For most rising ATP stars, reaching the number one rank in the world is their most-coveted career dream. There are no bounds on their incentive to push beyond normal limits to attempt to capture it. Jimmy Arias never reached that ultimate goal of best in the world during his career. He did nonetheless reach a very respected and esteemed career high of 5. My gosh, what 99.9 percent of players wouldn’t do for a top 5 world rank! However Arias ranks as high as any of the slam title holders as one of the most popular and caring guys in tour history. His kindness & compassion make him a genuine friend of the game.
I first met Jimmy in 1990 when he was working with Monica Seles. Monica was Laurel Oak Country Club’s touring professional & I was the organization’s inaugural director of tennis. Jimmy loved the game and even during his tour playing days would be available to help promote the game by headlining our exhibitions. And the Suncoast tennis fans loved to see him in action and witness his world-class shot making along with his Vegas-on-court entertainment at the same time.
What are some reasons why Arias deserves the number one world tennis rank? Personally, I can share some reasons. During the ’91 US Open, my entire family arrived at the Billie Jean King USTA National Tennis Center for a few days of early round action. Tickets were at will call from Monica’s management team. The will-call tickets were displaced. It was a sold out day. I ran into Jimmy and started sharing the story. Before I finished the sentence, he said “I can help you out, how many do you need”? Wow, his guy was for real! And his kindness has continued for the last 15 years. In October of 1995 with 6 hours of sleep in 3 days during the recent birth of his son Spencer, this man-of-his-word, Arias came on my new TV show to do a 30-minute live show to help get it launched. Goodness, was he great with his entertaining stories & a contagious passion for the sport. The local tennis viewers know that they soon would see him at tier-one broadcasting. They were right!
We had several years of promoting Cayman Island tennis at the Ritz-Carlton together. Jimmy would head-line the exhibition and I would call the action from the chair with Arias and Patrick McEnroe & other notables going at it on court as our filming crew brought it back to Sunshine Network audience.
Jimmy continued to offer his service to the Koz family. He would work out and play sets against my son Davidson. He continued to keep giving. He was in the broadcast booth with Nick Bollettieri and me to cover the finals of the Eddie Herr with Andy Roddick’s winning the marque singles match launching his playing career with Orange Bowl and Australian Open titles with two months. The rest was history as Roddick reached that “World One Rank.”
Jimmy really does know to make a guy feel great. He even allowed me to coach him on his forehand volley for 30-seconds one time. He still remembers the methods. I say to him, but it was less than a minute. Jimmy’s response but that’s how good that 30-second coaching was!
I had the honor of doing a 30-minute instructional video “Mastering Your Tennis Motor Memory”, where Jimmy was the professional tennis player spokesperson. Recently we discussed his share of the profits. It was a short discussion. There weren’t many video sales! But boy did we have fun doing it! Isn’t that what is all about, Jimmy, having fun with a project?
Arias has put so many tennis industry people in a “how-can we even thank you enough Jimmy Arias situation”. Unequivocally the game is better because Jimmy Arias is part of it.
And on the domestic side, how could anyone not be ranked number one – who opens his home with a mother-in-law suite for his wife’s mother?
Koz: You are known to be one of the nicest guys on the tour. Did being a nice guy ever hold back your career?
Arias: No, it didn’t hold me back because I wasn’t always a nice guy. You got to me know me when I was older. When you are young on the tour and everything is given to you & provided for you, you get selfish. I didn’t like it all the time, but that is what happens. You become the center of the world. I was doing everything that was personally best for me. What changed that was getting married and having kids. Now your kids become the center of the universe. You recognize the family and are forced to mature.
Koz: Your forehand has been a precursor to today’s tennis. Did you & Nick Bollettieri know that at that point what impact that the Arias’ forehand was going have on today’s game?
Arias: What’s funny about that, Nick may have recognized that. But I did not. When I was young, other players & coaches were telling me what I was doing wrong with the forehand. They were saying that it was going to ruin my arm.
