Victor Estrella Burgos is 34. That's two years older than the retired Andy Roddick and one year older than supposedly past-his-prime Roger Federer. And it's more than double the age of California teen CiCi Bellis, who stole the show with her first-round win.
Yet Burgos made his U.S. Open debut this year. In fact, he is still experiencing it. The No. 80-ranked player in the world reached the third round Thursday with a 7-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 win over Croatian Borna Coric, a 17-year-old. On match point, his eyes began to water.
"I cannot believe I'm in this situation," Estrella Burgos said after the match. "Like I'm going to make the third round in the U.S. Open. I was a little nervous and very emotional for me, but thank God I got the point."
Winning two matches in U.S. Open debut is one accomplishment. Winning those matches as a 34-year-old -- and the first man from the Dominican Republic to ever play in the U.S. Open -- is another. With his two wins, Estrella Burgos is single-handedly publicizing tennis in his country in an unprecedented way.
"I think I am opening way to another player," he said. "People from the Dominican, I think they are in the party now. They are very happy. This is very special for me to come from a very long way. Nobody plays. I didn't have any idea before I was 18 years old about this tournament. Now, I enjoy it so much."
A significant amount of tennis stars at the U.S. Open spent their childhood and teenage years with expensive coaching. In the modern era, tennis academies around the world attract the strongest youth players in their respective countries to train for professional careers.
Estrella Burgos had no such tennis education. At 8, he started working as a ball boy at a country club in Santiago. He taught himself via naked eye, studying the members' techniques.
Paula Sebelen played tennis at St. John's University but spent much of her breaks in her native Santiago. For practice sessions, she was advised to hit with an 11-year-old Estrella Burgos.
“No one spent money on this kid, but he hit the ball like crazy," Sebelen told The New York Times.
Estrella Burgos was 22 when he turned pro in 2002, but spent most of the next decade playing in low-level tournaments. Due to monetary constraints he could not even focus solely on tennis until 2007. Even then, Estrella Burgos kept his game local in minor events.
In the past few years, something has clicked. After a right elbow injury nearly ended his career in 2012, Estrella Burgos bounced back to compete for Grand Slam opportunities. In 2013, Estrella Burgos reached the final round of U.S. Open qualifying before falling to American Donald Young.
This year, he earned a spot in the French Open, where he lost in four sets to then-23rd-ranked Jerzy Janowicz in the first round. At Wimbledon, he fell in the first round to then-68th-ranked Jiri Vesely.
At the U.S. Open, Estrella Burgos has popped.
"This makes me [hungrier] to do better and better," Estrella Burgos said. "I'm the winner, not just for today. I'm top 100, I have my entrance to the U.S. Open. I'm a winner already."
Although the U.S. Open is played thousands of miles from the Dominican Republic, the venue feels like home court for Estrella Burgos. He serves just a few thousand feet from the former home of such Dominican baseball stars as Jose Reyes and Pedro Martinez. Robinson Cano and Alfonso Soriano starred down the road at Yankee Stadium.
The Dominican fans in the New Yor area are flooding Flushing Meadows for Estrella Burgos. Although both his previous matches were played on side courts, Dominicans waved flags and screamed chants from 'Victor!' to 'Papi!' with all their might. At points, the scene indeed looked more like a baseball crowd than a tennis audience.
"We were talking about how many Dominicans are going to come?" Estrella Burgos recalled about a conversation with his physical coach and trainer before the match Thursday. "Today was full, the court was full. I have like a thousand coaches because all of them, they are coaching me. We are in the game. We are going to take the towel. We hear what they say every time. I don't know how to word this, but I think they are going to buy tickets for sure to come Saturday and see me play in the stadium."
Estrella Burgos will line up against Milos Raonic, the No. 5 seed from Canada. The 23-year-old Raonic reached the semifinals at Wimbledon earlier this year and is coming off back-to-back fourth round appearances at the U.S. Open.
As the lists of firsts continues to expand, it can be noted Saturday's match with Raonic will be Estrella Burgos' first against a Top 10 opponent.
"I don't think this is going to change my life," he said. "I'm going with the same life. I'm a tennis player. I'm on a different level now, of course, because I get my new ranking, and it is going to be a very good ranking. But I think I'm going to be the same Victor. The same Victor working every day very hard and being happy in the locker room."
It has taken Estrella Burgos 12 years as a pro to have his Grand Slam moment. In a few days, he has accomplished more than his countrymen had in a century. Only adding to his success is the ridiculous nature of Estrella Burgos' age. At a time most of his fellow tour players are retired, Estrella Burgos is having his best moment.
— martin moncion (@martinmoncion) August 29, 2014
"I think it is happening now because this had to happen now," he said. "I think about when I was 20 years old, as I told you before, I didn't have any idea about this tournament. In the Dominican Republic, we don't have this.
"I cannot go back. I cannot start to think why didn't this happen when I was 20 or 22 or 24. Now, it is happening when I am 34. I'm very happy."
Estrella means star in Spanish. Win or lose Saturday, Estrella Burgos will be shining extra bright for those back in the Dominican Republic.