Sleeping outdoors. Playing with borrowed rackets. Surviving on shellfish he caught himself. Life on the satellite tennis tour hasn't exactly been glamorous for Grand Island's Kevin Arias.
Arias, the 25-year-old brother of former touring pro Jimmy Arias, is in his second year of slugging it out in the minor leagues of tennis.
He decided to turn pro after graduating from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock in 1995 with a degree in criminal justice.
"Realistically, I was worried about embarrassing myself," he said. "I had no idea how I would do."
Arias' first satellite stop was in Bakersfield, Calif., in September 1995. He and a friend were camping out in a tent, as he would do in almost all of his stops on the satellite circuit. (He would later be given the nickname "Tent Man" on tour.)
While they were sleeping, Arias' car, which had more than 100,000 miles on it, was broken into. The burglars took everything Arias owned, including his tennis rackets.
For the qualifier in the Bakersfield event, Arias had to borrow an oversized Head racket for his first match. The strings broke toward the end of the first set, so he borrowed a Wilson Profile. That broke in the beginning of the third set. He wound up winning the match with a Wilson Pro Staff.
"I couldn't believe that this would happen to me in my first satellite event," he said. "Fortunately, my brother Jimmy lent me $100. Believe it or not, Jimmy's money, and gas money that I received for driving from other players, lasted me almost two months."
Arias' routines for the satellite events were virtually the same. He would play three straight weeks in different cities in a certain area. If he did well he would be eligible for the final tournament the fourth week.
From California he moved on to events in North and South Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama and Texas.
By the time Arias reached the Florida satellite event in April 1996, he had virtually no money. He was living off eating coconuts and catching crabs in the ocean. Fortunately, he made the main draw in Florida, which entitled him to private housing and meals.
Arias' first opponent in Florida was a 6-foot-6 power hitter, who dwarfed the 5-8 Arias. Arias was up 3-0 when his opponent made an obvious bad call. (In the first three stops of each satellite event, the players call their own shots until the semifinals).
The next game the same thing happened twice. Arias asked to see the mark of the second call. His opponent went ballistic. Line judges were called in.
The match turned into a donnybrook. Arias' opponent was from Florida and his family was watching. They started shining mirrors in Arias' face and coughing when he served. Arias won in three close sets.
Afterward, "I grabbed my rackets and ran for cover," he said. "I felt like I had played in another country."
Arias won seven first-round matches during his first year on the tour. He played in the finals in three of the five satellite events that he entered. He also accumulated three ATP points, becoming one of only three players in New York State who currently has any points.
Arias' father, Tony, died unexpectedly in August. Kevin didn't pick up a racket for almost three weeks afterward, setting back his preparations for this year. But last week he left for California to rejoin the satellite circuit.
"It's a matter of survival on the tour. There's 1,000 guys like me out there. I'm going to give it one more year. If I don't make it I'll have a lot of great memories and value the friendships that I've made. I know that I'll have to get back to the real world sooner or later."
When he returns to the "real world," he plans to put that criminal justice degree to work.
"I'd really like to get involved in CIA or FBI work when I'm done with the tour."