Attracting record crowds, the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games have been widely acclaimed as the best ever. A unique ticketing system allowing spectators to visit an unlimited number of sports during any chosen day proved to be one of the keys to Sydney's success. An incredible 1.4 million tickets were sold, doubling the 700,000 visitors to Atlanta and ensuring Sydney was the most-watched Paralympic Games ever.
For wheelchair tennis being played at the NSW Tennis Centre, this meant regular capacity crowds of 10,000 in centre court, even more than had watched the Olympic Games tennis event. Several thousand more spectators wandered through the park each day to see games on outside courts, most of them experiencing wheelchair tennis for the first time.
Local hero goes all the way
Australian David Hall had arguably the toughest route to the final of anyone. After overcoming the young talented Andreas Westman of Sweden in the first round he met Barcelona's double gold medallist, Randy Snow.
A thrilling match ensued with both players producing incredible rallies. After a tremendous battle that saw the 41-year-old Snow match Hall almost shot for shot, the fitness of the younger man prevailed and the home crowd saw Hall progress to the quarterfinal 64 75.
Hall next vanquished world No. 5 Robin Ammerlaan of the Netherlands before a semifinal victory against Germany's Kai Schrameyer 62 63 ensured Hall a place in the final.
The men's gold medal match proved to be a classic. There was little to separate the two players – Atlanta silver medallist Stephen Welch playing the villain in front of a partisan crowd. Welch won a back and forth opener in a tie-break 7-3 but at one set down, with the encouragement of 10,000 fans ringing in his ears, Hall remained calm and focussed. Capitalising on the rare chances that came his way, victory was finally secured 67(3) 64 62.
"It's hard to believe," Hall said after proudly parading his medal to the crowd, his shoulders draped in the Australian flag that a fan had handed to him moments before. "For me it was a mental battle - a few points here and there and he (Welch) could have been the winner."
Dutch production line rolls on
Probably the biggest upset on the women’s side came in the quarterfinal between two-time world champion Daniela di Toro of Australia and No. 5 seed Sharon Walraven. Walraven, who had never defeated di Toro in five previous meetings, played a smart tactical game, lobbing an ever-advancing di Toro who persisted to approach the net at every opportunity. The tactics paid off and the Australian's hopes of a medal went out in the quarters, 67(6) 62 75.
In the other half of the draw, the world No.1 was having a much easier time of it. Dropping only six games in three matches en route to the final, Esther Vergeer of the Netherlands appeared undeterred by the opposition or the occasion.
Walraven had taken a much more tortuous route to the final and her three long three-set matches were starting to take its toll. Vergeer dominated a nervous Walraven from the start, wrapping up the first set within 22 minutes. A vicious cross court forehand brought Vergeer match point which she snatched with an equally emphatic forehand down the line to win the match 60 64 to add her first Paralympic gold singles medal to an ever increasing title haul.
Atlanta gold medallist Maaike Smit earned bronze after beating Great Britain's Kimberly Dell to give the Dutch their second consecutive clean sweep in the Paralympic women's event.
Hall edged out going for Paralympic double
In the men's doubles final, the Australian pair of David Hall and David Johnson lost 75 16 63 to Dutch partnership Robin Ammerlaan and Ricky Molier in an epic contest that fused skill and courage, producing just over two hours of nailbiting tennis.
Once again the Dutch women dominated the doubles. The team of Maaike Smit and Esther Vergeer defeated the Australian pair of Daniela di Toro and Branka Pupovac 76(6) 6-2 in the final.
But if double gold was a dream for Vergeer, the battle for the bronze was a dream come true for the German pair of Petra Sax-Scharl and Christine Otterbach. Having defeated Thailand and Canada in three close sets, they lost to the strong Australian team in the semifinal and were set to play Japan in the bronze medal match.
Never expecting to be medal contenders at all, Petra Sax-Scharl was even more thrilled when her husband and son flew out from Germany as a surprise especially for the game. The German pair finally came through victorious after nearly three hours 57 64 64 to take the bronze medal.
"There were a few tears - I expected it to be very emotional. I've been thinking about this ever since Sydney was awarded the Olympics." ~ David Hall after winning gold at Sydney 2000
Men's singles Men's doubles
- Gold: David Hall (AUS) - Gold: Robin Ammerlaan / Ricky Molier (NED)
- Silver: Stephen Welch (USA) - Silver: David Hall / David Johnson (AUS)
- Bronze: Kai Schrameyer (GER) - Bronze: Scott Douglas / Stephen Welch (USA)
Women's singles Women's doubles
- Gold: Esther Vergeer (NED) - Gold: Maaike Smit / Esther Vergeer (NED)
- Silver: Sharon Walraven (NED) - Silver: Daniela Di Toro / Branka Pupovac (AUS)
- Bronze: Maaike Smit (NED) - Bronze: Christine Otterbach / Petra Sax-Scharl (GER)