Evergreen Burgos Proves Age Is Just A Number In Men's Tennis


Whatever you do, don’t mention retirement to Victor Estrella Burgos.

At the ripe old age of 34, this Dominican player has just won his maiden ATP title. On Sunday he beat top seed Feliciano Lopez in the final of the Ecuador Open Quito, making him the oldest first-time ATP title-winner in the Open Era.

“Last year I was the oldest player to debut at the US Open, and now I am the oldest first-time titlist,” said the first Dominican ever to break into the ATP world top 100. 

“I’m making history for my country, for me and for tennis worldwide. I think age is just a number for me.”

But in tennis terms it's definitely a high number. The perceived wisdom is that, by the time they hit their mid-30s, most professional tennis players are starting to wind down their careers, not ramp them up.

Burgos firmly proves, however, that age is no barrier to success.

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Rewind a few decades and you find that mid-30s didn't used to be the racket-sport redundancy that it is today.

Ken Rosewall was 37 when he won the 1972 Australian Open – a feat unthinkable in the modern game.

More recently, Andre Agassi won the 2003 Australian Open aged 32 years and eight months.

Step back from Grand Slam events onto the ATP tour proper and you occasionally find champions who are manifestly middle-aged.

Take Pancho Gonzalez, for example, who was three months shy of his 44th birthday (a veritable grandee) when he won the Des Moines Open in 1972.

Why is it, then, that the youngsters don't automatically wipe the court with their older counterparts? After all, they are undoubtedly faster and keener.

What the younger players lack, of course, is match experience and a certain wiliness you possess after years on the court. 

And strength of shot doesn't diminish when you reach your mid-30s. (Look at 35-year-old big server Ivo Karlovic who reached four ATP finals last year. Or Serena Williams who, at 33, is still leaps and bounds ahead of her nearest WTA rivals.)

Andre Agassi of the USA with the trophy  : News Photo

Then there's the mental toughness: when a 30-something finds himself up against a 20-something, that extra decade or so of grinding out three-and five-setters is invaluable.

There's stamina, too. While younger players are quicker around the court, older players often outlast opponents physically when matches go the distance.

Finally there's stage presence. Players who have graced the professional tour for decades have a certain swagger, and cockiness that is lacking in young whipper-snappers. Which explains why 33-year-old Roger Federer still reaches the business end of Grand Slams.

So maybe Burgos's win in Ecuador isn't just some late-career anomaly.

“As we say in the Dominican Republic, ‘el cielo es mi techo’ – ‘the sky is my limit’,” he explained last weekend. “I have no limits! My limit is up to wherever God wants.”

Burgos is still ranked too low to feature on Unibet’s odds for the next Grand Slam, the French Open. Favourite to win that tournaments is Rafa Nadal at 2.15, followed by Novak Djokovic at 2.38.

In the women’s draw Serena Williams is favourite to win at 3.75, followed by Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep, both at 6.00.