The Buffalo News

Grimaldi once cooked up a heck of a game

- By Charlie Garfinkel

Frank Grimaldi became owner of San Marco, one of Western New York’s finer restaurant­s, but not before carving out a reputation as a top-notch tennis instructor.

Grimaldi’s affinity for the sport began when he viewed a televised match between all-time greats Jimmy Connors and Rod Laver. From there, he taught himself the game and developed into a solid player while playing five times a week at the Buffalo Tennis Center on Elmwood Avenue.

Pat McLain, the Head Pro at the BTC, noticed how well Grimaldi played, his crushing ground strokes especially noteworthy for someone 5-foot-5 and 135 pounds. After moving to the Rainbow Racquet Club to accept another position, McLain contacted Grimaldi to teach tennis at the club. Shortly thereafter, McLain left the Rainbow Racquet Club and Lou Oliver took over as director of tennis/head pro. He observed that Grimaldi had great strokes on all of his shots, a sparkling personalit­y and the ability to teach players at most levels. He told him that he would like him to take over the adult and junior programs at the club.

However, there was a catch. He wanted Grimaldi to get certified before he started running the programs.

Grimaldi, Todd Miller and Dave Todoroff drove to Sweet Briar, Va., to become certified by Dennis Vandermeer, recognized as one of the great teaching profession­als in tennis annals. His slogan was “Dennis Vandermeer: The pro that teaches the pros.”

Vandermeer, like other pros who had observed Grimaldi, was impressed with Grimaldi’s strokes, ability to relate to the people he was teaching and his enthusiasm. He received his certificat­ion with passing colors.

“I was humbled by the glowing remarks that Vandermeer made about my teaching ability and strokes,” Grimaldi said. “His teaching made me a better pro and greatly improved all aspects of my teaching prowess.”

Grimaldi returned to Buffalo and started teaching upwards of 50 hours a week. He was put on an arduous schedule teaching adults in the morning, juniors in the afternoon and more adults in the evening. Although he would have done well playing in local tournament­s he had virtually no time to do so.

“Even though I wanted to play in tournament­s teaching was my forte and I loved every did. Of course, Jimmy’s forehand was better. However, I felt that Kevin’s backhand was slightly better.”

Kevin Arias is in the Buffalo Tennis Hall of Fame and has played in a number of Challenger and Future tournament­s.

Grimaldi had been teaching at Rainbow Racquet Club for nine years when four courts were removed. More than half the membership moved over to the newly opened Amherst Hills Tennis Club (now known as Miller Tennis Center). Grimaldi wanted to continue teaching but there weren’t many openings. He called Tony Arias, Jimmy’s dad. to see if he knew of any tennis teaching opportunit­ies.

Jimmy had been taking lessons from Nick Bollettier­i. one of the great tennis pros of all time, at Bollettier­i’s academy. Tony Arias gave Bollettier­i Grimaldi’s resume and he was offered a full-time teaching position. However, the pay was low and Grimaldi decided not to accept the offer.

Now the question became, what would Grimaldi do to make a living? That’s where his Italian heritage came into play. Grimaldi had moved to the United States from Italy to live with his uncle when he was 14.

“I was always known as being a good cook and had always thought about owning my own restaurant,” Grimaldi said. “I opened a restaurant on Elmwood Avenue with my father, mother and future wife Nancy. We did very well and decided to open a state-of-the-art restaurant in the Amherst area called San Marcos. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

As for his tennis, Grimaldi plays twice a week, gives his wife occasional lessons and hits with her twice a week. In addition, he takes some tennis lessons from Marcus Fugate at Miller Tennis Center once or twice a month and also sponsors some tournament­s at Miller.

 ?? Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News ??
Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News

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