Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Maria Sharapova and the other singles semifinalists at this year's French Open boasted an amazing array of combined accomplishments: career Grand Slams; career "Golden" Grand Slam; Olympic gold medals; long winning streaks; most French Open titles; record streak as world's No. 1; record for most major titles; and a variety of other accolades.
But there is another player that won this year at Roland Garros that combined elements of all of the above. That player, of course, is Esther Vergeer.
Esther Vergeer was born able to walk, but childhood surgery on weak blood vessels near her spine left her otherwise healthy but permanently paralyzed. In 1998, after a successful stint with the women's Dutch national wheelchair basketball team, she decided to concentrate her efforts exclusively on wheelchair tennis. This has proven to be a very fortunate decision, as Vergeer has had one of the most successful careers of anyone in any top-level sport.
The NEC Wheelchair (WC) Tennis Tour is run under the auspices of the International Tennis Federation (or ITF, the same group that governs international tennis for all of the major tours). Wheelchair tennis is played following the basic rules with which everyone is familiar, the main exception being that the ball may bounce twice before being returned. And Esther Vergeer is far and away the star of her sport; in fact, to say that she dominates women's wheelchair tennis with complete authority seems an understatement.
This year's Roland Garros wheelchair title was her sixth, but those six represent each one that has been played (the tournament officially started in 2007). The story, however, only begins there.
She has been top-ranked in the world since 1999. She has an incredible winning streak of 457 matches, and has not tasted defeat since early in 2003. For almost a decade, when Vergeer has entered a ladies wheelchair singles tournament, she has left as the winner. In six of her last eight Grand Slam finals (Vergeer has won almost 40 combined singles and doubles WC Grand Slams), she has not lost a game; she won the 2012 Roland Garros women's wheelchair championship with a 6-0, 6-0 washout of world #2 Aniek van Koot. Her combined career record between singles and doubles is an astounding 1112 wins and 58 losses.
As her record indicates, Vergeer is also a very accomplished women's doubles player, partnering in Paris with Marjolein Buis to defeat the team of Sabine Ellerbrock and Yui Kamiji to claim the women's WC doubles title this year as well. She has three Paralympic gold medals in women's singles and three medals (two gold, one silver) in Paralympic women's doubles.
A remarkable athlete, congratulations to Esther Vergeer.
Esther Vergeer's website (translated to English by Google Translate)
The author is a lifelong participant, coach, fan and dad involved with many sports. Now that the clay season has concluded with the end of the French Open, he is looking forward to Wimbledon, the Olympics, and the Paralympic Games.
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