Diede goes to Rio de Janeiro
When Diede was asked about her dreams at the kickoff of the ABN AMRO Tennis talent programme, her answer was perhaps the most resounding one of all: “To participate in the Paralympic Games and to become the world's number one.” At record-breaking pace, she is heading straight for that goal. This July she received the good news: Diede, now number seven in the world rankings, is going to Rio.
For the past year and a half Diede has been beating the odds, with her mentor Esther Vergeer by her side. Diede: “It is truly something special to be in this position, taking a shot at following in Esther's footsteps as a Paralympic gold champion. Back when she became my mentor, when we discussed dreams and goals, we had the Tokyo Games of 2020 in mind. Now, I'm four years ahead of schedule, about to play on the world's most prestigious platform. I'm so excited, it came as an amazing surprise.”
Diede's career so far has been nothing short of awe-inspiring. In just a year's time, she rose from the 34th position to number 7 in the worldwide rankings. Being only nineteen years old, she is easily the youngest tennis star in the global top 10. Still, her participation in the Rio Games was far from guaranteed. She explains: “Each country can only provide four participants in total. With the Netherlands' keen competition, it was a tight call whether I would make the cut.”
Diede has continued evolving from a youthful talent into a serious top-ten contestant over the past few months. Left and right, she has been defeating other players who were going for the gold. A recent and notable match Diede won in France was the one versus Jiske Griffioen, currently the world's number 1. This victory played a major role in boosting Diede's chances for the Rio selection. Early in July she received news from the NOC*NSF that she had passed selection. “I had been awaiting that news with so much anticipation. When it arrived, I was over the moon.”
Side by side with mentor Esther
Esther Vergeer in turn is quite eager to travel down to Rio de Janeiro with her young pupil. For the Paralympic Games in Rio, Esther is the assistant Chef de Mission for the Netherlands. “Rio is something new for me as well. In addition to tournament directorship of the ABN AMRO World Wheelchair Tennis Tournament and being a mentor in the talent programme, I now have the privilege of joining the Dutch Paralympic Team organisers. It is truly an honour and I can't wait. Diede's participation is what makes this even more special to me. I look forward to supporting her with my own experience during her very first Paralympic Games.”
Could Diede have a shot at gold?
Esther does not rule out the possibility that Diede may win gold. “Of course, there will be some fierce competition. But with Diede's youthful confidence and raw talent, I'm certain she will put up a very tough fight. She's awed the tennis world so many times already that I honestly believe nothing's impossible for her.” It will be a close competition. A salient detail is that Esther was 19 years old herself when she participated in her first Paralympic Games – and won, beating all the odds. Will Diede manage to follow in her mentor's footsteps? We will know more halfway September.
For the latest update from Diede, check http://www.diededegroot.nl.