© AELTC/Michael Cole

Mike DePalmer Jr., Nick Bollettieri and Barbara Becker watch Boris Becker play at Wimbledon.

Mike DePalmer Jr., Former Pro & Boris Becker Coach, Dies Aged 59

Former IMG Academy alumni won six tour-level doubles crowns

Former pro Mike DePalmer Jr., who worked with a number of future ATP/WTA Tour stars at the IMG Academy (formerly named the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy) and was a touring coach with Boris Becker for six years, passed away aged 59 on Saturday due to stage 4 cancer.

DePalmer and his sister, former Top 100 pro Michelle, attended Nick Bollettieri’s junior camps in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin in the early 1970s, and Bollettieri soon became friends with their father, Mike DePalmer Sr., establishing the DePalmer-Bollettieri Tennis Academy at West Bradenton in 1978. Former World No. 5 Jimmy Arias briefly lived with the DePalmer family and the pair became hitting partners and lifelong friends.

DePalmer Jr. was ranked No. 5 in the under-18 US rankings in 1979-80, represented the junior Davis Cup team, and originally planned to play at the University of Arkansas. But once his father, Mike Sr., signed on as head tennis coach at the University of Tennessee (1980-1994), Arkansas coach Tom Pucci (1976-1984) let DePalmer Jr. out of his signed letter of intent. It was subject to one condition, that Bollettieri would send the next five best US juniors to Arkansas.

DePalmer went on to become a two-time All American (1981-82) at the University of Tennessee. The 6’1” DePalmer Jr. compiled a 68-14 singles record and 46-12 in doubles for the Vols. In the 1981 season, he won 27 consecutive No. 1 singles matches and recorded 30 doubles wins with Paul Annacone in 1982.

Soon after turning pro in July 1982, left-hander DePalmer reached his lone tour-level singles final at Ancona, Italy, losing to Anders Jarryd, and later recorded his biggest win over Jimmy Connors in the 1985 cinch Championships first round at The Queen’s Club. But it was as a doubles competitor, mainly in tandem with Gary Donnelly, that DePalmer enjoyed his greatest successes, going 3-5 in team finals. They reached two semi-finals in New York at the 1985 US Open (l. to Flach/Seguso) and at the 1986 Nitto ATP Finals (l. to Edberg/Jarryd). Overall, DePalmer won six doubles titles from 12 finals between 1984 and 1989.

In playing retirement, DePalmer worked as a Director Elite with the likes of Mark Philippoussis, Mary Pierce, Anna Kournikova, Tommy Haas and Max Mirnyi at the IMG Academy in Bradenton.

And it was in that capacity that he travelled the world with Nick Bollettieri. DePalmer was Becker’s full-time coach between 1994 and 1999, including the German’s title run at the 1996 Australian Open (d. Chang). In his 2003 autobiography, The Player, Becker wrote, “[DePalmer] was a coach who had learned discipline with the US Navy SEALs… He could be brutal. All the same, I stayed with him for five years, longer than I stayed with any other coach.

“We managed to strike a balance between the relationship we had as friends and that we had as employer-employee… With Mike DePalmer, I reached the level of obsession a player needs to set all his energy free. You have to go as far as the border of madness without crossing over the line."

DePalmer later partnered with former IMG Academy alumni Mark Davis to open the MAD Academy in Naples, Florida, and most recently worked at the Tennessee Tennis Club and Academy in Knoxville. His father, Mike DePalmer Sr., passed away aged 86 on 9 January 2020 and earlier this year, DePalmer Jr. was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which spread to his stomach and liver. He is survived by his son, Logan.

Michael Samuel DePalmer Jr., tennis player and coach, born 17 October 1961, died 7 August 2021.