Photo: Tommy Hindley / Professional SportEsther Vergeer (NED)
Esther Vergeer has today announced her retirement from wheelchair tennis bringing an end to the most illustrious career the sport has ever seen.
The 31-year-old Dutch star, who celebrated ten years without a defeat on the international wheelchair tennis circuit on 30 January, has been the face of her sport for more than a decade.
After announcing her retirement on her Twitter account Vergeer confirmed her decision at the launch of her biography in Rotterdam, where she is the tournament director for this week's 5th ABN AMRO World Wheelchair Tennis Tournament, an ITF 1 Series event on the NEC Wheelchair Tennis Tour.
"I'm hugely proud of my performances, my titles, and can look back on my career with a great feeling. Keeping going would not add anything,” said Vergeer. “I want to do more work with my Foundation and get more disabled children in action. There is a lot to do in the Netherlands, but also in the world. Hopefully, with partners like the Cruyff Foundation, NOC NSF, the disabled federations and the ITF I can make a difference.”
ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti said: “Esther Vergeer is 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.
"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. While we will certainly miss her, we will have one more chance to honour her as our ITF World Champion, for a record 13th time, at the ITF World Champions Dinner in Paris.”
Vergeer started to play wheelchair tennis at the age of 12 after surgery on her spinal cord went wrong. A former national standard wheelchair basketball player, she eventually made the decision to pursue tennis instead, and played her first tournament in 1994.
Vergeer’s dominance of wheelchair tennis started when she became world No. 1 for the first time in 1999. She has been named ITF Wheelchair World Champion for the last 13 years, winning 169 titles and ends her career on a winning streak of 470 matches, with her last defeat coming against Australian Daniela di Toro in Sydney on 30 January 2003.
Only one professional athlete in sporting history is known to have a longer winning streak than Vergeer – Pakistan squash player Jahangir Khan, who won 555 consecutive matches between 1981 and 1986.
In the last 10 years she has won a total of 120 successive tournaments, beating 73 different opponents, winning 95 matches 60 60 and dropping just 18 sets of tennis. In that time she faced only one match point – against countrywoman Korie Homan in the women’s gold medal match at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.
In Grand Slam play, Vergeer won every singles event she entered, racking up an amazing 21 singles titles and 23 doubles titles at the majors. She won eight Paralympic medals during her career, seven of which were gold to cement her place in the history books as a true sporting legend. She was part of the Netherlands’ team that won the World Team Cup on 12 occasions, in 1998, 2000-2009 and 2011.
Vergeer recently took part in a Johan Cruyff Foundation trip to South Africa to mark the 10th anniversary of the Cruyff Foundation’s involvement in the Wheelchair Tennis Development Fund. The week-long trip included visits to ongoing projects in Elaansdorn and Johannesburg. South Africa was one of the first countries to be supported by the Development Fund.
The Wheelchair Tennis Development Fund was set up in 2002 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of wheelchair tennis. The Fund aims to establish sustainable wheelchair tennis programmes in developing nations through the provision of tennis equipment and technical expertise and the identification of local partners who will take the programme to self-supporting levels. The Johan Cruyff Foundation began financing the Development Fund in 2003 and celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
Esther Vergeer’s career in numbers:
Total win/loss: 700-25
Grand Slam singles titles: 21
Grand Slam doubles titles: 23
Total singles titles: 169
Total doubles titles: 136
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