Mountain View Voice

News - July 27, 2012

Tennis legend Alex Swetka dies at 94

by Andrea Gemmet

Local tennis legend Alex Swetka, who owned Swetka's Tennis Shop in Mountain View with his wife, died July 17, a few months after being diagnosed with cancer. He was 94.

Swetka pursued competitive tennis for over 60 years, and continued playing up until his cancer diagnosis in May, his family said. He won local, national and international tournaments — more than 70 USTA National Championships, his family said — and was a representative of the United States for International Senior Tennis for over 20 years.

Beginning in 1994, Swetka competed in the International Tennis Federation's senior circuit, and he won the grand slam — winning the hard, grass, clay and indoors national titles in singles — in 2007 and 2008, according to the federation. He was inducted into the Northern California Tennis Hall of Fame in 1995 and the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame in 1999. "He will always be remembered for his topspin and lefty action, which were a real rarity when playing in the over-90 division," said the federation's website.

During his tennis career, he enjoyed victories over tennis greats like Bobby Riggs, Wimbeldon champion Gardener Molloy, and Swedish Davis Cup player Torsten Johanson, said his daughter Nancy Garcia.

"He put Mountain View on the world tennis map," said Jere Schaefer, a friend of the Swetka family and longtime member of the Mountain View Tennis Club. She called Swetka a role model and true champion who served as an ambassador for tennis. "He will be dearly missed by all tennis players around the world," she said.

Born in Clairton, Penn. in 1917, he settled in California after joining the United States Navy in 1941 and serving for six years. Swetka earned a degree in education from San Francisco State University, where he discovered a love of tennis at the age of 30. He taught fifth grade in San Francisco for 20 years. With his wife Sally, a fellow teacher whom he married in 1956, Swetka spent weekends and summers playing tennis and running tournaments in Golden Gate Park, his family said.

In search of warmer weather and a larger garden, Swetka moved the family to Mountain View in 1966 and the couple opened Swetka's Tennis Shop in 1969.

"Swetka's Tennis Shop thrives even with all the online tennis stores and big chain sporting good stores because Alex always made his customers feel like family. Alex will be missed," said Michael Cooke, the United States Tennis Association Northern California board president.

"The USTA Northern California section is extremely proud to have counted Alex as one of their own and will miss him greatly," said a statement on the USTA website. "He was an outstanding example of tennis being the sport for a lifetime. He will always be a role model to seniors on the benefits of staying fit and active."

He is survived by his wife of 56 years, Sally (McVaugh) Swetka; his four children, Mary Swetka-Yu of Long Beach, John Swetka of Sunnyvale, Nancy Garcia of Santa Barbara and Wendy Swetka of Redding; his three grandchildren; and one great-grandson.

A celebration of Alex Swetka's life is scheduled for Saturday, September 15, at Cuesta Park. The family prefers memorial donations be made to a charity of the donor's choice.

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