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Tennis.com Podcast with Kamau Murray: Story Time with Jimmy Arias
The former Top 5 player and current broadcaster has no shortage of memories from a life in tennis. He shares a few of them on this episode, and relates it to the current game as Roland Garros heats up.
Published Jun 03, 2023
WATCH: Carlos Alcaraz returned to his dominant form in the third round of Roland Garros against Denis Shapovalov.
Jimmy Arias has been a known commodity in the tennis ecosystem for over forty years. His game was pure, and commentary is honest, and he has become one of the most adept teachers the sport has to offer. But if we’re doing a power ranking of Arias’ best traits, then storytelling has to be at the top of the list.
From Buffalo to Florida, from Nick Bollettieri’s academy to the top five of the ATP rankings, and from playing the game to transitioning to commentary and coaching, Arias has lived almost every role that tennis has to offer. The current director of tennis at IMG Academy joins Kamau Murray on this podcast to share some of his favorite memories, and does a masterful job weaving it to the current pro game as the action heats up in Roland Garros.
Arias is a product of Buffalo, where he discovered at a very early age that he had uncommon talent. By age eight at he was practicing for free at every local club, and holding his own with grown men.
“I always felt this obligation to the Buffalo tennis community because of the way they took care of me as a kid,” Arias explained.
At 13 he went to Florida just looking to improve as a player, but a chance meeting with tennis visionary set him on the path to success. Nick Bollettieri had not even started his academy, but he recognized something special when he first saw the prodigy from New York. Arias had an aggressive, full-swing forehand that his Cuban father bestowed upon him at a young age.
That technique went against what most players were taught, yet it allowed Arias to have unmatchable power against larger opponents who were convinced it was a mistake.
“They gave me all the reasons why it was wrong. That was the one thing that Nick did differently. All Nick did when the guy’s handing him balls and he’s feeding me, he just kept saying, ‘Great! Very Good Boy! Fantastic!’”
As a current broadcaster for Tennis Channel, Arias is locked in to the current landscape as Roland Garros kicks off. He shared several interesting opinions on a variety of contenders at the year’s second major, including American hopeful Frances Tiafoe. There are consistency issues at times with the rising star, but he has something special and even rare in this grueling sport. Arias won his first big title in Rome, but the train keeps rolling with more and more events to be played.
“At some point it got to me, a little bit of, I’m a mouse on a wheel here. Running, and running, and running, and you’ve got the pressure that comes back again next year, and what have you done for me lately?” he recalled. “Frances seems to just enjoy what he’s doing.”
Finding fun in the grind of pro tennis can certainly give you a leg up, which also holds true for World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz. Arias is a huge believer in the Spaniard’s game, and he astutely points out that he fulfilled the right of passage that the game had been missing in this generation.
“The way it naturally works is the young guys start beating you, basically. They get better than you,” he reasoned. “Alcaraz is the one guy that kind of has. And I feel like I’m happy that he’s the guy that sort of replaced those guys at No. 1 in the world, because he is next level. The way he plays, the way he moves, the way he moves in between shots.”
The process of transferring knowledge and insight to young hopefuls has been enjoyable, but there certainly has been some tension and growing pains.
“Everybody thinks, ‘my kid needs to practice with kids better than him because they need to get used to that ball.’ And they’re also afraid of their UTR (Universal Tennis Rating) dropping,” Arias reflected. “Winning is a habit. So is losing. You’re happy to lose to someone higher than you, because it doesn’t hurt your ego or your UTR. But you’re not learning anything or putting anything on the line.”
It’s a refreshing take and one that can be applied to all sports as well. Playing against greater competition has it’s benefit, but it may sacrifice proper development and the habits that you strengthen by learning how to overcome adversity. Arias was the perfect man for the job at IMG Academy because he’s lived the life of a tennis player from start to finish, and he acknowledges his triumphs and shortcomings equally. He just happens to do so in a classically self-depreciating manner that endears him to everyone.
Hearing Arias tell stories is a real treat for tennis fans. On this podcast, Kamau Murray asks the guest for his favorite Yannick Noah story (and there are a few), and the two of men bond over their upbringing in cold-weather cities. Arias discusses his time working and helping Jessica Pegula pass him as the greatest player to emerge from Buffalo, and makes a few predictions regarding Roland Garros that have already come to fruition. The game of tennis has many different faces, some interesting characters, but only one Jimmy Arias.