Grimaldi once cooked up a heck of a game

The Buffalo News - - SPORTSTALK - 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

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