Old man Estrella Burgos a fountain of youth


Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic was 33 years old when he cracked the ATP top 100 last year. In August he turned 34; his birthday present — entirely earned — was the honor of becoming the oldest player ever to make his debut in the US Open main draw. And just last week in Ecuador, Estrella Burgos became the oldest first-time tournament winner in ATP’s Open era, as Peter Bodo reports for ESPN.

At the rate he’s going, there’s an outside chance that Estrella Burgos will end up hoisting the Wimbledon singles champion’s trophy in the same year he celebrates his 50th birthday, 2030.

The success of older players on the pro tours has become a regular theme the past few years — news flash: Francesca Schiavone, 34, qualified for Antwerp just this week — but does anyone else think this is getting a little ridiculous? The ATP and WTA aren’t just going gray, they’re going snow white.

Everywhere you look, there are inspirational stories suggesting that Ponce de Leon might have spent all that time looking for something that not only exists but also has found its way into the water supply of the Floridian cities of Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida (headquarters of the ATP) and St. Petersburg (home of the WTA). After all, it was right in that neck of the woods that Ponce de Leon poked around seeking the Fountain of Youth.

Now that 30 is the new 20, players such as Kimiko Date-Krumm, Roger Federer,Tommy Robredo, Schiavone, Venus Williams, Tommy Haas, Serena Williams, Flavia Pennetta (a stripling of 32) and others are having the times of their lives. In another noteworthy ATP final on Sunday, Guillermo Garcia-Lopez took the Zagreb title with a win over Andreas Seppi — both men are over 30 and playing perhaps the best tennis of their lives.

But none of these stories, perhaps not even that of 44-year-old Date-Krumm, is as compelling as that of Estrella Burgos. Estrella Burgos developed his game in a vacuum, in a nation that has never been delineated on the world tennis map. Blessed with a surfeit of energy that is still striking, Estrella Burgos discovered the game at the urging of his parents. But they didn’t exactly say, “Here’s a racket, go be the next Rod Laver.” It was more like, “Get out of the house. You’re driving us crazy!”

Estrella Burgos turned pro in 2002, but he soon hit a wall and left the tour to focus on coaching. A right-hander, he rolled the dice again in 2006 and slowly worked his way up through Futures and Challenger events until he tore cartilage in his serving elbow. The injury sidelined him for six months, during which he pondered quitting on his dream. After all, he’d won a grand total of three ATP matches between 2008 and 2013.

But Estrella Burgos persevered and made a resonant breakthrough last July at the Bogota ATP 250. He upended ATP No. 14 Richard Gasquet before losing in the semis to Bernard Tomic.

In action, Estrella Burgos is all bounce and ebullience. He’s like one of those inflatable clown punching bags that keep popping back up every time you land a shot. The harder you hit, the faster he pops back up.

His legs seem disproportionately short, but unlike other players, they’re not overly thick. They’re almost wiry, implying that a lot of his power comes from somewhere between his broad shoulders and pinched waist. Estrella Burgos stands only 5-foot-8, but a stick of dynamite stood on end isn’t all that tall, either.

By the time Estrella Burgos made his US Open debut, the friendly and energetic Dominican was fast approaching folk-hero status among tennis aficionados. He lost a hard-fought straight sets match to No. 6 seed Milos Raonic (each set ended in a tiebreaker) in the third round, but the winner expressed his admiration for Estrella Burgos when they shook hands at the net and later told the media:

“I saw [Estrella Burgos] when I was playing through the Challenger circuit. You’d see him playing qualies or getting in as one of the last guys in the main draw. … Now, to see him getting into Grand Slams, directly into quite a few tournaments as well, it’s nice to see.”

After Estrella Burgos’ win at Quito on Sunday, he said, “I dreamed about not retiring without winning an ATP title. It is very important to every player; for me it is very meaningful. It means a lot to me to be in the book of tennis records. … I’m making history for my country, for me, and for tennis worldwide. I think that age is just a number for me.”

That’s the new rallying cry on the pro tour, so who knows? If Estrella Burgos makes that 2030 Wimbledon final, perhaps he’ll get to cross off another item on his bucket list. Maybe he’ll get to play the final against another age-defying player who’s actually a year younger than Estrella-Burgos, Federer.

It would be fitting. “All my life I’ve admired, and still admire, Roger Federer,” Estrella Burgos said. “For me, he’s the best of the best, and I hope to play against him one day.”

For the original report go to http://espn.go.com/blog/peter-bodo/post/_/id/1000/old-man-estrella-burgos-a-fountain-of-youth

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