my life was I so thrilled. The courts at Flushing Meadows were spread out for what felt like miles. The planes buzzed overhead as they passed by on their way to landing at La Guardia airport, just a few miles away. I remember going from court to court to see whomever I would see. I marveled when I recognized my first professional player – Mel Purcell. I just couldn’t believe it.
I remember being amazed at how many booths there were with companies selling their products. I remember the players on the practice courts warming up for their matches, many without coaches or an entourage around. I remember seeing so many friends I grew up with at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, and I visited with the top competitors from my junior career. I wondered if they were similarly awestruck.
One early morning I was asked by my coach, Nick Bollettieri, if I would warm up Lisa Bonder. At the time, Lisa was ranked in the top 10 in the world; I had liked her very much from our Academy days in Bradenton. I was so excited to be able to hit on the US Open courts. Nick gave me a $50 bill and later in the day bought me an ice cream … What a memory, what a day.
I often asked myself during that first exposure to the big time, “What makes the very best the very best in all the areas of tennis that collectively make the US Open come together as it does?” What makes Ivan Lendl so good? Who in the world created this amazing tennis facility? How did Nike become such a great brand? How did Mark McCormack build a great company like IMG? How did Donald Dell do the same with ProServ? How did Bollettieri build his pioneering live-in academy, one that boasted over 30 pupils entered in the US Open that year? These questions kept entering my head and honestly, I wanted a piece of it all. I was looking for the secret recipe to what made the best of the best succeed.
Roll the clock forward to Indian Wells 2017. I entered the amazing grounds last week as thrilled as I was in 1984 at my first U.S Open.
So many emotions ran through my mind, as it has been 20 years since I retired from tennis as a career both on and off the courts. I watched Rafael Nadal practice. I watched Chris Evert give a clinic to happy tournament sponsors. I watched the top coaches with their players. I watched the top journalists in the media center. I watched and listened to the top players in the press interview room as they answered one question after another. I asked myself what has kept Fila, Nike and other major brands at the top of our sport all these years. I found myself asking the same question I did 33 years ago: what makes the best of the best the very best?
For 33 years, I’ve been thinking about the answer to my question. My conclusion is that they have mastered the art of paying attention to every detail, in that moment – in every moment. I remember how engaging Mark McCormack was when he spoke to you, how detailed he was with every question and answer. How he took every second with you and regarded it as important. This is why and how he built IMG.
I see Larry Ellison doing the same with this beautiful tournament he owns. Every detail from the gardening, parking and lounge areas to the shade created on the grounds with trees and rest areas. Attention to every detail. I watch Nadal warm up and interact with his team: he hates to miss a single ball and chases every ball down, no matter where it lands on the court. He evaluates his every step, pays attention to every detail.
I see how engaged Evert was with the tennis guests at her corporate clinic, how she has every detail of her being in the moment for those people. Every comment and move on court mattered to her. Again: attention to detail.
I watch how the best of the best handle themselves in the press room. They look you in the eye. They think diligently about their answers. They’re prepared for certain questions and are incredibly gracious. Attention to detail.
It’s not easy to answer the same questions day after day, week after week, year after year. But the best know it’s part of the job and engage it with respect. The best coaches. like Sven Groeneveld and Nick Bollettieri, are passionate with attention to every detail. When they are with their player, the player is all that matters. They’re thinking through every possible way to make their players better, and they don’t allow distractions from the outside to get in their way. When they are with others they are engaging and maximizing every moment: attention to detail.
It’s the same for the top brands in the clothing and equipment business. The leaders of these companies and their top executives are masters at looking after every detail. It’s the same with the agents representing their athletes as they pursue with diligence and passion what is the very best for the clients.
The bottom line is that the best of the best have mastered the art of paying attention to every detail – every component of their personal and professional lives. They appear to live in the moment; they make every interaction matter and count every second of every day.
The rest? They might allow a few loose ends. The players accept missing a shot here and there, not running down that tough shot or making excuses when they lose. The rest? They accept missing an appointment or not being on time. The rest? At times, they seem somewhere else when you are communicating with them. The rest? They’re just happy to be there.
I think the world of tennis is no different than life itself. The best of the best have taught the world that mastering the art of paying attention to every detail is a key ingredient to extraordinary success. This is what made Larry Ellison who he is and the Indian Wells event what it is today. It’s what makes Nadal, Roger Federer. Maria Sharapova, Serena Wlliams and others future Hall-of-Famers. It’s what makes our industry leaders stand above the rest.
This attention to detail by the best of the best has not changed in the 33 years since I first asked myself that question. And those are lessons I have incorporated into my own life and career.
I also have learned you need a personal team with brilliant, talented, loyal and committed people who embrace your vision and execute tasks with integrity and passion every single time. This is my personal and professional goal with Tennis.Life.
I want to wake up every day with a passion for the details, so I can lead tennis into the digital future and that our players, coaches, media, tennis industry as a whole and most importantly the fans can access entertaining, informative, real-time content 24 hours a day, however they connect to us, anywhere in the world.