Esther Vergeer

Esther Vergeer is the most successful wheelchair tennis player in history and owns one of the longest streak ever in world sport. By August this year she had won more than 450 consecutive unbeaten matches since her last loss in January 2003.

She started to play wheelchair tennis at age 12 after a surgery on her spinal cord went wrong. She played her first tournament in 1994 and became world number one for the first time in 1999.
In 2011 she became World champion for the 12th consecutive year and captured her 14th successive singles titles at the Wheelchair Tennis Masters.

Esther is a five-time Paralympic gold medallist, having won singles and doubles gold medals at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, singles gold and silver doubles in Beijing 2008.
She has been coached by Sven Groeneveld – who has worked with players like Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez, Ana Ivanovic…- since 2009.

My parents brought me up to be a good goal-setter, I know what I want to achieve and I know what I hace to do for it. Of course it’s hard to say I would have the same spirit, the same abilities and the same talent if I was an able-bodied girl, but there is a part of me that is a fighter.
If I got my gold medals out of their box and I hold them and look at them again, then I do realise it’s amazing what happened to me, what I’ve done and what I could achieve.

Pic: ITF Olympic Book

Shingo Kunieda

After being treated for spinal cancer, Shingo Kunieda started his wheelchair tennis career at age 11, and then joined the international circuit at 17. He won Paralympic gold in Beijing in 2008 and, with Satoshi Saida won doubles gold at 2004 Athens 2004 and bronze in 2008 Beijing.

Kunieda has won a total of 20 Grand Slam since 2006, including 11 in singles. He was ITF Word Champion Tour for four successive years from 2007 to 2010 and was year-end doubles n°1 in 2007.
After losing his semifinal at the Wheelchair Tennis Masters in November 2007, Kunieda was unbeaten for the next three years, building-up a 106-match winning steak before losing to Stéphane Houdet in the semifinals of the 2010 Masters.

Kunieda’s run of consecutive Grand Slam singles titles came to an end at Roland Garros in June 2011, when he was beaten in the semifinals by Maikel Scheffers. Altough he bounced back to win the US Open in New York, injury denied him the opportunity of contesting the year-end Wheelchair Tennis Masters and his four year-reign as world n°1 was ended by Maikel Scheffers in December 2011.

Shingo could become the first player to win two men’s singles Paralympic titles.

Just to play the game is what I’m looking forward to the most about London. To win a gold medal in both singles and doubles is my biggest goal.

Pic: ITF Olympic book

London Paralympic venues

For the most part, the Paralympics use the same venues as the Olympics.
There is also one additional venue to the Olympic Park which was not used for the Olympics: Eton Manor, which hosts the Wheelchair Tennis competition.
Outside London, there are three venues. Eton Dorney will still host the Rowing and the Sailing will again take place at Weymouth and Portland in Dorset. The cycling events will take place at Brands Hatch in Kent.

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When is the Paralympic Wheelchair Tennis competition?

1-8 September

Where will the Paralympic Wheelchair Tennis take place?

The Paralympic tennis event will take place at Eton Manor, the only purposed-built London 2012 Paralympic venue.
Situated towards the north end of Olympic Park, Eton Manor features nine competition courts, all designed in striking blue color, and four practice courts. The venue is based on the grounds of the old Eton Manor Sports Club, once a popular community sports facility in the 1990s.

When did Wheelchair Tennis first appear in the Paralympics?

After featuring as an exhibition sport at the Seoul 1988 Paralympic Games, Wheelchair Tennis was introduced as a full medal event at the Barcelona 1992 Games, and has featured at every Games since then.
Quad events have been added in Athens in 2004.

How is Wheelchair Tennis played?

Wheelchair tennis follows the same rules as able-bodied tennis. Except the ball is allowed to bounce twice. The second bounce can be either inside or outside the court boundaries.

How many gold medals are up for grabs?

6. There are six medal events to be contested: men’s and women’s Singles, men’s and women’s Doubles, Quad Singles and Quad Doubles. Quad players have an impairment that affects three or more limbs.

Who are the favorites?

Women: Unbeaten in over 460 singles matches since 2003, Dutch Esther Vergeer is a sure thing for the podium. She bids for her fourth successive singles medal at London 2012. Her toughest competitors will be compatriots Aniek van Koot and Jiske Griffioen, as well as Sabine Ellerbrock from Germany.

Men: The competition is wide open in the men’s event. Shingo Kunieda of Japan could become the first player to win two men’s singles Paralympic titles. But he has plenty of strong challengers. They are headed by world number one Stéphane Houdet of France and Maikel Scheffers and Ronald Vink of the Netherlands.
Young Argentinian Gustavo Fernandez could also cause a surprise.

Quad: This could come down to a duel between two longtime rivals: American David Wagner, who earned a bronze at Beijing and gold at Athens, and Great Britain’s Peter Norfolk – nicknamed The Quadfather – who took the gold in Athens and Beijing.

To mark its first broadcast of the Paralympics, Channel 4 is launching its biggest ever marketing campaign with a ‘roadblock’ premiere of a 90-second film showcasing the abilities and unique stories of Great Britain’s leading Paralympians.

Check out Channel 4 kick-ass advert:

Soundtrack: Harder Than You Think by Public Enemy

Channel 4 Facebook page for the Paralympics