At first glance, winning seems very easy Dead de Groot; An almost careless habit of 69 consecutive victories, resulting in a gold slam – all four Grand Slams and a gold medal in the Paralympics – in 2021, followed by a grand slam on the calendar in 2022.
Taken together, these accomplishments were a never-before-attained major in tennis as de Groot completed the set by winning this year’s US Open in women’s wheelchair singles, confirming her status as the most dominant player of her generation. .
But in the aftermath of such an impressive run, winning every tournament she takes part in has become more predictable, adding to the pressure with each win.
“There’s a lot of pressure. Until last year, those slams were like a little dark cloud hanging over the year,” says de Groot. CNN Sport.
“Everything was going well but there was a big cloud of pressure pushing into the fact of it [everyone thought] I was the one who was going to do it, but I didn’t know if I would be able to do it.”
As the year progressed, the 25-year-old achieved every milestone in a gold slam, and despite the growing pressure, she lost only two sets along the way, adding three Grand Slam titles plus another Paralympic gold medal in doubles. for a good scale.
This year, she continued her extraordinary level, once again sweeping the Grand Slam and winning three more doubles.
But instead of getting lost in all the pressure, De Groot focuses on the little things, sets her own goals for every match that has nothing to do with the score and achieves every win by enjoying a “cold night” with her coach.
“We’re also very happy to be back home and family because I feel like my family knows the most about what I’m doing for it,” she says.
“They know what I have to go through and what that means to me. So really, when I’m with the family, they know the troubles I’ve been through to get that plate or that trophy…and I think that’s the part of me looking back and celebrating a little bit” .
Despite all these accomplishments, de Groot’s fate was nothing but a twist of fate when she picked up a tennis racket at the age of seven, as part of a post-operative rehabilitation program on her right leg that was shorter than her left.
“They just said to me, ‘Do you want to play tennis because it’s close to your house,'” she recalls. ”
“And I thought, My grandmother is playing, some of my cousins are playing. And so I started playing.”
Wheelchair tennis was first invented in 1976, and is played according to exactly the same rules as healthy tennis, except that players can let the ball bounce twice.
“I liked him at first because I was like all the other kids in the group,” adds de Groot.
“We’ve all struggled a little bit with the wheelchair and racket holding…Maybe sometimes with my friends I feel a little different because sometimes I can’t walk for that long or I can’t run that fast.”
In time, de Groot began playing national wheelchair tennis tournaments where, without age groups, she faced players in their twenties, thirties and even forties, before being revealed on the Dutch national program and invited to the international junior tournaments.
While still young, De Groot trained at the National Center, where he played with Aniek van Koot and Jiske Griffioen, who at the time were the top and third seed respectively.
“I can really see how it was done, and I can even see what they were doing and then look at myself and think, ‘Can I do it this way?'” Or do I make it better? ”
“And I owe a lot of what I learned today from them because I was allowed to train with them.”
Once De Groot made it to the professional ring, her potential quickly emerged when she won the major tournaments at the third attempt, but her early career weaknesses became apparent as well.
“In the past two years, my mental performance has improved a lot,” she says. “Before, I was really good at tennis and I could really hit my shots today. But then in my head, sometimes I would miss it.”
Playing in her first major at the 2017 Australian Open, De Groot was defeated by Sabine Ellerbrück in the opening round – her only loss to the German in 19 career matches.
Shortly thereafter, she was knocked out of the French Open in the first round again after failing to convert her match points, she recalls.
“Then at Wimbledon… I was like, ‘Okay, I lost my first match, I had chances to win my first game in my second tournament, but that didn’t happen, now I’m just going to enjoy it,’ and I think that’s what I did throughout the tournament,” he says. de Groot.
“I didn’t really have any expectations and that was probably the key to winning the first title.”
When she won her first major tournament, de Groot was only 20 years old and unburdened by the expectations she now faces.
“A real sense of surprise [after winning] I left, but still feeling proud and things, I think this has grown over the years because I just noticed how gradually the pressure is building up, as if it’s getting more and more and more,” she adds.
“And my opponents… they make it more difficult for me every time I play. So I know that every time it gets more and more difficult to maintain the winning streak.”
At every stage of her career, De Groot has faced a challenge from her big rival Yui Kamiji. Between them, the two women have won 22 of the last 23 major tournaments, with Kamiji’s defensive brilliance providing the perfect counterpart to De Groot’s more aggressive style.
“I hit some shots that none of the other guys did, so I made sure I was going to practice on those shots in my practice,” says de Groot.
“Yui has taught me to be more patient and to really wait for my chances. I think we made each other smarter players.”
Even during De Groot’s relatively short career thus far, the profile of wheelchair tennis has increased exponentially.
Wimbledon only introduced wheelchair singles into its program in 2016 – a year before De Groot debuted to win the title – while the Australian Open wheelchair tennis tournaments were held on various dates for the rest of the Grand Slams in the first five editions through 2007. .
“We were kind of going to be there, but we weren’t included,” says de Groot, recalling stories from other players.
“So it was a bit like the Australian Open, but it’s really not included at all. If you look at it now, we’re at the same time, we’re playing in the same stadiums, we use the same locker room and so there’s a lot of differences and they’ve happened like this. Really big changes.”
This year, 16 players appeared in the men’s and women’s wheelchair singles at the US Open – the largest ever stadium in a Grand Slam – while a junior tournament was also held there for the first time, and the ITF Wheelchair Tennis Tour now features more than 150 events.
However, there is still a long way to go.
As De Groot points out, more visibility for wheelchair tennis is needed until fans fill the larger courts they are playing on now, such as Louis Armstrong Stadium at the US Open or Court No. 1 at Wimbledon.
“My dream is to take tennis in a wheelchair to a place where people buy tickets to go see us,” says de Groot.
“I don’t expect anyone to give up a Nadal ticket to exchange it with us. But it would be great if there were just some people out there, you know, I’m going to Wimbledon today just to watch wheelchair tennis because they are so amazing.”