Dutch athlete Esther Vergeer is a truly inspirational wheelchair tennis star who recently announced her retirement, and we can honestly say she is going out on the top of her game. Her active win streak of 470 matches in singles, with her last loss more than a decade ago, makes her stats nearly impossible to fathom, let alone exceed.
During her winning streak, Vergeer beat more than a third of her competitors by a score of 6-0, with 95 6-0, 6-0 victories in her career. Her last tournament was at the London Paralympics, where she took home the gold after winning seven of 12 sets with a 6-0 score. She also had a good run in doubles, earning three Paralympic gold medals and 23 Grand Slam titles in her career.
Vergeer has used a wheelchair since she was eight years old, when she became a paraplegic after spinal surgery. By age 12, she was playing wheelchair tennis and, by 1999, she was the world’s number-one player. She spent 668 weeks in the top spot, including her run that went from October 2000 to January 2013, when she announced her retirement.
She never took her success for granted, and as recently as 2009, she began training with Dutch coach Sven Groeneveld, who also coached Monica Seles, Mary Pierce, and Ana Ivanovic.
“To work with someone who has been that long undefeated took a little time to adapt,” Groeneveld said. “Because what do you work on? What can be better if you’re undefeated for so long? Winning was never really the focus. The growth was the focus.”
Just before announcing her retirement, Vergeer participated in the opening ceremonies on court at the ABN AMRO World Tournament in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. She was accompanied by tennis legend Roger Federer. The ABN AMRO is her country’s largest tournament.
“She is an astonishing athlete, a huge personality, and she has achieved one of the most amazing feats in our sport,” wrote Federer, a 17-time Grand Slam singles champion.
Vergeer released an autobiography to coincide with her retirement announcement, and at the announcement she read from the book, through teary eyes, as she let the world know her plans. She chose not to participate in the tournament, which allowed rising wheelchair tennis star Aniek van Koot to win the title after a three-set win.
“I’m hugely proud of my performances, my titles, and can look back on my career with a great feeling,” Vergeer said. “Keeping going would not add anything.”
The added bonus is that she is retiring a champion, without having to face a streak-ending loss. On this, she commented “It is going to be a relief, sort of,” Vergeer said. “Yeah, it’s going to be a relief—but I’m not going to do it on purpose.”