by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Alex Rovello plays his first high school match for Cleveland as a freshman in 2007. Rovello, who won four state prep titles and became the No. 1 singles player at the University of Oregon, died in a cliff diving accident near Eugene on May 11.The crowd of friends and family — everyone who knew Alex Rovello was one or the other — overflowed at St. Philip Neri.

A teary-eyed University of Oregon tennis team arrived en masse, wearing “Fighting Ducks tennis” T-shirts under their suits.

Coach Nils Schyllander and assistant coach Jonas Piibor choked on their words as they spoke at Saturday’s memorial for tennis champion/Cleveland High hero/Ducks star Rovello.

“Alex had no enemies, only people who loved him,” Piibor said through tears. “Alex, I love you forever.”

Rovello, 21, had just completed his UO junior season when he died May 11 in a cliff diving accident near Eugene.

Schyllander recalled the first time he came to watch the Cleveland Warriors star, who was about 5-7 and maybe 140 pounds and had an unorthodox style (two-handed forehands and backhands) that helped him make up for it.

“My first thought wasn’t, ‘Who is this?’ It was, ‘What is this?’ ” Schyllander said, eliciting chuckles at the service. “What is this scrawny kid with the chicken wings and two forehands?”

Quickly, though, the coach came to understand what all the fuss over Alex Rovello was about.

“It only took me a few minutes to see that this was someone very, very special,” he said, “in every kind of way.”

The Oregon tennis team, like others in major colleges, has players from across the globe: Belgium, Australia, the Netherlands, France and Hungary. In 2010, the top recruit for the UO coach from Sweden, and the program’s future No. 1 man in every way, was basically in Schyllander’s Oregon backyard.

Rovello turned down several other schools to be a Duck; he loved the idea of staying close to home and being a loyal part of something in the state. And he quickly became more than just a new member of the team.

“He was Alex Rovello,” Schyllander said matter-of-factly. “He WAS Oregon tennis. There has never been anyone like him.”

Derin Hibbs said he loved every every minute of the 15 years he spent “with this beautiful young man” as his coach at Eastmoreland Racquet Club.

“In life,” Hibbs said, “you are lucky if you know one person whose integrity amazes you, whose spirit always lifts you, who you can honestly call flawless. Alex was all of that and more.”

The day he died, Hibbs said, “was a horrific tragedy, a loss beyond comprehension — but it was just one day at the end of 21 perfect, flawless years. One day of 7,705 days he lived to the fullest, with so much heart and passion and love.

“He was given to us on borrowed time, a gift to all of us.”

Many remembered Rovello’s kindness, humility, humor and other positive traits, and the incredible influence of his beloved parents, recently retired school teachers Jim and Geri.

Father Michael Evernden, who led the service, noted that “the first few years I knew them, I didn’t even know he played tennis. He never brought it up.”

A stream of people gave testimonies for some 90 minutes at the post-service reception — and they tried as best they could to capture the essence of Alex. What was it that made him so widely, wildly loved?

“Alex always had this kind of regal character; he seemed to float through the halls, in the sense of someone with a miraculous aura,” said Bradley Eckerson, a close friend and tennis teammate from Cleveland. “You didn’t even have to talk to him, you just had to be in the same room, and you felt him.

“His sheer presence was enough to bring someone out of the deepest despair. I can say with all my heart that he changed my life.”

Rovello’s main tennis contemporary in the Pacific Northwest was Max Manthou, a Washington prep star from Kent who plays for UW.

“A part of me has left,” Manthou told the crowd. “We lived such parallel lives. Our parents were all teachers and became great friends. He and I played each other 20 or 30 times, and he got the best of me most of those. It was a beautiful rivalry.”

Manthou’s poignant speech ended with the Husky embracing Schyllander and Piibor in a sobbing, three-man hug.

Rivals but friends, different but the same — Alex would have loved that. Alex always was able to make things like that happen.

One woman remarked about the memorial: “I’ve never seen so many men cry.”

Some cried as they watched Alex’s friends leave their gifts for him at the altar, beneath a poster of his smiling, so-welcoming, so-happy face.

Others wept when Jim Rovello ended the service by asking everyone to listen to a song he said always seemed as if it could have been written about Alex: John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy.”

Scores of tennis players left notes and stories about Alex for his family and others to read.

“You were an unbelievable partner for me and felt like a brother,” said Daan Maasland, a UO freshman from the Netherlands who played doubles with Rovello this season.

Said Brent Chin, a PIL champion from Grant who just finished his freshman year on the Oregon team: “There are no words that come close describing how much you mean to me, your family and your team. You were always there for me. You were the one who made me the tennis player I am today.”

Chin remembered what it was like for him to play against Rovello in high school:

“It was an honor to even be on the same court. I lost 6-0, 6-0, but you showed me how to be a good tennis player, and you could not even imagine my joy when the next year I played you again and lost 6-1, 6-1.”

Rovello’s impact on people started long before he got to Cleveland, and it will be felt long after Saturday’s memorial.

His preschool teacher, Bob Parker, recalled how the children in Rovello’s group were asked to come up with a name for a new pet rat the teacher had brought for the room.

“We should name it Alex,” one child said.

“The whole class erupted in cheers,” Parker said. “And then one girl said, ‘Yes, I think his name should be Alex ...

because he is very nice and doesn’t bite.’ ”

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