With Michael Jordan’s 50th birthday and Lebron James’ historic performances fueling the sports headlines last week, the age-old debate of who is the greatest of all time has been reignited.
As the sports contingent focused primarily on Lebron vs. MJ last week, thousands of miles away in Rotterdam, Netherlands, one of the greatest champions in professional sport quietly declared her retirement.
Tennis player Esther Vergeer retired after a decade of dominating her sport. 21 Grand Slam singles titles. 23 Grand Slam doubles titles. 22 year-end championships. You might wonder: why in the world have I not heard of her? Vergeer played the sport she loved in a wheelchair. She lost the use of her legs following spinal surgery at age eight.
Vergeer picked up her first tennis racket at the age of twelve and has not looked back since. The 31-year-old Dutch woman retired with an active streak of 470 matches, her last defeat coming in January 2003, a span of over ten years. She surrendered only 18 sets during the streak and faced a match point once. Vergeer spent 668 weeks at number one, including every week from Oct. 2, 2002, to Jan. 21, 2013.
If it’s not totally obvious, the woman was off the charts. A pioneer for para-athletic sport, she competed in four Paralympics, not surprisingly, winning four gold medals in singles, including this past summer in London.
Tennis meant more from the start to Vergeer than it does for most able-bodied players. She stated in her autobiography that after her paralysis the sport gave her a life back. Vergeer is much more than a tennis player. She is an inspiration to not only disabled athletes, but to every person that is fortunate enough to come across her tale.
Her tale came to an end on Feb. 12 while the greater sports community was explicating James’ recent run of success in relation to Jordan’s career to a cringing-worthy degree. I’m not going to rip sports media, but this story and astonishing woman deserved more. A simple write-up in the Los Angeles Times. A 30-second clip on SportsCenter perhaps.
So while we continue to debate who is the greatest of all time and compare stats of different players, let’s not forget that one of the most dominant athletes ever has just hung up her racket.