Wheelchair tennis great Vergeer enshrined in HOF

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NEWPORT, R.I. — Esther Vergeer put up eye-popping numbers during her career in wheelchair tennis, piling them up as the sport grew and became a Grand Slam event.

Now, her accomplishments will be on display forever after she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame on Saturday during a 45-minute ceremony on grass courts just outside the museum.

“Tennis transformed me into the very essence of who I am today,” said Vergeer, who suffered from a series of strokes as a child, and an operation to address an abnormality in her spinal cord blood supply left her legs paralyzed.

“A testament to the power of perseverance, resilience and determination,” she told the crowd. “This moment is not mine alone. It reflects the unlimited support and dedication and love that has surrounded me throughout my tennis career.”

A 21-time Grand Slam singles champion and seven-time Paralympic gold medalist, Vergeer held the No. 1 spot in the world rankings for 668 weeks from 2000-13 and won 470 straight singles matches. She won 96% of her singles matches overall, and also claimed 136 doubles titles.

The 42-year-old Vergeer, from the Netherlands, was inducted along with American Rick Draney, 61, who won 12 singles titles and six in doubles before the Slam era of wheelchair tennis and is a pioneer in bringing quad tennis to the sport.

When her career was over, did she ever sit back, pause and think: ‘Did I do all that?’

“Yeah, there were some moments,” she said, breaking into a brief laugh before smiling after being asked the question at an afternoon news conference.

“Now, again, when people repeat those numbers, I’m like whoa. It all happened so fast that when you’re playing you don’t realize what the number are,” she said. “To look back on my career and see what I did, yeah, it’s quite impressive, especially when you see you’re unbeaten and to be able to win every time.”

But it may take little longer for Vergeer to realize her place in the sport’s history in Newport because of all the attention this weekend.

“I’m so busy here,” she said. “When I get back on the plane going home, that’s when I’ll probably realize how big this is. Not only for me, but for tennis as a whole.”

Draney has been credited with bringing quad tennis — a classification that accounts for impairment in the arms, as well — to the Paralympics and other top tournaments.

“I’m still part of that process and it is happening, in some part, because of my efforts,” he said. “I take immense pride in that and satisfaction to know we are where we are now.”

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