Esther Vergeer of the Netherlands said she’s retiring as a professional wheelchair tennis player after winning 470 straight matches during the last 10 years and a total of 169 tournament championships.
Vergeer, 31, won all 21 of the sport’s Grand Slam singles events she entered in an 18-year career and four gold medals in the Paralympic Games. Her final defeat came against Daniela di Toro in Sydney in 2003.
She announced the retirement on Twitter and confirmed it while unveiling her biography in Rotterdam, where she’s the tournament director of this week’s ABN AMRO world wheelchair tennis tournament.
“I’m hugely proud of my performances, my titles, and can look back on my career with a great feeling,” Vergeer said in a statement on the International Tennis Federation website. “Keeping going would not add anything. I want to do more work with my foundation and get more disabled children in action.”
Pakistan squash player Jahangir Khan is the only professional athlete known to have a longer winning streak than Vergeer, with 555 consecutive victories between 1981 and 1986, the ITF said.
“Esther Vergeer is a tremendous ambassador not only for tennis but also for disability sports,” ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti said in a statement. “She is an inspiration.”
Vergeer was 8 when she lost the use of her legs following surgery to repair a life-threatening spinal defect. She started to play wheelchair tennis at 12, according to the WTA Tour, and went on to compile a 700-25 record as a professional.
In the last 10 years, Vergeer won 120 consecutive tournaments and faced just one match point during that stretch, against Korie Homan in the final at the 2008 Paralympics in Beijing. Vergeer spent 668 weeks as the No. 1 player in the world.
Vergeer also won 158 doubles titles, including 23 of the 26 Grand Slam tournaments she entered, along with three gold medals in doubles at the Paralympic Games.
“Beyond the statistics, she has served as an inspiration for generations of not just tennis players, but women of all ages,” said Stacey Allaster, chief executive officer of the WTA women’s tennis tour. “Esther, like the WTA’s founder Billie Jean King, shares the clear vision about the potential that women not only have in sport, but in society. And she delivered this motivating message every time she stepped on the court.”