NEW YORK (AP) — Victor Estrella insists that at 34, he’s not that old. He also laughs off the thought that his tennis career took off at a time when most of his peers are finishing up.
After all, the first player from the Dominican Republic to reach the Top 100 of the ATP rankings hasn’t played that much.
“I kind of think about that. I see that the guys from my generation, from the `80s, most of them have retired,” Estrella told The Associated Press. “But I really didn’t play when I was 18, 19 or 20. I think my body is rested in that regard. I’m not worn out physically.”
On Tuesday at the U.S. Open, he’ll play Igor Sijsling of the Netherlands and seek his first main-draw win at a Grand Slam event, boosted by the cheering from the sizable Dominican population in the city.
Estrella’s path in the sport is an odd one. It began when he was 8 years old, and his parents took him to the Centro Espanol club in Santiago to play tennis because he was so restless at home.
In his younger years, Estrella mostly played in Futures tournaments, the lowest level in tennis, plus Davis Cup ties.
Hailing from a country where baseball rules completely and there are very few public courts for tennis, he couldn’t get the financial support to travel abroad and decided to give up, becoming a coach.
Estrella decided to try a comeback when a former coach, Sixto Camacho, asked him to be a hitting partner for a Puerto Rican team preparing to play Davis Cup.
“Everything turned around at that moment. I rekindled the dream that I had at 18, to become a Top 100 player. I decided to stay at the academy, went to a hard training regime for two, three months,” he said.
But another setback came in 2012. While playing Davis Cup against Mexico, he suffered a torn cartilage in his right elbow and was out for six months.
The injury made him train and play with a sense of urgency.
“It was a blessing in disguise. It made me realized that I couldn’t waste more time,” he said.
Estrella kept climbing in the rankings and managed to crack the Top 100 last February when he won a Challenger tournament in Salinas, Ecuador. That opened the doors to gain direct entry to the French Open and Wimbledon, his first Grand Slams.
Next up, Flushing Meadows.
“I failed times in the qualifying tournament here. Now, I’m finally here. I want to enjoy a win in a Grand Slam and here in New York with so many Dominicans,” he said.