Jimmy Arias is 17, graduated second in his Bradenton Tennis Academy/High School class of 20, and is a semifinalist in the D.C. National Bank Tennis Classic.

He is also a crowd favorite.

"The American crowd seems to root for he youngster, the underdog," said Arias, a Grand Island, N.Y. native. "Maybe in two more years they won't be rooting for me anymore."

Arias has beaten Alejandro Gattiker, Jimmy Brown, Claudio Panatta, and, last night, Eric Fromm, 7-6, 6-3 -- a list that might make even the biggest tennis enthusiast shrug his shoulders -- to advance to his showdown with Jose-Luis Clerc this afternoon.

"It's been much easier than I expected," said Arias.

Against Fromm, though, it was tougher than he expected.

"I've practiced against him a lot," said Arias, who knows Fromm through New York state tournaments. (Fromm is from Glen Head, N.Y.) "But he played a lot better in the match than he ever did in practice."

"Better" in this case translates into a 4-2 lead in the first set for Fromm, ranked 77 on the ATP computer. But Arias, ranked 79, responded by taking three straight games before settling for a tie-breaker.

Opening the tie-breaker with a hard ace, the 5-8 Arias put his actions where his words would be after the match. They stayed on serve to 3-2, in favor of Arias, until a wicked forehand return from Arias put him up 4-2. Fromm made it 4-3 on a hard serve, but then Arias ran out the tie-breaker, the last point coming on an unforced forehand error by Fromm.

Fromm looked demoralized by the run-down-everything, powerful forehand game of Arias. In the second set, Arias seemed able to take control at will, which he did at 3-3, winning 12 of the next 14 points and completing his near-silent march to the semifinals.

"He was playing me perfect at the beginning," said Arias of Fromm's intent to stay on the baseline. "But I decided to take some short balls and try to pound them. It worked."

Arias is anything but bashful on the court, waving at balls in the air to go out, and applauding himself on fine passing shots.

"The reason I clown around on the court is because I'm nervous," said Arias. "It's something to take my mind off the match."