Victor Estrella Burgos: the man who overcame every obstacle retires

The emotional story of a man who has demonstrated that it is never too late.

by Alice Cimino
Victor Estrella Burgos: the man who overcame every obstacle retires

It came as a bitter news to the tennis world: Victor Estrella Burgos, protagonist of one of the most exceptional stories that this sport has ever known, has announced his imminent retirement. It is no unexpected news in theory: the Dominican, who turned thirty-nine this year, has battled the stereotypes that link tennis and age for around a decade, always pushing away the finish line.

“Viti”, like Ivo Karlovic or Feliciano Lopez, has accustomed his fans to superhuman feats—conquering most of his successes while many of his peers locked their rackets in the closet—and his presence had come close to be considered somehow everlasting.

However, in a recent Instagram post, the thrice-crowned Quito champion has revealed the date of his definitive departure from the tour as a professional player. “One of the most gratifying things in my life has been defending my flag and my country with bravour,” Estrella Burgos wrote.

“I take with me every nice memory of all the victories and experiences at the Olympic, Pan American, and Central American Games, as well as Davis Cup. Thank you from the heart to all those who have always been there for me.

I want to announce today that my official farewell, as a player, from the courts that I love so much will happen in October, during the Santo Domingo Open”. This message has drawn more than one sorry reaction in the star’s Caribbean country.

“The best tennis player that the Dominican Republic has ever had is leaving,” Sixto Camacho, the man without whom Estrella Burgos’ story might have unfolded completely differently, told Tennis World USA.

“At first, it is going to be somewhat bitter”. Yet, as Camacho later added, the passing years will wash the sourness away and leave a worthy trail of anecdotes to tell future generations. “We, the Dominicans, find inspiration in Victor,” And the long-time coach knows a great deal about it.

It was on the tennis courts of the Centro Espanol, in Santiago de los Caballeros, that Camacho—around twelve years old at that time—met the seven-year-old ball boy called Victor Estrella Burgos. “Victor has always had all the talent needed to play tennis,” Estrella Burgos’ former coach explained.

“But his possibilities were very restrained due to the economical topic”. Born in a family with low resources, Estrella Burgos’ only chance to learn tennis, the sport that he loved with all his will, was to work as a “bolero”.

Helping to maintain the courts, collecting the balls for the club’s members—and gaining the right, over the years, to hit with them—Viti earned some change to invest in future tournaments. “Victor has a big heart, he is a warrior, a gladiator,” Camacho said.

“With an incredible bravour”. Estrella Burgos used all the means available to him to finance his career start in 2002, but he was not able to break through. At the age of twenty-two, he found himself, again, with no economical resources to pursue his dream.

For four years, he worked as a simple tennis teacher in his natal city, earning just enough to support his living, until he received a call from his childhood friend. “From the start, I considered Victor as a younger brother,” Camacho, who worked as the director of the Performance Tennis Academy in 2006, explained.

He contacted Estrella Burgos because he needed a sparring partner for the Puerto Rican Fed Cup team, but this proposition turned out to be a life-changing detail. In Weston, Florida, the owner of the PTA noticed Victor’s potential, and the Dominican was introduced to the possibility of seriously biting into a professional career.

“This is how we started this precious story,” Camacho recalled, warmness for the memory affecting in his voice. “I convinced him to play again”. There followed two months of intense training, at the height of which Viti participated to his first official tournament in about seven years.

The F9 in Vero Beach had a qualifying draw of 128 and main draw of 32, which made it seem like a hard bit to chew—but Estrella Burgos’ will has an excellent dentition. He made his way to the final, bowing only to Bahamas’ Ryan Sweeting.

While this anecdote might be familiar to those who have explored a little of the Dominican’s impressive climb, Camacho knows a part of the story that reveals even more about Viti’s ability to overcome obstacles.

The week after Vero Beach, the same story again—a Future, a big qualification draw—with a slight variation: Camacho, who had to get back to his job at the academy, left his player alone in Tampa. “He didn’t know anything about Miami, anything about Florida,” the coach said.

So when Victor called, panicking after having lost his first-round match in the main draw, saying that he was not good enough to keep going and that he would head back to the Dominican Republic, Camacho was caught off-guard at a four-hours drive from his friend.

He still managed to convince him of staying at the academy. Two months later, the trauma was lifted enough to allow other Future participations. Knowing that he would have to go big or literally go home, Victor left no space to his opponents: he won two tournaments and reached the final of a third.

“After this, it’s all history,” Camacho added, laughing. “Imagine, the things that life gives”. And life did indeed twist itself artistically to form Estrella Burgos’ path. Starting with nothing, he has ended up being his people’s champion, building an example for youth in a country where tennis was little known—and which was little known by tennis.

However, his way to the top could not be smooth: every good story has at least a few plot twists. Victor had a discreet new start, improving his game as he stepped up the ladder of competition he participated to, until he made it to his first Master 1000 main draw: Cincinnati, in 2008.

Yet, he was not yet ready for the highest levels, despite his excellent results in Futures and Challengers, and he stagnated in a vague in-between until an elbow injury froze his evolution, at the age of thirty-two. The perspective of having to retire without breaking into the Top 100, the main of his goals at the time, made the months of pause even more horrible to Estrella Burgos.

But his will was once again superior to the obstacle. Avoiding an almost certainly career-destructing surgery thanks to alternative techniques, Viti made his second comeback in 2013, with a renewed resolution and spirit. “Victor has always, always understood that he could be among the best at an international level,” Camacho said.

And how to blame Viti for this audacious belief, if he proved himself right during the past decade? You will hear the Dominicans speak about his numerous Pan American and Central American victories. You will hear them talk about the longevity record he has broken by winning his first ATP title at the age of thirty-five, about his incredible consecutive triple win in Quito.

You will hear them talk about his participation to the Olympic Games, you will hear them being proud of his breaking into the Top 50, and you may hear them comparing his records to Roger Federer’s—they’re both among the few players who have won at least three consecutive titles in the Open Era.

But in the end, the Dominicans will always tell you about Victor’s core values, about his simplicity and humility, about his relentless hard work and about his lion heart. Jose Hernandez Fernandez, currently the first Dominican in the ATP rankings, has summed it up himself, “Victor, not only for me, but for the whole country, represents the fighting spirit and passion for a sport; the will to achieve a goal, no matter the obstacles.

He has always believed in himself, and he has achieved things that everyone thought impossible. This is worthy of admiration”. “Many players from the area relate to him because of his perseverance,” Hernandez Fernandez added, before talking about the immediate future of professional tennis in the Dominican Republic, “Now it will remain a responsibility for Roberto Cid, Nick Hardt, Jose Olivares, and me.

We will have to keep the Davis Cup team going forward”. Still, a bare second later, the twenty-nine-year-old added, in the tone of somebody who knows what person he is talking about, “Although I think that Victor might still play [the Davis Cup].

He may retire from the professional tour, but he still has a couple more lives for the Davis Cup”. A whole country hopes as much as Hernandez Fernandez: when Estrella Burgos plays the Davis Cup series at home, the stadium is set on fire.

For the Dominicans, Victor has been a shooting star, but not one to which they could express a wish: the one that has represented the wish. He has lit up the path for tennis in the Dominican Republic, and he leaves the professional tour as an athlete who has done much for the sport and more for his country. “Victor has to be remembered in the best way,” Camacho concluded. “As he has been: a champion”.

Victor Estrella Burgos