It’s been a successful summer for wheelchair tennis star Jordanne Whiley MBE, who won this year’s Wimbledon and is currently in the women’s double finals and women’s singles bronze medal match in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. Here she tells IKO about her path to success and the important role wheelchair tennis plays in inspiring the stars of tomorrow.
Jordanne Whiley is a British wheelchair tennis player, who was thrust into the spotlight at the age of 14 when she became Britain’s youngest ever national women’s singles champion in wheelchair tennis. She has osteogenesis imperfecta, a rare disease affecting the connective tissue and is characterised by extremely fragile bones that break or fracture easily (brittle bones). Her father Keith has the same disability, and was he also a Paralympian and won a bronze medal in 1984.
“I’m very lucky in the fact I’ve always known who I want to be. I certainly got into tennis because of my dad and I definitely learnt from plenty of other fantastic athletes who preceded me. But I am first and foremost always inspired by myself and what I can achieve. It’s important for me to have personal and professional goals – this is what helps me improve as an individual and as a sportswoman,” highlights Jordanne.
In 2014, Jordanne made history as the first British player to win a calendar year Grand Slam, a victory she cites as her biggest achievement. “It was a massive thing for me to do and it was such a special time in my career.”
Jordanne entered the junior level of tennis aged 11 and became a senior way before her time at the age of 15. “I have been in the industry for what seems an eternity, and because of that I have been able to grow at a steady pace. Being an athlete can come with a lot of pressure attached to it, and that’s why I always tell young people to just enjoy it, have fun and never lose sight of this amazing journey you are on, no matter how tough it may be.”
The wheelchair tennis superstar explains that when the going gets tough, she has a great support network at home in the form of her son, Jackson. “I have a fantastic family around me. Jackson is a very energetic and sporty kid who always keeps me on my toes,” she says.
“Being a mum has taught me so many things,” Jordanne continues. “It has given me another perspective on life. Tennis is a huge part of who I am, but I am also a mum who loves to sing and bake cupcakes. Having Jackson has helped me overcome challenges – if I have a rough day, I come home to him which makes all my problems go away.”
The path to being a superstar is never straightforward and without its complications, as Jordanne would agree. “Even though I am experiencing so many successes right now, I definitely didn’t have it easy. I look back to my early days and wish I would have trained more as a teenager. For me, I was talented and because of that I thought I didn’t always have to work as hard. But as I got older, I realised I did. I had to give up a lot of things to be a professional and that was difficult. But no one ever grows in their comfort zone, and I have the victories behind me to show how worth the sacrifices have been.”
With an exciting weekend ahead and potential gold medals on the table, what would it mean for Jordanne to win? “The Paralympics is such a stand-out event. It is the best feeling. In tournaments such as Wimbledon I don’t play for a nation, so the Paralympics gives me the opportunity to represent my country and wear the Union Jack.”
“Each Paralympic games has been so different,” continues Jordanne. “In Beijing I was a wildcard as I was so young. Playing on home soil in London 2012 was incredible. In Rio I was in my prime, yet I unfortunately got injured during the games. For Tokyo 2020, I am playing good tennis, I am wiser. I can’t wait to see what the weekend holds.”
In terms of the tennis industry in general, what does the future look like? “I think wheelchair tennis is becoming more popular,” pinpoints Jordanne. “It is definitely growing. There are increased draw sizes, individual sponsorship, media coverage. The likes of my IKO sponsorship show that wheelchair tennis support is evolving. It’s a real lifeline to many athletes and I hope it continues!”
“I’d also like to see Paralympians on adverts and billboards,” she continues. “It is important for young people to see ‘imperfect’ people represented. Paralympians are normal people facing their own challenges and becoming really successful in their chosen sport. Changing this perception will help and inspire so many people, both in and out of sport.”