On wheelchair tennis’ debut at the Barcelona 1992 Games, Monique Kalkman defeated Chantal Vandierendonck in an all-Dutch final to become the first female player to win the Paralympic singles title.
The finalists then teamed-up to seal doubles gold, beginning an era of Dutch dominance in women’s wheelchair tennis which has seen only Dutch players win Paralympic gold ever since.
“We have a rich history in the sport, good coaching, good infrastructure and many role models who help inspire the next generations,” explained Kalkman.
Four years before in Seoul, South Korea, wheelchair tennis was still a demonstration sport, and Kalkman lost to Vandierendonck in the final.
“From that moment on, together with my coach and husband Marc we started working on my game to play more strategically,” said Kalkman, who early this year was elected to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
“That made me a much better player and would make the difference four years later, in Barcelona 1992’s final.”
In the run-up to those Games, Kalkman used to train between five and six times per week in the morning, before going to work in the afternoon.
“In the 90s, every Para athlete needed to have a job besides sports, which has its good side because you were already in the working world when you retired,” said marketing professional Kalkman.
The Dutch player only conceded one set on her way to gold in Barcelona. Her road to glory included beating Israel’s Tiki Aharoni 6-0, 6-2, USA’s Nancy Olson 6-3, 4-6, 7-6, Germany’s Regina Isecke 6-0, 6-2 and finally Vandierendonck 6-3, 6-4.
“The match against Olson was the toughest one. She was playing really well and I was not,” said Kalkman, a former world No.1 and multiple-Grand Slam winner.
“That title was definitely the most important in my career.”
She later added a doubles gold to his haul, in partnership with Vandierendonck, after defeating USA’s Olson and Lynn Seidemann in the final.
“With Chantal [Vandierendonck], we were sporting rivals, but when we were on the same side of the net, we had to work together and trust each other,” she said.
“We were very confident and relaxed when playing the doubles; we had less pressure than in the singles.”
Four years later in Atlanta, USA, Kalkman successfully defended the doubles title but was beaten by compatriot Maaike Smit in the singles final.
“I took me a while to accept that I did not lose gold but won silver,” she said.
Editor’s note: “Throwback Thursday” is a feature series published on Paralympic.org twice a month, bringing you some of the top Paralympic athletes of the past.