In January 2003, Esther Vergeer, a 21-year old Dutch wheelchair tennis player lost her singles match to Daniela Di Toro in the quarter-finals of the Sydney International. What no one knew at the time was that this was the end of an era. Now 31, Vergeer hasn't lost a singles match since. The world's most dominant athlete
in an individual sport, she's going for her 470th consecutive victory
today, in the gold medal match at the Paralympics.
Vergeer was left with paraplegia after a risky spinal surgery when she was eight. The #1 ranked player since 1999, her singles career has included three Paralympics singles gold medals, 21 Grand Slams (winning six of the last eight 6-0 6-0) and 138 other tournaments. She has been twice awarded the Laureus
Award for (worldwide) Disabled Sportsperson of the Year, and was the flag bearer for the Dutch at the opening ceremonies in Beijing.
Turns out she's a fair doubles player as well, winning 2 gold medals and one disappointing silver, as well as 21 Grand Slams with various partners over the same time period. Of course, she is also playing in the doubles final on Saturday. Combined, she has a lifetime record
of 1112 wins and 60 losses.
Wheelchair tennis is essentially the same game as leg tennis, except that the ball is allowed to bounce twice and you can store spare balls in your spokes
. Also, the prize money for a Grand Slam event is a little lower; Wimbledon awards £8K for the wheelchair doubles (per team), and 65 times more -- £260K for the able-bodied doubles. Roger Federer's payday was £1,150K. Of course a few years ago, Vergeer's prizes were closer to $1000
If you're interested, you can watch her path to the finals
Quarterfinals vs. Khanthansit (THA)
Semifinals vs Griffioen (NED)
- Griffioen was Vergeer's partner for the silver in Beijing, and plays against her in the doubles final.
Vergeer's official site
(Dutch; autoplaying CNN interview