Victor Estrella Burgos first picked up a tennis racket when his parents wanted the energetic youngster out of the house during the day. No one else had played tennis in his family up until that point, not surprising considering Estrella Burgos is from the Dominican Republic, known more for its beaches and baseball than tennis.
The first player from the Dominican Republic to crack the top 100 in the ATP Tour rankings, Estrella Burgos feels younger than his years. The journeyman, who turns 34 on Saturday, combines a veteran’s savvy with a youthful exuberance that has allowed him to play his best tennis when many pros are considering retirement.
“In my heart, I feel like I have a lot of power to play,” Estrella Burgos said Wednesday at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center. “That’s why I feel very young to play, and I’m doing good.”
Estrella Burgos, who lost his third-round Citi Open match to Santiago Giraldo, 6-2, 6-0, on Thursday night, will have a large Dominican following when he plays his first U.S. Open main draw in New York, an area with a large Dominican population.
“If you have 10 Dominican people, it’s going to be like 100 for sure,” Estrella Burgos said.
Estrella Burgos’s career has gone in reverse. He coached before reaching his peak as a player. He turned pro 12 years ago but didn’t break the top 100 until March after winning the ATP Challenger Tour title in Salinas, Ecuador. He had taken a break from tennis shortly after going pro in 2002, coaching in the Dominican Republic for several years.
He returned to tournament play in 2006, winning 18 titles on the Futures circuit before moving to the Challenger level. He suffered another setback in 2012 when torn cartilage in his right elbow sidelined him for six months, making him consider retirement.
A player peaking in his 30s is a rarity for tennis, but Michael Russell, a 36-year-old top-150 singles player, said Estrella Burgos’s experience is what has propelled him. Estrella Burgos has been playing regular ATP Tour matches only since May, but he advanced to the semifinals at the Claro Open Colombia in Bogota. Between 2008 and 2013, Burgos won just three ATP Tour matches.
“It helps with experience, the fact that he knows that he’s played all of these tournaments and has been in these situations before,” Russell said. “He can draw upon that, and that’s helped him.”
Wide-eyed and smiling, Estrella Burgos didn’t try to play it cool after he won his second-round match Wednesday. He joyfully recounted his win over Feliciano Lopez, No. 25 on the ATP Tour.
“I played amazing,” Estrella Burgos said. “It’s unbelievable how I played. Sometimes I played some points, I was like, ‘What?’ I couldn’t believe I played like that. I am very emotional.”
His run ended against Giraldo, but when he makes his U.S. Open debut at 34, he not only will have his country behind him but also those who have gotten to know his jovial personality.
“He’s got a very good attitude,” Russell said. “He’s very positive and I think that’s what’s helped him play so well this year. He’s always worked hard, and I think the fact that he has belief that he can be a top-100 player after all of these years has helped him. . . . He’s one of those guys you like to see succeed because he’s one of the good guys.”