Bruno Agostinelli’s Greatest Accomplishment

There was more to Bruno Agostinelli than tennis (Photo via Karl Nacion)

He was once the No.2 ranked tennis player while at the University of Kentucky.

He also clinched a Davis Cup rubber for Canada.

These are accomplishments anyone would be proud of.

But that’s just it.

Bruno Agostinelli wasn’t one to harp on his achievements.

“I don’t think Bruno would ever have imagined being remembered because he was so humble and so modest, so I don’t think he would’ve imposed the need to remember on anybody,” said his younger brother, Gianluca.

Today, marks the first anniversary of Agostinelli’s death – 12 months since a motorcycle crash claimed his life at age 28 leaving behind his wife and his two-week old son.

Standout collegiate career

The Niagara Falls, Ont., native earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Kentucky where he was a collegiate star on and off the tennis court.

Agostinelli played for the Kentucky Wildcats from 2005-2009 earning All-American honours while also receiving the Mr. Wildcat award, given to a student-athlete for all-around excellence in athletics, academics, character and service.

He turned pro in 2009 playing in smaller ITF Futures tournaments and ATP Challenger Tour events.

Shining moment

But Agostinelli’s shining moment came as a member of Canada’s Davis Cup team in July 2009 when he was selected over Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil to fill the team’s final spot.

Agostinelli wasn’t supposed to play until teammate Peter Polansky caught a virus before the final rubber forcing Agostinelli into action.

The Niagara Falls, Ont., native rose to the occasion winning the rubber to rescue Canada from relegation into the Group Two Americas Zone.

Agostinelli retired at the end of the year and remained part of the Tennis Canada family serving as the national coach for under-14 players for its junior training program from 2009 until his death in March 2016.

Honouring Bruno

In September 2016, the first annual Bruno Agostinelli Futures tournament was held in his honour at White Oaks Resort in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

A fund was also set up in Bruno’s name with the proceeds providing care and assistance to his family.

Gianluca, also a tennis player himself at Brock University, thought the tournament was the best way to memorialize Agostinelli.

“I think he would be proud of what it is we’re doing…we’re taking into his account his whole being and not simply just the tennis player,” said Gianluca.

‘For the love of the sport’

Giovanni Rodriguez values the growth of tennis in the Niagara region and feels responsible for that as the tournament’s director.

He first met Agostinelli in September 2015 at, “Tennisfest,” an exhibition tennis event organized by Rodriquez at White Oaks also featuring former world No.1 junior player, Filip Peliwo.

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Still can't believe what has happened to Bruno Agostinelli, it's such a shock… I've only met Bruno a handful of times, but I could immediately see what a genuinely compassionate and generous person he was, and how much the people around him cared for him. He was always passionate about what he did, and he touched the lives of so many of his students and peers. There was never a person that I've spoken to that didn't have the utmost respect for Bruno, he was truly a class act, and a role model. The last time I saw him was at his home club in Niagara just last summer, having played an exhibition match against him, and it still brings me to tears thinking that it will have been our final encounter. To one of the best people I've had a chance to get to know, Bruno, you will be missed by me, and many others. You were here for far too short a time, but in that time, you truly lived your life your way, and influenced so many others along the way. May you rest in peace.

A post shared by Filip Peliwo (@filippeliwo) on

Rodriquez was told by club members that Agostinelli was one of the best tennis players to come out of the Niagara region.

To thank Agostinelli for his participation, Rodriquez offered him free dinner, wine, and a night’s stay at the resort. But Agostinelli declined.

It’s a memory that stuck with Rodriquez and separated him from other tennis players he dealt with.

“He didn’t want anything,” says Rodriquez. “That really impressed me…he just did it for the love of the sport and that is the legacy I want to keep having here.”

Growing the game

Gianluca said that his brother was committed to growing the game.

Agostinelli helped build tennis with the hours he put into coaching new talent. Gianluca says he was so dedicated to his job with Tennis Canada that he once recalled him staying an additional 90 minutes to work with a player.

“He wanted his players to be better than he was,” said Gianluca. “He continued to drive his players to be the very best that they could be,” he said. “Not only was he invested in their game and their technique on the court but also in their moral character outside of the tennis club.”

Agostinelli was a mentor to children he coached and someone they could look up to which Gianluca notes is very important in a solitary sport like tennis.

“You are on the court by yourself and you have only yourself to rely on,” said Gianluca. “Bruno, more so than anything, as a coach and as a teammate was able to keep others focused, keep them in the game, and keep them going towards their goals.”

One of the tournament’s main goals includes growing tennis in the Niagara region. Despite receiving applications from higher-ranked players, Rodriquez awarded wildcards and qualification spots to those specifically from the Niagara region or to a club member.

All volunteers were also from the club’s junior tennis program. He feels that it’s a great opportunity for them to see live professional tennis and that can pay dividends down the line.

“Hopefully this keeps them motivated and they see where they need to go,” said Rodriquez.

Inspiring youth

The volunteers are the backbone of many tennis tournaments. As a young kid, Peliwo volunteered at tournaments as a ball boy.

The Vancouver native competed in the first annual Bruno Agostinelli Futures tournament and seeing the young ball boys and girls around the court reminded him of his own volunteering days.

“It’s an absolute great experience for them,” said Peliwo. “I know when I got a chance to see tournaments like this up close, it really inspired me. You see what these people can attain and a lot of times they are people they’ve known growing up.”

Gianluca agrees the tournament can have a long-term effect on aspiring youth tennis players.

“Seeing the actual game of tennis I think is inspirational and as long as we continue to host tournaments, particularly within Niagara, we are able to expose more students and more players to the game of tennis,” said Gianluca.

Big investment

He hopes the exposure will grow a love for the game and thus lead them to invest in the sport.

But that investment isn’t cheap.

Peliwo’s parents went into debt to support his career early on. Since turning pro in September 2012, successes have been few and far between for the 22-year-old making finances difficult to manage.

It’s a story far too common amongst fellow journeyman players and gives new meaning to the term home court advantage.

“It definitely helps a lot to have them (tournaments) in Canada,” said Peliwo. “It supports the Canadian players and gives them opportunity to play against high-ranked guys. You have opportunities to get housing with some friends or through the tournament they’ll set you up and obviously the travelling costs aren’t as big.”

Dreams become reality

Agostinelli began his tennis career on the courts of White Oaks Resort where no pro tournament existed and there were no players to look up to.

That isn’t the case for the next generation.

One day, another player may reach the pros thanks to the tournament named in his honour.

And perhaps that is Bruno Agostinelli’s greatest accomplishment.