Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Greatest Ever

When we think of champions of tennis we are likely to think about Perry, Budge, Laver, Borg, McEnroe, Sampras, Federer and Nadal in the men’s game and Goolagong-Cawley, Billie Jean King, Graf, Navratilova and the Williams sisters in the women’s game. Those who have a keen interest in the game might even think about someone like Pancho Gonzales.
But chances are that most won’t think, even if they are aware, of Esther Vergeer.
Esther Vergeer serves at the 2011 Australian Open
For those who are not aware, here is her fact file:
20 Grand Slam singles titles – 9 Australian, 5 French and 6 US.
20 Grand Slam doubles titles – 7 Australian, 4 French, 3 Wimbledon and 6 US.
14 consecutive year end championships, 1998 – 2011.
World No. 1 since April 1999.
And she is on a 444 match winning streak.
Esther Vergeer has become the most dominant athlete on the planet at her chosen sport – Wheelchair tennis.
After a surgical mishap that left her without the services of her feet, Esther Vergeer was introduced to sports as a part of The Netherlands rehabilitation schemes for the paraplegic. She received coaching in volleyball, basketball and tennis. She became a professional basketball player, even representing her country in the European championships, before switching to full time tennis in 1998. The results were immediate – she won her first major and her first year end title in that year itself. By early 1999 she reached the World No. 1 spot; a spot which she hasn’t left since then.
Her dominance in the sport is overwhelming. In her 20 grand-slam wins, she has won 5 finals in a double-bagel, some of them against former World No. 1 players. Her overall record in singles in 666 wins against 25 losses. She has only lost one match since 2001 and the only reason she hasn’t won a major since 2002 is because she was either absent, or the event was not held.
The sports-persons community has certainly acknowledged her.  She has won the prestigious Laureus Awards, twice and every year since 2000, the International Tennis Federation has honoured her as their World Champion.
Credit also goes to the Dutch rehabilitation program. One look at some of the top athletes across various sports for the disabled, or just tennis for that matter, is sufficient to observe that many are from the Netherlands – this isn’t a coincidence. The program is specifically designed to rehabilitate those who developed a disability due to an accident into sports. The scheme provides specialized training, equipment, physiotherapy and most importantly, the motivation needed for someone who recently lost the services of a part of their body. An accident of the sort that happened with Esther could have easily shattered anyone, let alone an eight year old child. This scheme does the wonderful job of motivating via sports, something every country should draw inspiration from.
Esther Vergeer said during the 2012 Australian Open (which she won of course, double-bagel) that she always thinks her streak of 444 match wins will come to an end soon. Whether it remains intact or not, she is undoubtedly on of the greatest athlete of all times.

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