Seriously…What’s All That Racket!?

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Typical day of tennis in Eugene.

Let’s face it, tennis is not considered a major sport in American culture, doesn’t even list it in their sports tab bar. It’s kept hidden under “more sports” if you are frantically googling in an attempt to find it. Tennis really only gains attention if names like McEnroe, Agassi, Sampras, Williams, Nadal and Federer are attached, and even then we tend to MAYBE gloss over it. It’s almost like we’ve forgotten it exists.

It’s not flashy like Chip Kelly’s read-option offense or Paul Westhead’s fast-break basketball offense that goes by the notorious name “The System.” UO students aren’t sitting outside the gates at 3:30 in the morning hoping to get a seat. Did you even know Oregon has a men’s tennis team? Though tennis may not generate the same excitement as say football or basketball, just like it doesn’t at the professional level, Ducks men’s tennis is having a great season none-the-less and they deserve more recognition for their achievements thus far.

I get it, it’s winter, it’s cold outside and the idea of sitting and watching a tennis match does not sound that appealing. But as Ferris Bueller says about life, “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.” Heed his advice; if you don’t check out the Oregon men’s tennis team now, you’re going to miss out on something great. Thus far this year, this tight-knit group is 9-1. Friday the Ducks received their first, heartbreaking loss of the season to Washington 4-3, but the Ducks bounced right back on Sunday with a 5-2 victory against UC Irvine.

The 71st ranked Ducks have 10 athletes on the team with the know-how to win. In their early 9-1 start to this year’s crusade, the Ducks did not surrender a single losing set in their first four matches. The Ducks are successful because of two factors; first, they have a roster full of winners. Second and most importantly, the Ducks have a clear, undisputed leader who puts his team before himself and whose name will inevitably be alongside those of McEnroe, Sampras, Agassi, Williams, Nadal and Federer.

His name is Alex Rovello, and he is only a sophomore. Get used to hearing that name. The remarkable thing is that Rovello’s “captain” status is undisputed on a squad that has two juniors and two seniors, all four juniors and seniors could just as easily occupy the captain’s role. He must be pretty good. Still not convinced yet? This should help.

Last year as a freshman, Rovello finished the season as the number one singles player for the Ducks. “Playing number one as a freshman, I learned a lot about how to compete my hardest, especially through the coaching,” Rovello said. As a young teenager for Oregon, Rovello defeated California’s Chris Konigsfeldt (6-1, 7-6 [7-4]) in the first round of the Pac-10 Championships, and defeated No. 56 Marius Cirstea (6-3, 6-0) in a win over Idaho. As a result Rovello cracked the ITA singles rankings at number 120 on Feb. 14, 2011 where he won his first six singles matches, all in straight sets.

Fast forward to this year where there is always the talk of the potential for the dreaded “sophomore slump,” but for Rovello there’s no such thing. He has simply picked up where he left off last year and is still ranked as the Duck’s number one singles player.  ”I think now as a sophomore, I finally have the match experience of playing that position and I can’t make an excuse anymore more of being the young person. Experience is what really helped me this year,” said Rovello.

This past fall Rovello started off his sophomore campaign with a 7-3 record in singles play, making the quarterfinals of the 2011 Northwest ITA Regional Championships advancing to the final of the PNW Intercollegiates Green Flight going 3-1 for the tournament.

Head coach Nils Schyllander knows he has something special in Alex Rovello, “He is probably one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever been around. It comes very natural for him,” Schyllander said. “I think he has that something you can’t teach, he has the fire that some people just have.”

Before Rovello graced Eugene and the University of Oregon with his unrivaled talent, he took the Portland tennis circuit by force. Alex Rovello was the first tennis player in Oregon to win four consecutive state singles titles and finished his Cleveland High School career with a perfect 50-0 singles record and a 65-2 overall record in the Pacific Northwest, in addition to winning two Pacific Cup titles. While in high school, Rovello rose as high as 24th in the national rankings, first in the Pacific Northwest. He came to the University of Oregon ranked as the third best player in the Pacific Northwest. Adding to his high school accolades, Rovello posted a 65-match winning streak in the under 18 division in 2009. The icing on the cake is that Rovello chose the Ducks offer over offers from Washington, Penn State, Boise State, New Mexico, San Diego, Santa Clara and Northwestern.

If you are still not convinced this team is worthy of discussion, we’re not quite finished yet. Alex Rovello is not the only impressive spark for this Ducks tennis group. Another is fellow teammate and sophomore Robin Cambier. The guy behind Rovello as the second best singles player on the Ducks roster is, yes you guessed it, Cambier.

If there is one thing Nils Schyllander knows how to do well, it’s find young, quality, talent; which seems to be a gift all Ducks coaches share now-a-days. What do I mean? Daniel Sardu is only a (true) freshman for the Ducks and to say that he has surpassed expectations would be an understatement and an insult to Sardu. The Sopron, Hungary native is 7-0 in singles play and clinched the dual victory for the Ducks in the two matches against Eastern Washington and Gonzaga this month. In other words, the depth on this club is endless.

But let’s get back to leader and tennis phenom Alex Rovello.

Rovello’s natural talent as a tennis player is obvious, and with the experience comes more responsibility. He has a lot on his shoulders and has responded by willingly putting the team on his back letting his skills to do the talking for how good he and this Ducks program is.

Even though he is regarded and ranked as the number one singles player for Oregon, Rovello still sees room for individual improvement typical of every athlete. He feels that he must utilize his voice and be a more active leader for his team. Judging by the team’s 9-1 start, I’d say he’s doing just fine in his role, wouldn’t you?

One thing is clear; Alex Rovello has a fire that makes him stand out above the other great collegiate tennis players. To watch him play is to understand and see first-hand that what he does and the skill he possesses; for Alex Rovello, tennis is not just a game, it’s so much more. While on the court, his passion to win explodes through his expressions of pure love for competition and the game of tennis. He tries harder than most to not let his emotions get the best of him and knows the importance of staying grounded while playing a match, which makes him one of the top players on his team  and among top players in the entire country.

He is the talented player that will soon be seen in the professional tennis circuit and perhaps one day be mentioned alongside McEnroe, Agassi, Sampras, Williams, Nadal and Federer when he finally decides to hang ’em up.

In case you missed it, his name is Alex Rovello, sophomore at the University of Oregon and the number one singles player for the Ducks.

Alex Rovello, a name not to be forgotten.

Alex Rovello. Tennis phenom. Winner

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