London, September 6, 2012
The Paralympic women's tennis final is today.
And one of the finalists, three time gold medal champion Esther Vergeer, has been having a pretty good run. So, good, in fact, she’s now approaching an unbroken record of 500 wins in a row, with no sign that she is losing her grip on the sport she has dominated for years having last lost a match in January 2003!
But with the pressure mounting to add one more gold medal to her haul, how does she feel about her upcoming Paralympic performance?
“Sometimes this streak gives me a lot of confidence and sometimes this streak gives me a lot of pressure.” she says. With the expectation high that she will continue her winning streak to Paralympic glory, people have been buying tickets to the tennis final, set to be held in a specially designed court at Eton Manor, which will be used after the games as a speciality wheelchair tennis facility, in the expectation of seeing her play.
Equipped with a brand new chair, an integral part of the game, that has its own technician as part of her team, Esther remains confident that she will pull it off at London 2012, but is humbled by a moment from the Beijing Games when it looked like her winning streak was over: “it was so close…just one ball away [from] losing that gold medal and winning silver. That was the most scary moment probably in my Paralympic Games experiences,” she says.
During that 20 seconds, with match point against her, the media and her family’s reactions to her losing flashed through her mind, she managed to pull back her focus and turned the match around. It was valuable moment in her career, which has encompassed elite level wheelchair basketball as well as tennis.
Now 30, Vergeer, who claims not to have been very sporty before a surgery accident at the age of eight left her paraplegic, and credits sport with saving her is considering the future after London 2012. “I’m not going to say that I’m going to quit right after the Paralympic Games I’m not going to say that I’m going to Rio… but it will be somewhere in between then and if it’s time for me to retire, I’ll probably feel it.”
But regardless, she has certainly achieved enough already to gain some very high-profile fans. Tennis legend and Laureus World Sports Academy Member Boris Becker has said pf Esther: “Whether the sport you play or watch is Paralympic sport or non-disabled sport, you can only marvel at the achievements of Esther Vergeer. Not to lose a singles match in nine years is a phenomenal record. What [paralympians] have achieved despite their disabilities fills us all full of admiration and respect.”
As for a life after tennis, two time Laureus Disability Award winner Vergeer, who lost out in last year’s awards to the “awesome” Oscar Pistorius, is pipped to make it a hatrick if Olympic gold is once again on the cards. And with her work with children through the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation as one of her main ambassadorial projects, looks set to inspire generations for years to come. “I’m convinced that sports can help kids with their development, especially kids with disability – they need support and Laureus can give that support though sports. There’s no greater way.”