“Live it up. When you suffer from a disability, don’t go sit inside behind the curtains, just go outside and show yourself and just work it.”
It is not always easy, living in the shadows of Esther Vergeer, the world’s No. 1 Wheelchair Tennis player who has not lost a singles match since 2003.
But heading into this week’s Wheelchair Tennis US Open in New York, USA, fellow Dutchwoman Aniek van Koot could be poised for a breakthrough.
The up-and-coming 21-year-old has won four of her last six tournaments, including the French Open Super Series, and has jumped to No. 4 in the women’s singles world rankings.
“This year, I started off as No. 7 in the world,” van Koot told paralympic.org. “I was really down and I was thinking I was not going to make (London 2012). But now, after these tournaments, I have a lot of strength and a lot of confidence, so I want to keep competing and improving myself to actually go.”
Twenty players will take part in singles, doubles and quads play at the US Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre from 8-11 September, including the top eight in the world rankings on both the men’s and women’s sides.
The total purse for the event will be $120,000, a $20,000 increase in prize money over last year.
Vergeer is the five-time defending women’s singles champion in New York and has not lost a singles match since 2003, and while van Koot has never made it past the US Open quarterfinals, she has also never held such a high world ranking entering the tournament.
“Every girl in the top eight is a big opponent because we’re all tight with each other. It’s always tight scores, but obviously, Esther Vergeer is the one to beat,” van Koot said.
“She’s an amazing player and she gave up nearly everything for tennis. Sometimes you play a match against her and it’s just 6-2, 6-1, but you can say, ‘Oh, I played a really good match.’ But you still lost.”
Van Koot admitted to working with a mental trainer in recent months to discuss how she should psychologically approach Vergeer on the court.
“Obviously, when you play someone who hasn’t lost for five, six or even more years, you’ll think, ‘Oh, I’m going to lose today.’ But I’m trying to figure out ways to think something different like, ‘I want to play my best game today. I want to make her play her best game. I want to put her under pressure.’
“Even if I lose 6-0, 6-0, I want to be able to say, ‘I played a good match today,’”
On the doubles side, van Koot will be paired with experienced Dutchwoman Jiske Griffioen, who is now ranked No. 2 in the world.
Van Koot said she hopes to use the US Open as another stepping stone to qualify for the London 2012 Paralympic Games. Despite being No. 8 in the world at the time, she just missed out on qualifying for the 2008 Games in Beijing because only four Dutchwomen could qualify, and it just so happened that four were ahead of her in the world rankings.
After seeing her progress this past year, there is no question van Koot will do everything in her power to qualify for London 2012.
And taking into consideration her attitude toward Paralympic Sport, she will not be giving up along the way.
“Live it up,” van Koot said.
“When you suffer from a disability, don’t go sit inside behind the curtains, just go outside and show yourself and just work it.”