03/09/2012 17:39 | By Tamara Hinson, contributor, MSN Her

Superwomen: the stories behind the Paralympic heroes - Esther Vergeer

Esther hasn't been beaten in a match of wheelchair tennis for nine and a half years


Esther Vergeer has been the world number one in wheelchair tennis since 1999. After seeing off her opponent in the first round of the women's tennis singles last week, the Dutch paralympian told reporters: "I'm hoping that someday, somebody will beat me."

Inviting defeat may sound like a strange concept but Vergeer, who lays claim to one of the world's longest winning streaks in sport, could perhaps be forgiven - it's been nine and a half years and 466 matches since she lost to anyone. Although it seems that when it came down to it, winning her fourth Paralympic gold this week still meant everything to the athlete, as she broke down in tears having beaten Aniek Van Koot 6-0 6-3 in the singles finals.

Esther Vergeer (© Adam Davy, EMPICS Sport)

When she was eight, Vergeer underwent a surgical procedure on her spine which would save her life but leave her paralysed. During the rehabilitation process, she tried her hand at several sports. She played wheelchair basketball for several years at club level and joined the national team which won the European championships in 1997. Vergeer started playing wheelchair tennis in 1996. In 1998, she won the US Open championships (which saw her world ranking jump from 15 to 2) and the Wheelchair Tennis Masters. In 2000, she took gold in singles and doubles at the Sydney Olympics. Meanwhile, Esther was gaining a reputation for pushing boundaries off the court, too - in 2010 she posed nude for ESPN's annual Body Issue, becoming the first disabled athlete to pose for the magazine.

The bad news for Vergeer, who dreams of defeat, is that her dedication to the sport means her dominance is unlikely to end anytime soon. The wheelchair Vergeer uses for matches now incorporates a kind of bucket for her legs. She developed the device after realising that if her legs were to be held still, she'd use less energy. Which is great news for fans of Vergeer, but bad news for anyone hoping to break this Dutch athlete's winning streak. Unless of course Esther decides to hang up her tennis racket after London 2012.

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