Wheelchair tennis star Esther Vergeer retires

After a 10-year winning streak in wheelchair tennis, Esther
Vergeer felt she had nothing left to prove.

The 31-year-old Dutchwoman retired Tuesday, ending one of the
most amazing careers in any sport.

”I’m hugely proud of my performances, my titles, and can look
back on my career with a great feeling,” Vergeer said at the ABN
AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam. ”Keeping going would
not add anything.”

Vergeer won the women’s singles gold at four straight
Paralympics starting in Sydney in 2000 and ending in London last
year. She also won 21 Grand Slam singles titles, 23 Grand Slam
doubles titles, three Paralympic doubles gold medals and a silver.
Overall, she won 148 singles titles and 136 in doubles.

Vergeer took a break from the sport last year to consider the
future after her Paralympic gold medal took her remarkable winning
streak to 470 matches. In all those matches, she only ever faced
one match point, in the final of the Beijing Paralympics.

Vergeer’s retirement means she will not surpass what is widely
believed to be the longest run of consecutive wins in sport – 555
by Pakistani squash great Jahangir Khan from 1981-86.

Like Khan, she was in a class of her own.

In the last 10 years, she won 120 straight tournaments, beating
73 different opponents, winning 95 matches 6-0, 6-0 and dropping
only 18 sets, the International Tennis Federation said.

Sitting on the couch at home in the snowy Netherlands last month
and watching the Australian Open on television, she knew it was
time to end her playing career and concentrate on her efforts to
promote sport for people with disabilities through a foundation she
has set up.

”It felt great,” she said, choking back tears.

In a measure of Vergeer’s status in Dutch sport, football great
Johan Cruyff attended her announcement and wrote a foreword in the
book about her life and career that she also presented to the
media.

Sportspeople like Vergeer, ”should be an example to us all,”
Cruyff said.

Roger Federer paid tribute in another foreword in the book.

”She is an astonishing athlete, a huge personality and she has
achieved one of the most amazing feats in our sport,” Federer
wrote.

Vergeer, who was 8 when she lost the use of her legs following
surgery to repair blood vessels around her spine, started playing
wheelchair basketball as she recovered and was good enough to make
the Netherlands national team before focusing on tennis.

She rose to No. 1 in the wheelchair rankings in 1999 and never
relinquished the top spot.

”Esther Vergeer is a tremendous ambassador not only for tennis
but also for disability sports. She is an inspiration to many,”
ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti said. ”Wheelchair tennis owes
her a huge debt of gratitude for her professionalism and her
quality as a player.”

The last time she lost a match was to Daniele di Toro in Sydney
on Jan. 30, 2003.

”To be honest, I don’t really know or remember what it feels
like losing in singles,” Vergeer said. ”I’ve lost a couple of
times in doubles so I know what it’s like to lose. And I know what
it’s like to lose a Monopoly game and I don’t like losing. But this
doesn’t feel like something I lose. This is not the same thing at
all.”