As this week began on the ATP World Tour, the two oldest men among the Top 100 in the world were polar opposites in many ways. Ivo Karlovic—all 6’11” of him—will be 39 at the end of the month. Karlovic currently stands at No. 90 in the world, and remains menacing for anyone who confronts him on the circuit.
On the other side of the spectrum, a 37-year-old from the Dominican Republic is the second oldest member of that elite Top 100. Victor Estrella Burgos, who is only 5’7” but has a gigantic heart of gold, found himself stationed at No. 86 in the world. And yet, as he chased a fourth singles title in a row at the Ecuador Open in Quito, Estrella Burgos had the unenviable task of trying to protect 250 ranking points. Not that Estrella Burgos was preoccupied with his ranking status.
“I can not worry too much about the ranking," he told me during a 25-minute interview last week over the phone. "I knew when I came to Quito to try to defend my title again that if I lost in the first round I am going to move outside the top 100. But I am not thinking about that. I am just thinking about playing very good tennis. The only thing to do is take it match by match, and every match is different.”
What makes the Estrella Burgos story so extraordinary is how his stellar record in Quito has been the bedrock of his success over the years. Heading into the tournament this year, he was 15-0 in Quito, winning his trio of titles in three-set final-round clashes. But his numbers elsewhere have not been anywhere near as lofty. In fact, if you take Quito out of the equation, Estrella Burgos had a career match record of 29-59 (.330) in ATP and Grand Slam tournament matches.
To further illustrate the point, without the 250 ranking points he garnered each of the last three years in Quito, his year-end rankings would have plummeted. Rather than finish 2017 at No. 83, he would have been at No. 142. In 2016, he concluded the year at No. 102, but his ranking would have dropped 68 spots. And in 2015, when he ended the season at No. 56, Estrella Burgos would have been ranked No. 108.
No other player in men’s tennis has experienced anything quite like what Estrella Burgos has done at his favorite tournament. He is the only player to have won three or more titles at one particular event, yet none anywhere else on the ATP tour. That disparity is something he has no real explanation for. He simply says that his level of comfort and confidence in Quito gives him a much larger sense of security.
Last night, he opened his campaign for a fourth consecutive crown with a come-from-behind triumph over the explosively talented Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci, lifting his head-to-head record over the left-hander to 4-0. Bellucci put on a shot-making clinic for a long stretch in this skirmish. Bellucci took the first set, which featured five service breaks. He prevailed 6-4. The second set went to 4-4. Estrella Burgos was two games away from a first-round setback that would have stung severely. But he took eight of the next 10 games to complete an impressive 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory.
“Quito is for me a special tournament,” says Estrella Burgos. “I just feel very good there and I come early every year to prepare. There are times I feel I almost can’t lose, but I know I have to stay very focused every time I play and give 100% of what I have to win. I have three titles in Quito and I came here this year to win No. 4."