Oct/19

9

A Salute To Victor Estrella Burgos

Victor Estrella Burgos is a modern day marvel of tennis. The Dominican who played his last ATP match last night in Santo Domingo Challenger was not supposed to make it as a pro tennis player but he did.

At 23, the five foot eight righthander was a barely ranked nobody at the Pan American Games, who persevered for years and years with no money, an okay backhand and serve but a monster forehand, eking out a modest living in tennis, enduring injuries, struggling in the minor leagues, failing over and over at Grand Slam qualies (five years at US Open, 3 at FO, 3 at Wimb) before finally making it into US Open main draw on the sixth try at age 33 in 2014, then winning two rounds before losing to Milos Raonic on grandstand 76 76 76. He became the oldest first time top 100 entrant at 33.

The next year at age 34 he won an ATP title in Quito (beating Feliciano Lopez 62 67 76) and then defended it the following two years (both three set wins vs Paulo Lorenzi and Thomas Bellucci)! Estrella Burgos achieved a career best ranking of 43. It was an amazing career, capped off last night in a 62 62 defeat to Thiago Monteiro or Brazil. Estrella cried on the court, walking around with a towel, hugging his team and friends, totally lost in emotion. There may not have ever been a tougher fighter in the sport, who endured more struggle and suffering on his journey than Victor Estrella Burgos.

A friend and rival of mine, Peter Barrowclough once played Estrella in a USTA money tournament in Jersey City, losing 62 61. Peter told me Victor told him that his next tournament was also in the USTA Eastern section and that he needed to borrow a friend’s car to drive to it.

Today at 39, Victor Estrella Burgos retires with three ATP singles titles, over $2m in career prize money and an overall ATP won loss record of 84-81.

In some ways the career of Victor Estrella Burgos is more inspiring and impressive than Federer, Rafa, Djokovic and Serena.

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25 comments

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 9, 2019 at 6:44 pm

  • Doogie · October 10, 2019 at 3:17 am

    Thank you for this article and mentioning him on your site!
    This is why I love tennis – this is a true fairy tale.

    I cheer for people like him a lot more than a Federer – Nadal grand slam finale because for Estrella his whole life can depend on one match.

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 10, 2019 at 8:18 am

    Thanks Doogie, it’s surprising that no one is talking about Victor Estrella this week, this man is was a tennis legend unlike any other. ATP must give a special ceremony at WTF finals for him and tribute his career. Maybe even name a new special perseverance award after him.

  • Andrew Miller · October 10, 2019 at 9:13 am

    Such is the end of career for most players on tour. Most players don’t get a highlight reel as Flav Pennetta did at the Italian Open a few years back. It’s usually a final press conference if lucky, and even more common the Spadea exit from the game. Pack your bags and go home.

    I’m always surprised, always, that countries like the Dominican Republic don’t look at Vic Estrella B. example and get more players into tennis. I think juniors there look at it more like let’s make some extra money as club hitting partners at resorts. That’s what’s considered the big money, and there’s little to no aspirations beyond that.

    Another example I really like is the El Salvadoran player. Marcelo Arevalo. He broke the top 150, and he is without question the best player El Salvador has ever had and possibly the best player El Salvador will ever see in history. He’s back slid considerably in the rankings and joins Ryan Harrison in the 300s.

  • Andrew Miller · October 10, 2019 at 9:17 am

    Let me correct myself. Baseball is the top sport in the Dominican Republic. There is a pipeline from the country to the minor and major leagues in the States. However, someone who had a more broad understanding of sports and talent would be like listen, making it to the major leagues is impossible let’s get some of these kids into tennis.

    The problem with tennis parents is that there aren’t enough of them where needed in places such as the Dominican Republic.

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 10, 2019 at 9:18 am

    Andrew, Estrella Burgos has a super human will that most people don’t have. Most people can’t endure what he did, 11 failures at major qualies before finally making it in the 12th shot. All those years no money, bad ranking, borrowing cars, injuries, etc. About 0.01 can endure those kinds of hardships. There will never be another standout Dominican player like Estrella Burgos, he was the miracle. Hope they prove me wrong. I was told Jhonson Garcia was even better than Estrella but he didn’t make it, wasn’t able to stick to it, they are about the same age. Unfortunately Estrella will only remembered by a few and he will be forgotten and under appreciated for the all time legend of the sport he is and should be saluted as. He is the all time real Rocky Balboa of tennis.

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 10, 2019 at 9:20 am

    Dan I think it was you who told the funny story, asking Jeff Salzenstein when did he retire, and he replied, players like Becker retire, players like me just stop playing.

