Oregon tennis star Alex Rovello’s legacy lives on

Oregon tennis history was forever changed by Alex Rovello, Cleveland High School standout and University of Oregon tennis star, when he became the first ever player in Oregon to win four state singles titles (2007-2010) during his high school career. Only one other player has ever accomplished the same feat. Although he competed at the 5A level, Rovello never allowed anyone to doubt his dominance, blasting through high school with a perfect 50-0 record.

With his unorthodox, yet unmistakable two-handed swing on both sides, Rovello launched his way onto the University of Oregon Varsity tennis team, where he spent his freshman season playing at the number one singles and doubles position. Competing against some of the top talent in the nation, Rovello earned an 11-10 singles record, and a 10-10 doubles record with partner Robin Cambier. On Feb. 24, 2011, Rovello broke into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings, entering at number 120.

The legacy of Alex Rovello offcourt will always outshine his achievements on the tennis court. Just about every person I talked to at the state tournament this past weekend never spoke about Alex the four time state champion tennis player first; instead they spoke about Alex the kind, polite and humble person who would stop whatever he was doing to thank someone who complimented him on the great match he had just played.

The first time I watched Rovello play was during his freshman year in the state final. He was on the court next to the West Linn doubles team of Christopher Erbin and Miles Rifkin who were competing in the doubles final, and I assumed this small, skinny player must be left handed because he was hitting a two handed backhand from his right side. When I looked back later, I realized he hit two handed strokes on both sides, which was when I asked my brother, “Is this kid serious?”

All he said back was “Um, that’s Alex Rovello.”

I had heard stories of Rovello, and I always assumed some of them had to be tall tales. His description was more similar to a top of the food chain predator than a tennis player. Watching him systematically dismantle his opponent, I quickly realized that this small, almost scrawny player could hit the ball as hard as any high school player around, and he deserved every ounce of praise he had earned.

The West Linn tennis team played Cleveland High School during the preseason in 2009. After Rovello fairly easily dispatched Chris Erbin, another future college tennis player, there was a junior varsity player who did not have a partner, so Rovello volunteered to stay late and play another match in order to allow the entire team to play in a match that day. Rovello’s selfishness always contributed to improving the players around him.

Players from all over the state honored Rovello at the state tournament this past weekend. All four doubles players from Sunset High School, eventual state champions Ian Paik and Brian Mckittrick, as well as the number one seeds Ryan Chin and Andrew Lin, spray painted AR onto their strings to honor him. Lincoln High School’s state champion doubles team, twin sisters Allie and Kadie Hueffner, seniors, were friends of Rovello’s and wore socks with his initials.

Cleveland sent five players to state, including the fourth seeded team of Jonathan Colner and Ben Lucke, seniors. All Cleveland players wore jerseys with “Alex Rovello” printed across the back in gold lettering.

A large photo of Rovello was displayed close to the tournament official’s table, advertising the “Alex Rovello Memorial Berkeley Park Tennis Donation Fund.” At the age of two, Rovello learned to play tennis on those courts which are now in need of repair. The goal of the fund is to resurface the courts and purchase new nets so future generations can learn to love the sport in the same place Alex Rovello did.

On Twitter, @GoDucks announced that all University of Oregon teams will honor Rovello by wearing black patches on their helmets or jerseys with his initials, AR. The NCAA allowed a special exception for all Duck teams to wear the black patches during postseason play.

As family, friends, teammates, strangers and much of the tennis world mourns the tragic loss of Rovello after his diving accident, his legacy grows greater with every tribute and memory. In 21 years, Alex Rovello made as many friends as a person can hope to make in a lifetime. With four state titles, Rovello holds a record that is impossible to break, yet the loss people feel most is not the champion tennis player he was, but rather, the person Alex Rovello was.