Father of UO tennis star: 'It's devastating'

PORTLAND, Ore. - Jim Rovello remembers his son Alex as a humble young man.

"I wanted him to be a good person. The tennis was a bonus. Most people that know him, you know, he was humble. He was a good kid. And that was what Geri and I really wanted," Rovello said.

The 21-year-old University of Oregon tennis star from Portland died Saturday afternoon after jumping off a 60-foot cliff into Tamolitch Pool, a popular place for cliff diving about 90 miles northeast of Eugene, Ore.

Friends and bystanders tried saving him, but the depth and near-freezing temperature of the water proved too difficult, Linn County sheriff's deputies said. Alcohol wasn't a factor in the drowning.

"It's been tough. We've had a lot of crying and a lot of people coming in and out," Jim Rovello said. "How would any parent take something like that? It's devastating."

Rovello said he and his wife, Geri, almost lost Alex to spinal meningitis when he was four months old.

"I guess we got a second chance," he said.

His son graduated from Portland's Cleveland High School in 2010 and became the first tennis player in state history to win four straight singles titles.

Jim Rovello said the Northwest rain was a big reason his son took up tennis.

"Tennis would be a good sport because you can play inside," said Rovello. "So that's why he started playing tennis."

As Alex's victories piled up from an early age. Jim said he was most proud of how humble his son was.

"Alex would thank the person for coming to the match and look them right in the eye with a handshake," he said. "Being in tennis and being at a club and practicing, he was around adults a lot even at his early age. I guess he matured maybe faster, because he was around adults all the time."

At the University of Oregon, Alex helped the tennis team rise in the college rankings and beat Stanford for the first time ever. He won 10 matches at the No. 1 singles position last year.

Rovello's family is planning a memorial service for May 18. Details have not yet been released.

His family and friends are collecting money to repair the Berkely Park Tennis Court, where Alex first learned to play tennis. Donations can be made to the Alex Rovello Donation Fund at any Wells Fargo branch.

"A lot of stuff we're getting is about him as a person," said Jim Rovello. "His smile and how humble he was."

KATU's Bob Heye contributed to this story.