Roger Federer is widely considered to be the most dominating player in tennis history (although Nadal is right on his tail) systematically etching his name into trophy after trophy. Federer holds claim to record beyond record that I could sit here all night listing but for your sake and my sanity I won’t. Federer’s control of the tennis scene in recent years has been remarkable to say the least, but what would you say if I told you that there is a player who has even been more dominant than the Swiss legend. Crazy right? Well, its true. What if I also told you that a majority of the people reading this article could play with this player. Absurd, right? Well, allow me to introduce you to Esther Vergeer of the Netherlands. If you are still reading at this point, I commend you because this probably sounds absolutely and utterly ridiculous but as you will soon learn, it is something that will undoubtedly shock and inspire you.
Esther Vergeer does not play tennis like most of us. In fact, she does not even use her legs. Esther Vergeer plays in a wheelchair. For those of you who are not familiar, wheelchair tennis is a brand of tennis set up for paraplegics that encompasses standard tennis rules and regulations with the exception that the ball is allowed to bounce twice instead of once. Esther Vergeer has mastered this challenging version of tennis. She has amassed a 648-25 career record, 18 grand slam singles titles, 19 grand slam doubles titles, and currently is on a 429 match win streak dating back to 2003. Against the world’s second ranked player, Korie Homan, Esther is 33-0. At one point, Vergeer went 26 months without dropping a set. This streak spanned 120 matches and 240 sets. She has won 21 year end championships in singles and doubles combined. She has over 280 combined singles and doubles titles. Vergeer in 2009 and 2010 won in four straight major finals by a score of 6-0 6-0.
Vergeer was forced into a wheelchair at the age of eight as she developed paraplegia following a surgery to repair blood vessels around her spinal cord. She developed sublime skills playing several different sports in a wheelchair including basketball, volleyball, and most notably tennis. She competed in her inaugural international tournament at the age of 15 and the rest is history as Vergeer has owned the sport ever since.
Winning is the fundamental and ultimate benchmark by which one can define their success in sports. Vergeer has transcended her physical impairment and has become from a statistical basis the most successful athlete in the history of any sport. She has won more than anybody. To better grasp the magnitude of her success, what Vergeer has done would be the equivalent of Novak Djokovic doing what he has done in 2011 minus the two defeats and 15-20 more wins for a span of five years.
What Vergeer has been doing is absolutely unparalleled and it is a shame that she is not given more attention. I think this story is one of guts and persistence that serves as a daily reminder that there are people each and every day achieving and innovating outside of the microscope of the public eye.