Tennis

Wheelchair tennis star retires

2013-02-12 16:00
Esther Vergeer (AFP)
Rotterdam - One of the most successful athletes of all time, Dutch wheelchair tennis star Esther Vergeer, announced her retirement on Tuesday after an astonishing unbroken run of 470 wins spanning more than 10 years.

"A special day: officially stopping tennis," Vergeer, 31, wrote on 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 No 1 in the world since 1999 and has not lost a singles match since January 2003.

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.

"She has such enormous drive and gives everything to win. You can only take your hat off to that."

The president of the International Tennis Federation (ITF), Ricci Bitti, described Vergeer as a "tremendous ambassador not only for tennis but also for disability sports".

"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 paralympic.org.

"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 was just a "little girl" when she started out in wheelchair tennis after losing the use of her legs aged eight following surgery, and she has grown 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 basically that if you have a disability there's so much that you can still do, and a lot of people in the world still don't know that," she said in Melbourne in January last year.

After winning her last gold medal at the London Paralympics in 2012, Vergeer made clear that her winning streak was not accompanied by complacency.

"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," she said.

Vergeer's retirement comes after British wheelchair ace Peter Norfolk, dubbed "The Quadfather", announced last month that he was giving up full-time competition and would most likely not be at the next Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Norfolk, who won gold at the 2004 and 2008 Games in Athens and Beijing in the quads tournament for players with impairments to three or more limbs, carried Britain's flag at the London 2012 Games.

Esther Vergeer’s career in numbers:

Total win/loss:  700-25
Total singles titles: 148
Total doubles titles: 136
Grand Slam singles titles: 21
Grand Slam doubles titles: 23
Paralympic Medals: 8
Gold: Singles Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012,
Gold: Doubles Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 (with Maaike Smit), London 2012 (with Marjolein Buis)
Silver: Doubles Beijing 2008 (with Jiske Griffioen)
NEC Wheelchair Tennis Masters Singles titles: 14
World Team Cup titles: 12
Weeks at No 1: 668 (first reached 6 April 1999, consecutive from 2 October 2000 - 21 January 2013)
Winning streak: 470 matches from 6 February 2003 - 8 September 2012 (last date played)
ITF World Champion: 13 years 2000-2012

Read more on:    tennis
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