Sports: The Invincible Woman
Esther Vergeer is like any other female professional athlete: she wins tournaments, gives talks to kids at schools, and even poses for the occasional nude ESPN picture. And she does it all from a wheelchair, as she's had paraplegia since childhood:
In the realm of women's wheelchair tennis, Esther Vergeer has no equal. She's won 412 straight matches, a run of dominance that boggles the mind. Her sphere of athletic invincibility came rolling through Boca Raton this past weekend, as I watched her play fellow countrywoman Jiske Griffioen at the Florida Open (a stop on the USTA's wheelchair tennis circuit).
"Play" is perhaps a little kind - this was a street mugging. After observing her defeat Griffioen 6-1, 6-1, it wasn't hard to see why Esther Vergeer hasn't lost a match in eight years:
First and foremost, she's an incredible athlete. Don't let the wheelchair fool you - from the waist up, Vergeer is every bit as muscled and fit as Samantha Stosur. During long rallies, Vergeer was often able to simply outhit her opponent, mostly with heavily top-spinned one-handed backhands that drew appreciative murmurs from the crowd. Most recreational players can't get the kind of pace Vergeer gets on her shots - and she does it while sitting down:
Being bigger and stronger will win you a lot of matches, of course, but Vergeer also had more touch and court sense than I expected. Whether it was defensive slices to buy time, overhead smashes(!) at the net, or simply mixing up her serves, Esther's play exhibited guile and strategy.
If all wheelchair tennis players were as good as Esther, the sport would be as exciting and watchable as pedestrian tennis. Overall, I came away impressed with her prowess but also hungry for more - more players like her, more young paraplegic female athletes good enough to challenge and beat her. Heck, I'd bet even the Invincible Woman would appreciate a challenge now and then.