Former player still contributes to Illini tennis after back injury

Brennan Caughron The Daily Illini Illinois Alexandar Sasha Kharkevitch, right, sidelined with a medical disqualification, supports his teammates from the sidelines of the Friday Feb. 27, 2009 match against Purdue.

Brennan Caughron The Daily Illini Illinois’ Alexandar “Sasha” Kharkevitch, right, sidelined with a medical disqualification, supports his teammates from the sidelines of the Friday Feb. 27, 2009 match against Purdue.

By Ellyn Newell

Alexander “Sasha” Kharkevitch, senior in ACES, came to the University from Texas to pursue his dreams to be a professional tennis player. During his freshman year, however, a fractured vertebrae changed his path.

“My whole life I trained to be a pro,” Kharkevitch said. “My injury made me grow up really quickly.”

After Kharkevitch found out that he could no longer competitively play tennis, he decided to stay at the University to support the team and to complete his education.

“Because of training, tennis came first and everything else came after,” Kharkevitch said. “Once I couldn’t play anymore, I had a lot more time to focus on school.”

Kharkevitch felt a connection to the players on the team and wanted to be around to give them support. That is how he came up with the idea to dress up in costumes of orange and blue to show his passion for the sport, and more importantly, for the players.

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“The costumes made it easier to come to the matches and cope with not being able to contribute on the court,” Kharkevitch said.

To create these costumes, Kharkevitch goes to the bookstores regularly and orders Illini merchandise online. He likes to shred up different materials and put them together to create one-of-a-kind costumes. Kharkevitch also uses his knowledge of the game to intimidate the Illini’s opponents.

“I’m obnoxious, and I have no problem being overly stupid,” Kharkevitch said. “I know what will get under their skins, and it really riles everyone up.”

Billy Heiser, junior in Media and member of the Illinois tennis team, agrees that Kharkevitch brings a certain energy to the matches that will be missed after he graduates in December.

“College matches aren’t like what you see on TV,” Heiser said. “Sasha shows everyone that you can have fun and heckle the opponents.”

Heiser says that the Illini’s impressive at-home record for the past couple of years is a good representation of how Kharkevitch is still valuable to the team. Marc Spicijaric, senior in LAS and Illini tennis player, agrees that through Kharkevitch’s commitment to the team, he is still a vital member.

“He will always be a part of Illinois tennis, even if he is not able to play,” Spicijaric said.

The sole reason that Kharkevitch chose to attend the University was the tennis program. A big part of his decision came from his relationship with head coach Brad Dancer. Dancer said that although he had high hopes for Kharkevitch, he has only grown through his injury.

“Right away he was forced to change his perspective,” Dancer said. “He had to forget about a pro career and start thinking more towards real life.”

One of the reasons the team has such great support is because of Kharkevitch’s commitment, Dancer said. Not only is Kharkevitch their number one fan, but also he helps in marketing promotions.

After graduation, Kharkevitch plans on pursuing an investment banking career in his hometown of Houston, Texas. He said that although he will continue to support Illinois tennis from afar, he hopes that someone will fill his shoes as superfan.

“It’ll be tough but I hope someone that really knows tennis lingo will take my spot on the sidelines,” Kharkevitch said.

Dancer, as well as Heiser and Spicijaric, agree that Kharkevitch brought a unique energy to college tennis. That, along with his sharp tongue, will be missed on the sidelines in the upcoming seasons, Heiser said.

“We may have to talk him into sticking around for another semester,” Dancer said.