Tennis Prose



Biofile Jimmy Arias Interview

By Scoop Malinowski

Status: Former ATP world no. 5 and winner of five ATP singles titles. Also won 1982 Roland Garros mixed doubles with Andrea Jaeger.

DOB: August 16, 1964 In: Buffalo, NY

Ht: 5-9 Wt: 155

First Tennis Memory: Is taking a lesson with a guy named Ian Fletcher in Buffalo. And coming off court – and he told me to get sideways, take the racquet back, hit the ball and follow through at the target. And I come off the court and I ask my dad – and he’s from Spain, who has an accent – What do you think? And my dad goes, ‘That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard in my life. How can you swing full speed and stop? That means you’re slowing down the swing here. Just let your arm go.’ So that’s sort of the start in a way of the modern forehand. That whole exchange we had when I was six.

Tennis Inspirations: Rod Laver. I don’t remember who this was exactly but it would have been 1969. So it was probably Rod Laver. I watched a tennis match on TV. US Open final. A little guy against a big guy. Cheering for the little guy. Maybe I knew I was gonna be a little guy, I don’t know. And the little guy won. So it was probably Rod Laver and somebody (Tony Roche) in the finals.

First Famous Player You Met Or Encountered: Bobby Riggs when I was eight. Ilie Nastase when I was twelve at the US Open.

Greatest Sports Moment: Yannick Noah, quarters of the US Open, 7-5 in the fifth (set). That was a night match at the Open.

Most Painful Moment: Paraguay Davis Cup. Against Hugo Chapacu, up 5-1 in the fifth and somehow lost.

Favorite Tournaments: Indianapolis. Because I played great there every year and they gave us presents every day. And Washington DC because they gave me my first wildcard and my first chance. Did enjoy Monte Carlo. I’m giving you too many so that’s enough.

Funniest Players Encountered: Eddie Dibbs, who you may not even know who that is. Dibbs was hilarious. I don’t know why because it wasn’t as though he told jokes. His mannerisms were hilarious. Vitas Gerulaitis.

Funny Tennis Memory: I was defending champ of Rome (1984), I’m playing an Italian Claudio Panatta, 4-1 up in the third set for me, break point, so match basically over if I win that point. He hit a ball that’s out literally by six inches. I’m trying to argue with the umpire, the umpire keeps telling me, ‘I can’t overrule the call.’ Which was making me irate. Because the call was, ‘I don’t know.’ Trying to talk to the umpire, the crowd is going bananas. And eventually they all began chanting, “SHAMO, SHAMO!” which means roughly, ‘stupid’ in Italian. I end up losing the argument and the match (46 76 75). So I walk off the court and all the sudden all the people who were singing stupid to me, now want my autograph. So, obviously, my first reaction is, No. But then I go, ‘No, actually fine. What’s your name?’ (He signed), “To Paulo, F*** OFF, Jimmy Arias.” Literally stayed 45 minutes and signed to each person personally a rotation of “F*** OFF”, “SUCK MY” and “F*** YOU.” I think those were the three that I wrote. It was on the big tennis balls in those days.

Strangest Match: It’s hard to say because… maybe Pat Cash match that I played in Hong Kong (1986). We played four times, we would have broken each other’s serve very seldom. Split the first two sets and then had nine straight breaks of serve to start the third set. Don’t know exactly what happened there, it was weird. (Cash won 64 36 63, which was his only win vs. Arias.)

Why Do You Love Tennis: That’s a tough one for me because I don’t know the answer to that. It was a job at a very young age. But it’s a sport, I love from a character-building perspective. Anyone that’s a tennis player that’s training to be a great tennis player – it’s the toughest sport there is. One on one is very difficult to deal with emotionally with your ego along with everything else. I love that aspect of it. I love the competing part of it. It was a job so young in my mind that I don’t know anything else.

Best You Ever Felt On Court: First eighteen years of my life basically. I didn’t think I’d lose very often when I was young. So I’d walk on the court with the knowledge that I win. And even when I was in a difficult match I was sure that the end result was that I was going to win. So I never panicked at that stage. A good example of that is I was playing a Spanish player – I had won the first ten tiebreaks in the final set on Tour. I’m playing a Spanish guy, his name was Juan Avendano (Boston 1983). I held to set up 6-5 in the third. And I look at him at the changeover, plain as day I remember… seeing that he’s kind of nervous and serving at 5-6 in the third. And I almost said what I was thinking, ‘Look, he still thinks that he has a chance. The match is over. I don’t lose tiebreaks in the final set.’ So that feeling that kept up for a very long time – that kept you, not ‘in the zone’… you didn’t always play your best. But I had that feeling so I was always relaxed.

(Question: It wasn’t when you played Rod Laver at age 12 in Buffalo?) Yeah, that was probably actually the best that I ever played, for my level, compared to my level. He asked when I was twelve – he came to Buffalo – he was my hero. He asked for the best player in Buffalo. And I had won the men’s city open when I was eleven or twelve. And so they bring me. There was a guy named Von Miller, who was actually the voice of the Buffalo Bills, who was a channel 4 sportscaster at the time, who loved me. So I called him because I got the call the night before. And I said, ‘Rod Laver is coming to Buffalo and I’m going to hit with Rod Laver’ at this time at the Tennis and Squash Club it was called (still there). And he brought his camera, he said it on the news that night. There were at least a thousand people to watch.

(Question: So it was not an official organized exhibition?) No, no, no. He came to practice. He had no idea that was going to happen. The two things I’ll never forget about that was when he walked on the court – I’m the best player in Buffalo and I’m this big, I’m a tiny guy – and the look on his face is: ‘Is this Candid Camera? What the heck is going on?’ And then we start hitting and he says let’s play a set. And he starts out like he’s playing a little kid, like tapping his serve. And I hit four winners in the first game. Break serve, hold, I’m up 2-love. He holds up the balls and said, ‘You’re not going to win another game.’ Which shows you how cocky I must have been because Laver is like the most humble, like I obviously irked him a little bit with however I was acting. And I ended up losing 7-5. So. I played ridiculously well for me at that point.

Favorite Sport Outside Tennis: Football.

Favorite Players To Watch: Jenson Brooksby [smiles]. Yeah, I think I like Jenson Brooksby the most, in a sense. I like him because he has that same feeling that I was describing to you. He just wins. I don’t know how, I don’t know why. But he wins.

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: Chocolate.

Favorite Artists: Don’t have one.

People Qualities Most Admired: I think honesty. Bravery. Like someone that’s willing to put it on the line. And win or lose, is able to compete and fight.

Career Accomplishments: At 15 he was the youngest player to achieve an ATP ranking; At 16 in 1980 became the youngest player to win a US Open main draw singles match; Ranked in top 20 at age 18; Won Roland Garros mixed doubles title with Andrea Jaeger in 1982; Reached career high ranking of no. 5 in 1984; Won five career ATP singles titles, Currently the head of tennis at IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL and a top TV analyst for Tennis Channel and ESPN International.

You can read more Biofile interviews like this at

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  • Mark Sanders · August 5, 2022 at 9:37 pm

    Nick Bollettieri needed to copy a 12 year old kid to understand how to teach forehands.

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 6, 2022 at 7:41 am

    Did he teach himself how to hit that forehand too? )

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