Jimmy Arias is the greatest homegrown tennis player that Western New York has ever produced. The Grand Island native was ranked number five in the world in 1983 behind all-time greats Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, and Mats Wilander. In 1981 he won the French Mixed Doubles at the age of 16 with Andrea Jaeger. In 1983 he won the Italian Open, the National Clay Court Open, and reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open. He was on the pro tour for 12 years and defeated Andre Agassi, Boris Becker, and Jim Courier during that time period.
For the last few years he has been recognized as one of the finest tennis commentators with his outstanding work on the Tennis Channel and ESPN, and as the emcee for the Jim Courier Senior tour that features Pete Sampras, Agassi, and McEnroe among others. Arias is also one of the most knowledgeable tennis experts in the game.
Reading such a list of great players begs the question – what is the ideal height for a male tennis player?
Some experts feel that players who have the height of 6-foot-10 John Isner, 6-8 Jerzy Janowicz, or 6-6 Juan Martin del Potro, the world’s fifth-ranked player, would be the most effective because of their booming serves. Other experts feel that Roger Federer, 6-1, Rafael Nadal, 6-1, Novak Djokovic, 6-2, and Andy Murray, 6-3, have the ideal height due to the fact that they have won virtually every Grand Slam title over the past few years. David Ferrer, at 5-8, is ranked number three in the world. For a player his size, this is an incredible accomplishment as his serve can’t generate the power and high bounce that most of the aforementioned players have.
“Tennis is ever changing,” Arias said. “The big guys are moving better than ever. For instance, del Potro at 6-6 moves incredibly on the court. Like Isner, he has an unbelievable advantage with his serve that is often clocked at 135 miles an hour or more.”
Arias relates that players with the height of Isner and del Potro have a tremendous weapon on their serve. When they serve they literally look as if they are hitting down on you. They are also capable of hitting high bouncing serves that bounce over their opponent’s heads. The disadvantages that most of the really tall guys have is that they don’t have the court movement of a Nadal or Murray and have difficulty with low shots.
“As great as their serves are the really tall guys still have difficulty with the likes of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray,” Arias said. “The advantage that the aforementioned players have over Isner and del Potro is that they can return service remarkably well and keep the rallies going forever.” Arias noted that Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray are the best defenders in the game. They move the best, won’t give up on any point. keep the ball in play, and are competitors nonpareil.
Arias stresses that the big differences he sees in tennis today from when he was playing is that the players are better athletes, stronger, and faster. “When I was playing on the tour almost everyone, including the top players, had at least one weakness,” Arias said. “Today’s players have virtually no weakness.” He also feels that there will definitely be more players playing who are 6-6 and over. He feels that with the proper training and fitness that they will be real threats to players who are 6-1, 6-2 or 6-3.
For the time being he feels that players like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray are still the players to beat.
There are plenty of other well-informed opinions. Todd Miller, the owner of the Miller Tennis Center, has been a close follower of the game for many years.
“I think that a 7-footer with the attributes of a 5-7 player would be unbeatable,” Miller said. “The agility and movement of the tallest players today is incredible and is getting better all of the time.”
Miller noted that many of these taller players are from other countries and they are among the best athletes in their respective countries. He related that years ago many countries didn’t have their top athletes pursuing tennis. Today, that is not the case.
“It is incredible how many players 6-5 and over are playing pro tennis today,” Miller said. “I really feel that these taller players will continue to improve.”
Miller agrees that the 6-1 to 6-3 players have the best attributes for tennis today. However, he feels that the taller players, 6-5 and over, could definitely overtake the game in the next few years.
Tom LaPenna is a former New York State doubles champion with Seth Bowen. He has seen the pros play in many different tournaments. LaPenna notes the really tall players have so much speed and high bouncing serves that it is very difficult for a smaller player to return the taller player’s serves.
“The top players like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, and Murray each have the athleticism, body control, and enough power to continue to dominate in the near future,” LaPenna said.
“Isner, at 6-10, still has difficulty getting down for low balls. Thank goodness that Lebron James doesn’t play tennis. At 6-9 he would be unbelievable. I honestly believe that a player of his size and physical skills could dominate tennis down the road.”