Esther Vergeer retires from tennis
At the presentation of her book, on February the 13th this year, Esther Vergeer emotionally announced her retirement as a professional tennis player. Among the audience were also Richard Krajicek, Johan Cruyff and Erica Terpstra. The presentation of her book ‘Kracht en Kwetsbaarheid’ (which one could translate in English as ‘Strength and Vulnerability’) formed an appropriate opportunity to explain her decision. Note: the following paragraph is a free translation of the original text, which is a poem written in rime. Click here to read the original poem in Dutch.
This is it
It cannot become more beautiful than this
I have become who I wanted to be
Sometimes very tall and sometimes very small
Created a wonderful life with the people around me
Remembering all the prizes I won, appreciated by many
This is it
It cannot become more beautiful than this
At least not as a player on the court
A whole new life is waiting ahead of me
Because you’re all standing next to me.
On January the 11th (2013) Esther Vergeer took an important decision. After an overwhelming career and many doubts she decided to quit playing tennis. “To what extent tennis gave me joy, did I still enjoy being on the court, would I miss it if I’d step out for a few months, could I live without that adrenaline rush of winning in three sets, winning a Grand Slam or a Paralympic title?” she asked herself. “I noticed that my enthusiasm was decreasing when thinking of the prospect to continue, I missed the sports challenge, the competition and the excitement.”
In thirteen years time she only lost one match, which is absolutely incredible. She always considered it natural to develop herself and until now she had always found herself something to improve. As so, the future too will offer Esther many opportunities to continue developing herself. She thinks the Esther Vergeer Foundation has the potential to grow a lot. Using this initiative she devotes herself to disabled sportsmen, both in the Netherlands and abroad. She dreams of forming a team of enthusiastic people and to find out where and what the needs are for these people. “Education, material, a change of conduct, a cultural transition, acceptance, participation, there are so many aspects.” She really wants to contribute to all this: “an addition to the disability sport, that’s the starting point.”
When she continued after London people wanted to know why. “Why did I, instead of just enjoying myself after my victory, immediately fill every gap in my agenda? Was I, perhaps, repressing something?” She reflected upon this and found out it had something to do with addiction. “To be addicted to ever go on and on, to receive compliments and pats on the back after winning another match or having given another tennis clinic, to make a difference. But still that addiction is only half the truth. Esther just wants to mean something to the world. To other tennis players, to other disabled sportsmen, to the business world, actually, to everyone. Always working hard, not standing still. To continue, to retire, to have a sabbatical? She felt emotionally swayed between one option and the other. Making up her mind turned out to be a long process. Esther is visibly having a hard time talking about this. In the end she felt like retiring more and more, but it was very hard for her to accept this idea.
Her most glorious victory? The finals of the Paralympics Summer Games in Beijing of 2008.Here she managed to defeat country mate Korie Homan despite a counter match point, to finally win the golden medal. “Nothing equals winning Paralympic gold.” Meanwhile she can imagine that many professional sportsmen fall into a black gap after quitting his or her career. However, Esther is very enthusiastic about her future, her ‘after-tennis life’. “No elaborate plan has been made yet”, but she’s convinced “it will be something great!” Of course there will be moments in which she’ll miss her tennis life: the travelling, the tournaments, the people at the tour, the physical challenge. Her body needs to keep moving and Esther will make sure it will. She might start athletics or take up wheelchair basketball again. The talented sportswoman previously also became European Champion in wheelchair basketball with the Dutch national team. She largely owes her independence to the sport, but she can only use the advantage of this if she stays fit and strong.
“During the Australian Open, where the others in the wheelchair tennis tour were playing 2013’s first Grand Slam in the heat, I was at home quietly watching the matches together with Martijn.” She continues emotionally: “It felt great. I took a decision: I retire”. A loud applause rises from the audience, and marks the enormous appreciation for this great tennis star. Sport heroes Roger Federer, Richard Krajicek, Johan Cruyff and Erika Terpstra are very positive about Esther Vergeer. “The term ‘stummer’ is a word I rarely use nowadays; in the media it’s been used more as a caricature these days. But if one chooses to use the term, Esther Vergeer is a stummer in every sense!”, Erica Terpstra tells with great enthusiasm.
Initially, writing a book was not Esthers idea. Other people recommended her to write about her strength, her doubts and difficult moments. She thought it over. What would she like to tell, what would she want to share? “Actually you tell the story to yourself, but also to the world.” Both Johan Cruyff and Roger Federer wrote a foreword for her book ‘Kracht en Kwetsbaarheid’. “It’s good to see the way Esther’s concerned with other people while she’s making a tennis career like that herself. I try to follow her example”, Roger writes. Esther also mentions Richard Krajicek in her book. Richard has always been an example to the successful athlete, as a tennis player as well as a person. During the press conference Richard thanks Esther for having been an example for her. He knows how hard it is to stop playing tennis and he regards it a wise decision to stop at the top of her career.
Esther Vergeer and Johan Cruyff got to know each other from the collaboration of their Foundations. Johan gave her a lot of inspiration. “The example of not thinking only of oneself but care about others as well. And above all, to start working together with other people.” Johan tells that they started the wheelchair tennis projects ten years ago and that they have been to Africa. “Sportsmen like Esther definitely are an example to all of us, really all of us.” He strongly appreciates the effort she puts into the Foundation and he has learnt himself to follow her example. “Esther is such a great example to us!”
Esther was surprised by the enormous amount of attention from the press due to the announcement of her retirement. Not only during the press conference, but afterwards as well. She received phone calls from the New York Times and the BBC, she explained later in front of the NOS-camera. “Actually it’s rather weird that the news that one retires receives so much more attention than, for instance, winning a Grand Slam.” Nevertheless, it’s a great sign of honor for the marvelous sportswoman who, after an unequalled tennis career, will face a glorious future with many new challenges.