In April 2015, star tennis player Roger Federer tweeted “I had a lot of fun training with @VitiEstrella80,” he wrote. “A hero of the Dominican Republic and a great guy.” In the photograph, he appeared with Víctor Estrella, the top racket in the country.
It took him time to get there. But at 33, Estrella accomplished something thousands of tennis players with more resources and better physical ability have not, breaking the top 100 in the world rankings.
His road began at age 8, where he was a ball boy during training sessions at Centro Español in his native Santiago de los Caballeros. He was excited to see the players slide on the surface and swing the racket with all their strength. At that time, despite growing up an avid baseball fan, he traded the bat for a racket.
Still young, and with the skills acquired when he was a ball boy, he became an instructor for the Center. The private lessons he taught helped him with a goal he had set for himself in the year 2000, when he was 20 years old. He wanted to travel the world as a professional tennis player.
“AGE IS ONLY A NUMBER, IT ALL DEPENDS ON HOW MUCH DESIRE YOU PUT INTO THINGS”
He won bronze medals in the men’s singles and mixed doubles tournaments in the Central American and Caribbean Games in Cartagena de Indias in 2006, and a silver medal in men’s doubles in the same games. This was the motivation needed to make the jump to professional tennis. The problem? The Dominican Republic was not ready for him. “When you are the first one to break the barriers it becomes quite difficult,” Estrella recalls.
In addition to that, there was something else limiting his progress. Given the lack of financial support, he did not start as early as other athletes. “My professional career started when many others were thinking of saying goodbye to the sport,” he says. “At the age of 30, many have already retired, and that was precisely when I began taking my first steps.”
Something that he still cannot describe took hold of him, and even when everything seemed to be against him, he was determined. He started out in the 567TH position in the world ranking. In 2008 he ranked 239. In May 2009, he won his first 2 titles in the ATP Challenger Series, in men’s doubles. Representing the Dominican Republic in the Central American and Caribbean Games in Mayagüez in 2010, he became the men’s singles champion, ending the year ranked 219 in the world.
The year 2011 was a triumphant one, he conquered his first singles Challenger title by defeating Colombian Alejandro Falla in the finals in Medellín, and reached the podium with a bronze medal in the Pan American Games in Guadalajara. The latter was his greatest victory in the contests that make up the Olympic cycle, giving the country its first-ever Pan American medal in men’s tennis.
In 2012, he became the Dominican Republic’s all-time leader in Davis Cup wins, with a 33-13 record in singles and 18-18 in doubles. In 2013, he defeated Brazilian Thomaz Belluci in the Challenger Series final round in Bogotá.
These achievements presented him with a sort of match point in his career, from there he catapulted into the prestigious Roland Garros, facing Polish opponent Jerzy Janowicz, then ranked 21 in the world. Victor was defeated, however, his performance led him to be ranked 90th in the world. The first Dominican to ever win a set in in a Grand Slam event had accomplished his dream. His name was now included in the golden list.
In August 2014, he would also be the first Dominican to compete in the main draw in the U.S. Open, and at the age of 34, he would be the oldest player to ever make his debut in the main draw of a Grand Slam. There, came back from one set down to defeat Dutchman Igor Sijsling; later he defeated 17-year-old Borna Coric from Croatia making it to the the third round. In the third round, his rival was Canadian Milos Raonic, ranked 5th in the world by the ATP, who defeated him 7-6, 7-6, 7-6, eliminating the Caribbean player from further competing in the tournament.
In 2015 he won an ATP tournament and became the oldest player to ever win a championship in the ATP, breaking the top 50 in the world reaching the 43RD spot. On top of that he won the tournament in 2016, defeating Brazilian opponent Thomaz Belluci, becoming the only player to win it twice.
The eyes of the Dominican people are still on him, especially after having earned his ticket to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro –the first male tennis player and only the second Dominican to do so, along Joelle, who represented the country in Atlanta 1996.– In his only match in Brazil, he faced Italian Fabio Foginni and was defeated 2-6, 7-6, 6-0, but he is always thinking positive.
In the fall, after the Rio Games, Estrella was ranked 82nd in the world. “We are going to continue looking for challenges. My idea is to continue playing and finish in the top 50,” remarks the athlete. “I am almost 36 years old, but I feel great physically and I enjoy what I do.”