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ARIAS TAKES SERVE AND VOLLEY INTO BROADCAST BOOTH

Jimmy Arias is unanimously recognized as the finest tennis player, male or female, in Western New York annals. The former Grand Island resident was ranked fifth in the world in 1984. The four players ranked ahead of him were Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Mats Wilander. Like the old saying goes: "Not too shabby."

Arias's highlights on the tour were winning the Italian Open and the National Clay Court Championships. He also defeated Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, and Jim Courier in other competition.

Today, Arias, 38, resides in Sarasota with his wife and two youngsters. He does color commentary for ESPN and its affiliates.

How did Arias first get into tennis broadcasting?

"About six years ago I was running a junior tennis program with my good friend Bobby Banck (formerly of Williamsville) that was based at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy," Arias said. "To be truthful, I wasn't really enjoying the coaching and teaching, and decided to close the program."

Shortly after, Arias was approached by Jim Nagelson, the brother-in-law of Mark McCormack, the founder of the International Management Group, the largest sports company of its kind in the world.

Nagelson asked Arias if he was interested in coaching or becoming an agent. Arias had no interest in either. However, when Nagelson asked him if he would like to try color commentary on television, Arias said he'd be willing to give it a try.

"ESPN called me the next day," Arias said. "I couldn't believe it. They were going to give me a trial run in Bristol, Conn., on the ESPN International Network, which is virtually carried by every nation in the world outside of the United States and Europe. The tournament that I was going to do was the Indian Wells tournament in California." There was only one major problem. Arias would be in Bristol, watching the match on the monitor. But he would have to broadcast the match as if he were in California.

"It really was hard," Arias said. "First of all, you have no input from the players. Second, it's difficult to sound excited when you don't have the sense of a crowd. Fortunately, it was a good match and I was familiar with both players."

Arias was shocked when he listened to his tape after his first match in the booth. He didn't realize that he sounded flat and was talking in a monotone. He started listening to other announcers in all sports.

"Listening to those experts helped me quite a bit," he said. "In addition, I started drinking three cups of coffee before each match. Believe me, that really helped hype me up."

As Arias improved he started doing bigger and more prestigious tournaments. Arias has done the Australian and French Open the past five years on ESPN International, all from his base in Bristol. He's also worked a few on-site tournaments such as Cincinnati and Toronto.

Arias is now a fixture at ESPN and its affiliates. He's known as a straight shooter. He calls the matches as he sees them and admits that he sometimes has gotten in trouble for it.

Arias has seen many controversial situations in the matches he has called. However, the one that stands out the most in his mind is the one that he did on-site in Toronto a few years ago.

"Patrick McEnroe and MaliVai Washington were commentating on the main court in Cincinnati," he said. "McEnroe said on air, 'Let's switch to court three with Jimmy Arias for an update.'

"What McEnroe didn't realize was that Jon Van Lottum had lost the first set and was going berserk. He was slamming his racket down and was mad at everyone.

"When I came on the air I said, 'Van Lottum lost the first set and is letting a lot of little things bother him.' Van Lottum heard me, and shouted into the microphone, 'Shut up!' "

Arias then said, "Now, I'm even bothering him!"

Arias follows all of the tennis commentators closely, and is a fan of John McEnroe, to a point.

"McEnroe has a great flair about him," Arias said. "However, he only looks at the game from a top player's perspective. The competition is so much tougher today than when he and I were playing on the pro tour. A player who is ranked No. 100 today is capable of defeating the No. 1-ranked player in the world. He has to realize that."

Arias does his TV work about 90 days a year. He also plays a lot of golf, some tennis, and occasional tournaments and exhibitions.

At his peak, Arias was a talented tennis player who practiced diligently. It is evident that he has transferred these same traits to his broadcasting skills.
e-mail: thegreatgar@cs.com

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