  • Andrew Miller · October 10, 2019 at 9:22 am

    I’ll take Burgos any day over Bellucci. Effort over talent. I say this as a fan of the Bellucci game. Nice lefty, didn’t seem to work as hard as a player like Vesely. Correct me if I’m wrong, coasted on talent. I’d definitely take Burgos.

  • Andrew Miller · October 10, 2019 at 9:37 am

    Sorry for calling him Burgos. Estrella. I think for what he did it’s great, and yes the sport is a graveyard of talent. I’m happy to see players not giving up.

    JJenkins sadly gave up, he did not pull a Estrella. He got around top two hundred, looked at the math and costs, and said I keep getting injured I’m out. That was it, it was I can’t pay for coaches, I can’t stay on tour, the money at this level isn’t working out, I’m out. And the thing is I can’t blame JJ – he then quit his day job and was working full time in tennis in Puerto Rico before he got the chance to be Serena Williams tennis hitting partner. But this is it, he forfeited his playing days and now by playing with the best female player in history recognizes what he would have needed to do to reach his potential. It was more than breaking even.

    So that will that Estrella shows should be required viewing by aspiring pros. It’s not enough to say I love it etc. Are you willing to do what Estrella has done? It’s a question that a player should constantly ask themselves.

    How about this. You can count how many players said as juniors they wanted to be the best in the world win slams blah blah blah. Are you willing to do what Estrella did? When the chips are down are you willing to do this?

    Like Scoop said and I think it’s obvious the answer is yes or no. Media from Tennis Magazine to the Guardian etc wrote Andy Murray’s tennis obituary after the Australian Open. Yet who’s having the last laugh now?

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 10, 2019 at 10:37 am

    Andrew, no one no player will ever persevere like Estrella, guys like Fognini and Nadal revere him, they appreciate what he achieved against all odds. They know the guy is a miracle more so than they are in many ways. Victor Estrella Burgos is the tennis miracle of all miracles. It won’t ever happen again. Tennis media totally forgot and does not appreciate him, too busy following the latest stories, and players dogs and who said what at the press conference, forehands backhands nobody cares, tell the one in a billion story about Victor Estrella Burgos. Not about Osaka keeping calm and trusting the process. Yawn.

  • Doogie · October 11, 2019 at 6:17 pm

    Another miracle story is Lorenzo Sonego, who has only played one (!!) ITF junior tennis match and made 4 games in it.

    He only played on club level until he was 18teen then he tried to qualify for future tournaments. In his 16th Future tournament he finally won one main draw match.

    Great story imo

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 11, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    It sure is a miracle story about Sonego Doogie, where did you learn about it? I first noticed his name last year and he just keeps going up and up and winning matches. Curious to learn more about Lorenzo Sonego.

  • Andrew Miller · October 11, 2019 at 8:00 pm

    Italy has learned its lesson. From now on it will pit players against tough competition and won’t care who wins junior whatever.

    Actually I bet they do care. They just don’t live for it. They have seen enough top ranked juniors in the pro rankings gutter.

  • Andrew Miller · October 11, 2019 at 8:15 pm

    Okay Scoop you’ve convinced me…you are an Estrella fan.

    I think everyone on the board has been around long enough to witness a few tennis miracles. I’m very happy for Estrella. I’m surprised no one in the Dominican Republic cares enough to pick up a racquet. But baseball is dominant there, so the odds of any kid being like one day I’m going to be a tennis champ are around zero.

    There may not be a player from the Dominican Republic that makes it in tennis for another five decades. That’s how dire it is. There aren’t many players, and they aren’t interested.

  • Andrew Miller · October 11, 2019 at 8:16 pm

    I am a Dzumhur fan. Does anyone care? Should they?

  • Andrew Miller · October 11, 2019 at 9:42 pm

    Wow, Vic Estrella is one of a kind. Sorry for the snarky comments. I think others can do what Burgos did, but it really requires some strokes of belief and luck.

    I think we can’t leave out the guys backstory. Basically an very good player with no opportunity to play – good enough (very good) to be on the Davis Cup team for his country (that’s very good) but with no chance of playing anywhere else because of money etc. Gets a chance to be the hitting partner for the Puerto Rican Fed cup team. Then gets a sponsorship. Plays US itf matches. Builds over time.

    When Scoop said it’s unheard of, I don’t think it’s unheard of. But it’s rare and, much like the teenage never seen anyone like this phenom that flames out there’s also a Burgos who breaks through. It all exists.

    Good job highlighting this unique guy. I’m surprised he beat Arevalo, who happens to be the best Salvadoran player in El Salvador’s history, another country with no tennis history whatsoever.

    I had no idea also the Dominican Republic’s challenger was one of the most popular in history, or that Estrella has such a big following in a baseball crazy country.

    Scoop is right. I am eating so many words I am sick to my stomach!!!

