One of the most successful athletes of all time, Dutch wheelchair tennis star Esther Vergeer, announced her retirement yesterday after an astonishing unbroken run of 470 wins spanning more than 10 years.
“A special day: officially stopping tennis,” Vergeer, 31, wrote on micro-blogging site Twitter.
Vergeer, who won four Paralympic tennis singles gold medals and three golds in doubles, held a news conference alongside the ATP Rotterdam Open, telling journalists: “It can’t get any more beautiful than this.”
“I’ve had such a crazy career. I can’t get anything else to add to this. The circle is complete,” the Dutch national news agency ANP quoted her as saying.
Vergeer won her first gold medal in Sydney in 2000. She has been ranked number one in the world since 1999 and has not lost a singles match since January 2003.
Not chasing records
She has always insisted that she was not chasing the record of squash great Jahangir Khan, who tallied 555 consecutive wins between 1981 and 1986.
“This is an amazing life still, so why quit while I’m still winning?” she said last year. “But it’s not like I’m aiming for the 500 unbeaten record, 600 or whatever.”
Dutch footballing legend Johan Cruyff, who has worked with Vergeer through his charitable foundation helping children with disabilities get into sport, was also in Rotterdam and paid tribute to the player.
“She’s an example for everyone. We’re quick to complain of a headache or a little pain. But people like Esther go so much further to attain something,” ANP quoted Cruyff as saying.
The president of the International Tennis Federation (ITF), Ricci Bitti, said of Vergeer: “She is an inspiration to many. Wheelchair tennis owes her a huge debt of gratitude for her professionalism and her quality as a player,” he was quoted as saying on the International Paralympic Committee website.
Vergeer was just a “little girl” when she started out in wheelchair tennis after losing the use of her legs aged eight following surgery. She grew up alongside the sport as it blossomed and gradually became more professional.
“It’s so amazing that I can spread the message to the world that even if you have a disability, there’s so much you can still do. A lot of people in the world still don’t know that,” she had said in Melbourne in January last year.
After winning her last gold medal at the London Paralympics in 2012, she had said: “Everybody expected me to win gold and that I would win but I still had to work hard, to go to training, to be at the top of my game. A lot of people forget that.”