Wheelchair tennis star Esther Vergeer ends her career, being unbeaten for 10 years
Dutchwoman won 470 successive matches after a defeat on January 30, 2003
The 31-year-old won four successive singles gold medals at the Paralympic Games
She has been praised as an inspirational ambassador for disability sports
After 10 years unbeaten, and an incredible 470 successive victories, Esther Vergeer is hanging up her racket.
The 31-year-old has dominated wheelchair tennis for more than a decade, winning seven Paralympic gold medals, 13 world titles and all 21 of the grand slam singles events she entered, plus 23 in doubles.
“A special day: officially stopping tennis,” Vergeer wrote on her Twitter page Tuesday.
She won 169 singles titles overall – 120 of them consecutively – plus 159 in doubles, and helped the Netherlands win the World Team Cup 12 times.
“I am impressed I got this far. I sometimes still cannot believe that in all these years I did not have a breakdown. But for now it’s enough,” Vergeer told reporters.
She was hailed as an inspirational figure by the head of the International Tennis Federation, Francesco Ricci Bitti.
“Esther Vergeer is a tremendous ambassador not only for tennis but also for disability sports,” Ricci Bitti said.
“She is an inspiration to many. Wheelchair tennis owes her a huge debt of gratitude for her professionalism and her quality as a player.
“Everyone at the ITF wishes her well with her foundation and we know that anything she chooses to do in the future will be a success.”
Vergeer began playing wheelchair tennis at the age of 12, having lost the use of her legs four years earlier after complications following spinal surgery.
She also played wheelchair basketball, but focused on the racket sport and became world No. 1 for the first time in 1999.
Vergeer spent 668 weeks at the top of the rankings, reaching a decade unbeaten on January 30, 2013 – though her last competitive match was at the London 2012 Paralympics on September 8.
“I took a time-out since London and found out on the court there are no challenges left, but ‘outside’ there are plenty. For instance the will to give children with a disability an opportunity to play sport all over the world,” she said, citing the work of her foundation.
Her 470 consecutive wins is not a world record; Pakistani squash star Jahangir Khan won 555 successive matches between 1981-86.
Another squash player, Heather McKay of Australia, was unbeaten from 1962-1981 and lost only two matches in her entire career.
In terms of able-bodied tennis, Martina Navratilova won 74 matches in a row in 1984, while the Open-era men’s record is held by Guillermo Vilas (46 wins in 1977).
Vergeer’s closing career record is 700 wins, 25 losses.
As well as her own charity, she has worked closely with the foundation set up by her compatriot Johan Cruyff, one of the most iconic figures in Dutch soccer.
Vergeer is a director at the ATP World Tour tennis tournament in Rotterdam, which this week marks its 40th staging with Roger Federer as the defending champion – and was where she made a tearful announcement about her decision to quit.
“It’s still hard and I’ve got to get used to it. It felt like an addiction, to get everything out of yourself each and every day, the kick of winning in three sets, winning Paralympic titles,” she said.
“But going on would not add more to my career. I met so many people and situations that inspired me to mean something to others besides the court.”