  • Doogie · October 12, 2019 at 2:12 am

    Sorry Andrew I dont get your sarcasm here. If u ever played junior tournaments, who should know that the majority there, have a rich background.

    Without parents money it is near to impossible to reach ATP/WTA level. You need at least €50.000 a year from 12th year on, if u take it serious.

    Even the most South American players have rich parents.

    All others are “miracles” and I have a huge, huge respect for everyone of those!!

    @Sonego: He has great support now from Italian crowd, if he plays a tournament in Italy because of his background. It is not a hidden story in Italy.

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 12, 2019 at 9:07 am

    Doogie, The Osaka’s somehow managed to do it with little money, the father did not work and the mom was a secretary. The exceptional juniors often get free training because the coach or academy operator wants a very good player on his courts because it makes him look good and it lures parents to pay for their kids to train with that very good junior. Osaka was not really a standout junior, she didn’t play ITFs and she didn’t do anything special in her teens, but she must have showed some potential to get all the free coaching she did.

  • Hartt · October 12, 2019 at 9:46 am

    I couldn’t find much in the tennis media bout Victor Estrella Burgos’ retirement, but Tennis World did have a nice piece.
    https://www.tennisworldusa.org/tennis/news/Tennis_Reads/75731/victor-estrella-burgos-the-man-who-overcame-every-obstacle-retires/

    But I agree, there should have been much more about his remarkable career.

  • Andrew Miller · October 12, 2019 at 10:32 am

    Tiafoe comes from nothing. No, not everyone that “makes it” is wealthy – Sampras dad owned a diner. That’s it, a diner. Agassi’s dad was a waiter.

    I knew this myself. So I disagree completely. And it’s a testament to the sport that its best player, Serena Williams, was not wealthy whatsoever.

    Yes I played juniors. I have said this a few times that there was somewhat of an arms race with kids showing up with ten perfectly strung $200 racquets. Also didn’t say they didn’t own tournaments, that they lost, that I also knew players who were flat out good without the same means that would beat these guys.

    So no, I don’t agree. Many players aren’t flush with cash. We know the academies grab money from those with cash to give free court time etc to those without.

  • catherine · October 12, 2019 at 11:21 am

    Actually, going back a bit, I can’t think of any top (as in No 1) players who came from wealthy backgrounds, not in Australia or GB (not many to choose from there). More likely in amateur days. Maybe MacEnroe, with his father a Wall St lawyer. Not Connors. Not BJK (father a fireman), not Steffi, etc. Some lower ranked players yes.

  • Andrew Miller · October 12, 2019 at 11:32 am

    re Estrella, what his story reminds me of is that some careers move forward or die based on a few chance encounters. What drove Estrella in my mind was a deep love for the sport and a dream to play pro tournaments. He was already very good, a Davis Cup player for his country (even if there are only a few thousand people that play in the Dominican – I didn’t see any courts outside the resorts!).

    He already was very good, a Davis Cup player. Let’s start with that: a player doesn’t reach any level in the Dominican Republic without having access to courts there. It’s not like Canada or the U.S. or any European country that supports tennis. It’s not unlike other Caribbean and Central American countries, where maybe there’s a sanctioned junior event in Costa Rica but otherwise there’s not much going on.

    Victor Estrella also highlights that if you aren’t an academy player with a sponsorship you have to get a sponsorship. I have known players that beat top ten and top hundred atp players in atp events, who left the tour when their sponsors died or sponsorships ended. Estrella was fortunate his sponsorships led to bigger ones and again, a stroke of very good fortune.

    We can look at Monique Viele, as an example of misfortune. She was on tour briefly, maybe two years max. And in that time her dad, one of two parents who lobbied endlessly for her and fought the WTA tour (for no good reason), died. So here she is, wealthy player, had a good if not hyped game, not quite ready for prime time but hungry and all of the sudden her greatest promoter, her reason for fighting, her dad dies.

    Misfortune.

    So tennis is about far more than whether or not you can afford your restring. It’s about chance, luck, good fortune, misfortune. All sorts of things. Motivation, are you living your parents dream or like Estrella, is there something else there?

    I forget this. That behind some of the headlines there’s much more drama. Even with Kyrgios. I think personally Kyrgios has significant mental issues. There’s also the suggestion he’s living someone else’s sports dream, not one he would have chosen for himself. That’s actually a real thing and a real factor. It’s the same for Bernie Tomic – the young Bernie Tomic saw himself as someone on the way to all time greatness and then you see he has one of the more abusive tennis parents, and now plays to penalize everyone.

    When Jon King talks about the arms race in tennis, that upsets me. Ultimately though I know that kids that don’t like the sport will find a way to penalize everyone. That these drug fiascos will blow up. That many will lose to other kinds of things, such as teenage drama and angst and even decide to play other sports. A lot of players wash out!

