By Tom Degun

Esther Vergeer London 2012February 13 - International Paralympic Committee (IPC) President Sir Philip Craven has paid tribute to wheelchair tennis player Esther Vergeer following her retirement, calling the Dutch superstar one of the greatest athletes of all time.

The 31-year-old from Woerden announced this week that she would be retiring from elite wheelchair tennis following an astonishing winning streak that saw her claim victory in 470 consecutive matches and 120 successive tournaments following her last defeat in January 2003 to Australia's Daniela di Toro.

Vergeer also claimed seven Paralympic gold medals in her glittering career, including two golds at London 2012 in the women's singles and doubles competition in what proved her last ever tournament, and Sir Philip said she has helped transformed the sport.

"On behalf of the entire Paralympic Movement, I would like to congratulate Esther on her unparalleled and historic career, as without a doubt she will go down in Paralympic history as one of the greatest athletes of all time," said the IPC President.

"To win 470 consecutive matches on the court and go unbeaten for 10 years is a remarkable feat.

"During her career, Esther has given a face to the sport of wheelchair tennis and helped increase awareness for the Paralympics not just in the Netherlands, but throughout sporting communities around the world."

Esther Vergeer with London 2012 gold medalEsther Vergeer won her third consecutive Paralympic gold medal at London 2012

Vergeer, who retires with a total of 42 Grand Slam titles in her collection, has been playing wheelchair tennis since the age of 12 after surgery on her spinal cord went wrong.

A former national standard wheelchair basketball player, she eventually made the decision to pursue tennis instead and played her first tournament in 1994.

She became world number one for the first time in 1999 and has gone on to dominate the sport ever since, having been named ITF Wheelchair World Champion for the last 13 years.

As she goes into retirement, the IPC President said he hopes she retains close contact with the Paralympic Movement.

"Throughout the entire duration of her career, Esther has embodied the Paralympic Spirit, and it has been a true honour to watch her play," he said.

"I hope she continues to stay closely connected to the Paralympic Movement in the future."

Contact the writer of this story at [email protected]

Related stories
February 2013: Wheelchair tennis star Vergeer announces retirement after unbeaten decade
December 2012: Vergeer and Houdet named 2012 ITF wheelchair world champions
September 2012: Vergeer confirms wheelchair tennis queen status with London 2012 singles gold
September 2012: Exclusive - World's most dominant sportswoman Vergeer owes nine-year undefeated run to "the fire inside"
July 2012: Vergeer continues nine-year unbeaten run to claim 12th British Open wheelchair tennis crown