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Estrella is Dominican Republic's Star Player

Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.A.

Victor Estrella© ATPVictor Estrella

Although No. 243 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings, it's fair to say that Victor Estrella is the best player to ever emerge from the Dominican Republic. And this week in Cincinnati Estrella is experiencing the highlight of his career after qualifying into the main draw of the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters.

Estrella had never even attempted to qualify for any ATP event before this week. But, after losing to Xavier Malisse in the quarterfinals of the Lexington Challenger in nearby Kentucky, the 27-year-old drove to Cincinnati to play qualies, where he beat Rohan Bopanna and Paul Capdeville to reach the main draw

"It's the first time someone from the Dominican Republic is playing an ATP tournament. I am very happy to be here," Estrella said. "Tennis is probably the fifth biggest sport in the Dominican. They play as juniors and some go to college, but I always wanted to play ATP."

Estrella turned pro in 2002 and played Futures events, the lowest level on the pro tour. Finding little success, Estrella quit the game for a couple of years and worked as a coach in the Dominican Republic. But he tried his hand again in mid 2006 after moving to Miami to train.

"One of the biggest problems in the Dominican Republic is that we don't have money for travel. I retired for four years because I couldn't afford to travel. Even now there are times when if I lose early in a Challenger I may not be able to go to the next event. I need to win the match to earn money to keep traveling. That can put a lot of pressure on you. When I got the the quarterfinals in Lexington I got $1,400 so it meant I could keep playing. There are some times when the Dominican Foundation can help out a little."

To keep expenses to a minimum, Estrella always tries to stay with a family rather than in a hotel and he's not too proud to take a Greyhound bus to the next tournament. He can't restring his racquets as frequently as he would like and he uses a loose string tension of 45 pounds, in part because it makes breaking a string less likely.

By qualifying into the Cincinnati main draw Estrella is guaranteed a hotel room and $8,000 even if he loses his first-round match against Spaniard Fernando Verdasco. But that is precious money that he will spend wisely. At next week's Binghamton Challenger Estrella will again board with a family instead of stay in the tournament hotel.

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