Koz: Your dad, who was a scientist, taught you that forehand.
Arias: Yes, my dad did. He designed that forehand. He believed in it. He said just keep hitting it. Nick realized that it was unique. He decided that this was going to be the way he was going to now teach the forehand.
Koz: You reached a career high of 5 in the world. You were a semifinalist at the US Open. You won the Italian Open playing the event with mononucleosis. How mentally tough did that make you after that experience?
Arias: Well listen, when you are sick it sometimes is easier to play because you are thinking not about the match but how can I get through this without dropping over. For some reason that takes away some of the pressure. You just look for the way to play another point. There was less pressure and I think that helped me to win.
Koz: It is a motivational story. I share that story about your mono Italian Open with many. Do you ever use it as a motivational story?
Arias: I have trouble talking about myself.
Koz: I know that you do. That is why I bring it up for you.
Arias: I like to bring some others into the story.
Koz: So let’s bring someone else into a story. As teenagers, you & Andrea Jaeger win the French Open Mixed. Andrea is now a nun. What is it like going back & reflecting on that match?
Arias: We were both 16 years old. Looking back I know that I was supposed act really excited about winning the French & winning a Slam. But I didn’t care that much because at the time I thought that I was going to win 10 slam singles titles. That didn’t happen. But at 16, I was confident that I was going to win 10 singles slams. What was really funny about the match, Jaeger (who as you mentioned is now a nun) was incredibly intense. Her father, Roland, was intense. There was a large crowd of over 17,000 still there following the Borg/Lendl match. They all stayed to see these two teenagers. I was very nervous. I never had that many people watching me. Andrea was accustomed. She was already playing the big matches. I was tight. We were playing Fred McNair & Betty Stove. Because I was panicky, I throw a weak short lob and the sizable 6’ 4’ Stove could have put the ball away anywhere on the court. But she fired it right between the legs of Andrea, who then screamed out some nasty words at Stove. The crowd booed. They didn’t like it and many left. I then felt more at ease with a smaller crowd & relaxed to play well enough to win.
Koz: You are a very refreshing broadcaster. What do you enjoy the most about being in the booth?
Arias: It replaces the excitement of playing on tour. It is funny for me. If I have a really good broadcast, it really doesn’t mean that much to me. But if I have a bad one, it bothers me. It is just great to stay current with today’s players.
Koz: Tour coaching requires a real time commitment so I know that you are not eager to get out there. But if you did coach, what kind of a player would you like to coach?
Arias: You’re right. I am not going to tour coach because of the travel. The players that I admire aren’t going to do the best because I like the smaller sized guys, someone like Kei Nishikori. I just love the way that he plays. It would be fun working with him. But already he has the game. It might be fun taking a big guy with a big serve and getting him to round out his game with some additional all-court shots.
Koz: You are doing to be in the Tennis Channel broadcast booth for the up-coming Delray Beach Open. What do you enjoy most about this tournament venue?
Arias: It is one of the most intimate venues on the circuit. You get to see a real mix of rising stars along with some of the game’s current notables. I have always enjoyed working the event. The father/son team of Mark & Ivan Barron make this a very enjoyable experience for both players & fans.
Koz: You have two Mark Macler fundraiser tennis events coming up, the 4th Annual Tarpon Shores Dental Pro Tennis Classic on Mar 5 in Venice with Aaron Krickstein and the 8th Annual Madisen’s Match Event March 19th in Fort Myers with Lisa Raymond along with Nick Bollettieri. What do you still enjoy about these exhibitions?
Arias: Well, they are all great causes. Personally it is a funny feeling for me. I never just know how I am going to react to the adrenaline rush of getting back into a challenging situation. I don’t know how my body is going to physically respond. What is most enjoyable is trying to entertain the crowd with some good remarks or stories. It is great to have the opportunities. The tennis is a bit rough on my body, but it is well worth it.
Well the 2016 rankings have just been released and Jimmy Arias is still holding that number one “Nice-Guy” status.