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Arias Puts On Show At Lakewood Y

Former World No. 5 Shows He Still Has Game At 54

Jimmy Arias eyes a return during an exhibition match at the Lakewood YMCA on Saturday afternoon. P-J photos by Val Isaacson

LAKEWOOD — For the second time in as many years, tennis fans gathered at the Lakewood Family YMCA on Saturday for a truly special afternoon.

Yesterday marked the return of former No.5-ranked player in the world and Grand Island native Jimmy Arias, who hosted another full day of clinics, exhibition matches and a short speaking engagement.

The day began with a children’s clinic at 9 a.m., where young players could learn the fundamentals of the game from a man with more than 10 years of experience on the ATP tour.

At 10:30 a.m., Arias hosted a sold-out adult clinic before sitting down for lunch and a question-and-answer period with those in attendance.

Before returning to the court for his doubles exhibition match, Arias shared some important life lessons gathered over the course of his career.

Tyler Beaton reaches for a return volley in a preliminary exhibition match.

“At 8 years old I decided I was going to be number one in the world some day,” Arias remembered. “I was sure I was going to do it and I was going to work towards it. You wouldn’t think an 8-year-old would normally do that. I didn’t make it to number one, I got to five. But to you kids, whatever you want to do in your life you’ve gotta put the goal really, really high. Don’t start thinking, ‘Oh, I can’t do it, I’m from here or I’m from there.'”

It was not long after Arias picked up a racquet for the first time at 5 years old that his game started to grow in a big way.

Spurred to success by his father, Arias quickly became one of the best players in Buffalo before entering high school, eventually winning the Buffalo Men’s City Open at 11.

Behind the scenes of this child prodigy were days of prodigious work, often including 10 sets of tennis against much older players.

Arias shared another story with fans from his early playing days, when at 12 or 13 years old he was matched up to play with his idol Rod Laver who was 35 at the time.

Lee Nickell plays a backhand volley.

Laver was in Buffalo to try out a new racquet, and was a bit surprised to be matched against a pre-teen when he asked for a game against Buffalo’s best player.

After going down by a pair of games, Laver was eventually able to beat back the young Arias, going on to win the set 7-5.

That match serves as a metaphor for how Arias has lived his life and the motto — “Let it Fly” — that rules his game.

“There were so many naysayers, but I believed it, and I was working towards it,” Arias said. “Because I believed it, I thought it, (and) it was just something that was going to happen for me. Everyone would tell me, ‘You are too little.’ I had a different style of playing than everybody else in those days.”

On the advice of his father, Arias learned to speed up his forehand stroke and play with the type of pace that is now indicative of the modern game. At the time that was heresy, but when Arias eventually traveled to Florida to work with coaching legend Nick Bollettieri, the potential was obvious.

Jimmy Arias reaches to return a volley during an exhibition at the Lakewood YMCA on Saturday afternoon.

“Everyone that saw my forehand said, ‘He can’t swing that hard, your arm is going to fall off,'” Arias recalled. “Nick Bollettieri said, ‘That’s the way to hit a forehand.'”

After offering the gathered crowd a few more stories and his take on some of the world’s current tennis champions, Arias put that famed forehand on display for all to see with an exhibition match that included former University at Buffalo star Ethan Nittolo; UB tennis coach Lee Nickell; and Tim Videnka, currently ranked 18th in the United States Tennis Association 40-and-older singles.

Prior to that doubles match, fans were warmed up by another doubles battle that featured local players Will Nelson, Tyler Beaton, Matt Johnson and Cooper Miller.

For the opening set, Arias was paired with Nittolo. Despite a distinct size disadvantage against the taller, hard-hitting tandem of Nickell and Videnka, the former team would get it done, 6-3, in the opener.

Heading into the second set, Arias teamed up with Videnka while Nittolo and Nickell were paired up to defend the honor of the University of Buffalo.

On serve late in the second set and facing match point, Nickell hit a blinding serve to Arias who was able to wand a low return before Videnka finished things off with an overhand to complete the match.

After the players shook hands, there was one thing that remained clear–Arias is still letting it fly at 54.

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