Diede turns her first dream into silver
Diede de Groot might be only 19, yet she achieved one of the Dutch Paralympic successes in Rio. Together with Marjolein Buis she won silver in the women’s wheelchair tennis doubles. This was a remarkable performance by this talented player, who announced when the Partner of the Future Programme started that she wanted to make her Paralympic debut. She was rewarded with a week of unique experiences, including being congratulated in a speech by the Deputy Prime Minister and being received by King Willem-Alexander.
Diede first started training with her mentor Esther Vergeer only two short years ago. Esther said at the time, ‘I’ve known Diede for a while now, and I’m itching to start training with her.’ Diede was clear about her ambitions from the start: ‘My dream is to play at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio, the biggest and greatest tournament in the world.’
For a while it was uncertain whether Diede would actually make it to Rio, yet her impressive march up the world rankings and the form she displayed proved decisive. Before the event Esther had high hopes about Diede’s chances of returning with a medal. ‘If things go to plan, Diede could win a medal. There’s a reason why she’s already ranked seventh in the world.’ She turned out to be right.
Dreams come true
Diede turned out to be the type of athlete who makes her dreams come true. She felt right at home as she made her Paralympic debut in Rio in September: Esther, in her role as Deputy Chef de Mission (team manager), was closely involved both as Diede prepared and during the tournament. Esther’s own Paralympic debut had also come at the age of 19. Knowing what it takes, she was able to give Diede valuable advice. It is important to make your dreams come true, but it is even more important to define new goals after that.
At these crucial moments in an athlete’s career it is important for them to be firmly inside their comfort zone. The support team does much of the work to make sure this happens. Under the Partner of the Future programme, arrangements were made for Diede’s regular coach Amanda Hopmans to travel to Rio to help her student.
The big moment finally came on 3 September. TeamNL flew out to Rio, for the biggest sporting event in the world. On board the team plane was Diede, for whom it was an entirely new experience. The Paralympic village, the media, the vast stadiums: it all took some getting used to. Diede enjoyed the Opening Ceremony enormously, and she made her debut on 10 September.
Diede faced Kanako Domori of Japan in round 1 of the singles tournament. She made a lightning start to her tournament, winning 6-1 6-3, and she followed this up in round 2 by beating Shelby Baron from the United States with similar figures (6-4 6-1). In her quarter-final match Diede met Jordanne Whiley and won effortlessly (6-3 6-1), going through to the semi-final without having lost a set. In the semi-final she encountered world number one Jiske Griffioen, also of the Netherlands, in what became a thriller of a match. Diede won the first set 6-4 before going down 4-6 in the second set. The players were evenly matched in the final set and the game went into a tiebreak. Jiske’s experience proved decisive, and she won 7-3 to take the match. Diede then proceeded to the third-place playoff. However, Japan’s Yui Kamiji, ranked number three in the world, proved too strong and took the bronze medal (6-3 6-3). Nevertheless, Diede proved that she is one of the very best in the world in the singles game.
Diede teamed up with Marjolein Buis for the women’s doubles. Having been given a bye in round 1, they took on US pair Mathewson/Verfuerth in round 2 and recorded a solid win: 6-2 6-4. Progressing to the semi-final, Diede and Marjolein then played Japanese partnership of Kamiji and Nijo. Despite Diede’s loss in the singles tournament, she and her partner now won 6-4 5-7 7-5 to reach the final of the women’s double, in a match that lasted 3 hours and 43 minutes. The contest for the gold and silver was entirely a Dutch affair, with Jiske Griffioen and Aniek van Koot on the other side of the net. Although the more experienced pair proved to be too strong and took the gold (6-4 6-2), Diede can boast that she won her first medal on her debut.
Upon their return to the Netherlands it was immediately apparent what an impact the Paralympians’ performances had had. The plane carrying TeamNL was escorted by two F16s as it arrived at Schiphol Airport. The athletes then travelled to Tivoli in Utrecht for the first public ceremony ever to welcome home a Dutch Paralympic team.
The next day Diede and her fellow medallists went to The Hague for further celebrations. At a gathering in the Grote Kerk, the athletes’ performances were praised by Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher, State Secretary Martin van Rijn for Health and President Wim Ludeke of the Dutch National Paralympic Committee. The party then moved on to Noordeinde Palace, where they received a warm welcome from King Willem-Alexander and Princess Margriet.
Now that Diede has achieved – and surpassed – her first goal of playing at the Paralympics, she can focus on her next target. Will she succeed in becoming number one in the world within three years? We will find out before long.