The next step

At age 5, Thomas Estrada was different from most children. While others were learning how to color between the lines, Estrada was playing inside of them.

The only difference is that his works of art were not made on construction paper – they were made on a tennis court.

Estrada, a freshman from Medellin, Colombia, has been playing tennis for the past 14 years.

“Tennis is my whole life,” Estrada said. “I’ve loved the game since the first time I ever played it.”

Growing up on the clay courts of Colombia, Estrada became a force to be reckoned with. He began playing in tournaments when he was 8. At 12, Estrada played in the South American Games in Brazil and in the Banana Bowl, one of the most prestigious tournaments in which a junior player can compete. By the end of the year, he captured his first tournament victory.

Luis Fernando Rodas, his coach from Colombia, knew Estrada had something special.

“Thomas is a very complete player with many great aspects,” Rodas said. “He is at an age where he can do many good things in his career.”

Men’s tennis coach Don Barr sees attributes that make Estrada a great player.

“Thomas has great discipline for such a young player,” Barr said. “He is one of the quickest players I’ve seen and has a great ground stroke game.”

Under the tutelage of Rodas, Estrada began to blossom. At 14, he won the South American Tennis Confederation title, known as COSAT, in Colombia. He also won a doubles tournament in Belgium. At 16, Estrada played in the Junior World Cup in Spain. By the time he was 18, Estrada was the No. 1 player in Colombia and earned points in the Association of Tennis Professionals.

Having accomplished so much in Colombia, Estrada decided to come to USF.

“I believe that everybody should go to a university because it is important for your future,” Estrada said. “I wanted to go to USF because I have family close by, and I really love the city.”

Barr was thrilled by his decision to come to USF.

“Thomas is a very talented player,” Barr said. “His family came to visit me, and on paper I could tell he was good. Watching him this year, I can tell that he really is a special player.”

Rodas can see how Estrada’s previous accomplishments are him now.

“Thomas is a player who is both talented and easy to handle,” Rodas said. “We accomplished many important things on the COSAT series.”

After playing professionally, Estrada has had to make many adjustments. The biggest was going from the No.1 player in his country to being the No. 5 player on USF’s team.

“Playing (at No. 5) doesn’t affect me too much because it is my first season here,” Estrada said. “I’m still getting used to the courts, and I need to adapt myself to the hard courts and new rules.”

The difference in court surface may have been Estrada’s most difficult adjustment.”It is almost like a whole different game,” Estrada said. “The ball stays lower, and you can play on the baseline using a lot of spins. On hard courts, it is easier to move around.”

Estrada had to adjust quickly, as he did not join USF or the team until the spring. “It was hard at the beginning because I had to adjust my game and deal with the classes,” Estrada said. “It was very different for me, but I got used to it after one or two weeks.”

Estrada brought a very disciplined approach to his game, which is something he has been doing since he was 5 years old.

“I really like playing here because back in Colombia it was just me and my coach,” Estrada said. “Here, I have coaches and my teammates, and I feel like they are all my family.”

Estrada has been a bright spot on the Bulls’ roster. He finished second on the team with 12 singles victories and tallied 11 doubles victories. Nine of his doubles wins came when he played with junior Mahmoud Hamed.

“Thomas has been a very valuable player for us this year,” Hamed said. “I think it is very hard to adapt to the new surroundings, but he did that well and won a lot of matches for us this season.”

Being on top for so long has motivated Estrada to further improve his game.

“For next year, I’m going to try to give my 100 percent,” Estrada said. “I am going to practice all summer and participate in the matches set up for the fall. The more I practice on the hard courts, the better I will be next year.”

Estrada knows what it takes to be No. 1, and Barr feels it’s only a matter of time before he reaches his goal.

“Thomas has all of the tools to be a great player,” Barr said. “All he has to do is continue on the path he’s on.”