    When I was a junior and not that it matters, one of the best players I played, top twenty nationally? I’m not sure what his ranking was. He lost to drugs. He was a drug addict. His parents pushed him mercilessly and he washed out because his demons were too great for him.

    Another good player, who could have gone further, got a scholarship to college. Having reached her end goal she decided that was it, college was the end game, hang up the racquets. Sometimes it’s a means to an end.

    Some players like Jarmere Jenkins, really nice game – he didn’t recognize what was needed to get to a top level. Only after preparing Serena Williams years later did he see, wow, this is what’s needed to Bea top player. A mindset, a practice regime, physio…all sorts of things that if he had done them probably would have allowed him to leap to the top hundred from the top 200. But because he was around other challenger players that thought the same way, there was no understanding. And this is a guy whose family is all tennis players!!! Even he and his parents and his brother didn’t get that the highest levels were much higher and required more practice, more on court work, more of more.

  • Andrew Miller · October 12, 2019 at 11:50 am

    The Osakas, the Giorgi family, some part of me is upset that they play tennis coaches for fools and get away with it. It’s one thing if they didn’t mean to but they signed all kinds of contracts and then stuck it to their patrons.

    Part of me is like well the patrons, the tennis coaches etc shouldn’t have seen the kids as tickets to riches or greater riches in the Giorgi case, where part of her earnings would pay off the training debt to the individual sponsors. The other part of me is serves them right, why did they think that they could force a player to fork over their earnings for past training contracts? Why didn’t they get that Giorgi’s dad was going to play them off the Italian Federation or the highest bidder to get his daughter free coaching?

    They end up looking greedy and foolish.

    But yeah I don’t like the practice of well I don’t owe anyone anything I did all the work the training was nice but really my dad coached me. I don’t like that at all, it’s not the history of the player. It ends up making me really appreciate the national systems and regional systems that a few commenters here talk about. Even Nadal is a product of more of a regional system if tennis, where there’s an appreciation for the sport, even in places as far flung as the resort islands of Mayorca, Spain.

    I get a little worried when players see things entirely through individual lens and don’t see themselves of products of larger forces. Aka it’s not just your family. Not just you. The sport existed before you and it will be there after you retire, too. It’s not just that you were a teenage phenom but the fact your exceptional team member (Ferrero) caught chicken pox at an older age and that gave you the prime time slot for a Davis Cup breakthrough (see Nadal, 2004). It’s not just that you’re a great player but your competition in Spain was ridiculously outstanding (Feliciano Lopez, David Ferrer, F Verdasco, Robbie Bautista, etc etc etc etc).

    For what it’s worth Estrella is part of a larger thing too. He’s fortunate the Dominican had a Davis Cup team. We know so little about Estrella backstory. But we do know that if any other Dominican players break the top hundred (I checked and there are a few top 300 players), they owe their careers to Victor Estrella. That’s really amazing.

  • Scoop Malinowski · October 12, 2019 at 12:39 pm

    The Ferrero chicken pox story always seemed fishy to me. Now that you mention it again Andrew, it’s even more fishy. His career was never the same after that. It’s like maybe he lost his vitamin bottle or he forgot to keep taking his vitamins.

  • Andrew Miller · October 12, 2019 at 2:39 pm

    Ferrero…actually made a decent comeback, even getting back to the top twenty. I blame his post chicken pox results on the switch from his Prince Graphite version racquets to Head. Some others here? have said it was that the game changed, that Ferrero, one of the better clay players the world has seen, almost a Spanish Agassi and Hewitt wrapped into one without the C’mon! factor, couldn’t keep up with the times. He was speedy, super speedy and suddenly his speed didn’t matter. His back and forth game, up and down, didn’t translate to a game where you had to hit winners from defensive positions – Ferrero hit plenty of beautiful and lightning shots from offensive positions on the court – he got to the ball fast and put it away.

    But when on the run that became the norm, you had to put the ball away from spots of the court that used to be where balls went for winners, where you are lucky to get a racquet on it. Now the expectation is not only do you get to that ball but you change your grip and rip it from that defensive position.

    Ferrero serve was also a question mark. It worked fine against the likes of Chela and Agassi. Then others came along and pasted it.

    Federer rose as Ferrero fell. Federer was more of this breed of player that could hit any shot from anywhere. Ferrero couldn’t do that.

    I thought Ferrero was incredible. It turned out that once he got sick and then took the Head money he became Ferrero 2.0, which wasn’t as good as Ferrero 1.0! But he did acquit himself nicely with Davis Cup wins and made a very decent comeback.

    Just that as far as the records show Ferrero was awesome in 2002 and 2003 and then was not just another Spanish player afterwards but possibly not even top five Spaniard. Which is unbelievable.

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