EXCLUSIVE: Grand Slam queen Jordanne Whiley speaks to Tennis365 about her last sporting dream

Kevin Palmer

She created history by becoming the first British women to win a Grand Slam wheelchair singles title when she lifted the 2015 US Open, yet Jordanne Whiley is still chasing one big dream.

At the age of 28, this tennis heroine has defied her own doubts to bounce back to the top of the game after giving birth to her first son Jackson, yet as she sat down for an exclusive chat with Tennis365 at the LTA’s National Tennis Centre, it was clear that her desire to compete is burning brightly.

A few days before she flew to New York to compete in the US Open, Whiley admitted her big goal has now been shifted to 2021 and a date with destiny in Tokyo that she hopes will complete her career.

“When I had my little boy, I didn’t know if I would make it back on court at the highest level, but the only thing I don’t have in my career is a singles medal at a Paralympics and that is the big one I want now,” began the athlete who was awarded an MBE in 2015 New Year’s Honours list.

“I have bronze medals from 2012 and 2016 in doubles, but that singles medal is the one I want now and that has driven me on to get back on court and try and achieve that goal. The Paralympics have been moved back a year and that means any thoughts I had of stopping tennis have also been put back a year because I want to be in Tokyo.”

Whiley was born osteogenesis imperfecta, an affliction commonly referred to as brittle bone disease, yet she refused to view her disability as an obstacle to her ambitions and the 11 Grand Slam titles she has won in a glorious career ensures her legacy has long since been secure.

Yet like so many of us, she admits the events of 2020 have rocked her onto the ropes, as her hopes and dreams on an off the court were shaken.

“Everything seemed to come at once,” she continues. “I had been working so hard to focus on being at my best at the Tokyo Olympics and that was postponed. Then my wedding was postponed, Wimbledon was postponed and I find out hard to get my head around it all.

“We were thinking about having more children, but that has been delayed by a year as everything works around the Paralympic cycle and it all just hit me at once, which was hard to take.

“People whose health was affected by Covid-19 obviously had much bigger issues to contend with, but it was hard for all of us to come to terms with what was happening around us. Everything changed overnight and it was a big shock.

“A few months on and I am feeling more optimistic. I’ve started working as a mortgage broker with a great firm and have met some wonderful people in that job, we have rescheduled the wedding for the same date as it would have been this year in 2020 and we have to hope the world can get back on its feet sooner rather than later.

“I used the period of lockdown and the break from tennis to get the qualifications required to become a mortgage adviser because I am starting to think about life after sport.

“Tokyo is going to be my last Paralympics and it means my sporting days will be over at the age of 29 and there will be a lot of years ahead of me and I need to think about what happens next.

“I’m such a geek, I just love mortgages, so it’s exciting to have something ahead of me, but that will not dilute my ambition to finish my tennis career on a high.”

Making a career playing wheelchair tennis is no easy task and Jordanne admits the gap in prize money between the four Grand Slam events and the rest of the tournaments over the course of a regular tennis year is a big issue.

“When you are playing in the Grand Slam events, you can absolutely make this your full-time career, but the draws are quite small and it is tough for athletes not playing in the Slams to get enough money to fund this,” she says.

“The prize money on offer in the ITF events is just not there.

“We just need more sponsorship, it’s as simple as that. If you win a Super Series event in wheelchair tennis, the top prize is around £2,000, but you win a Slam and it is £40,000. That highlights how big a difference there is at the top of the game and the level just below.”

Whiley is currently in New York playing in another US Open, after USTA officials rolled back on their initial plan to stage what has become the second Grand Slam event of 2020 without wheelchair events.

“The US Open wheelchair event nearly didn’t go ahead, but thankfully the players stuck together and we have ended up having a great tournament in New York,” she added.

“I was slightly worried about getting on a long-haul flight given the current problems around the world, but I want to play the US Open and this is the risk I have to take to make that happen. I just have to wear my mask and Dettol everything!

Wheelchair Grand Slam champion Jordanne Whiley and her son Jackson

“I have a two-year-old at home (above with Jackson) and have to think about the consequences of what it will all mean if I get stuck in New York after a positive Covid test, but the organisers explained the protocols to us and it sounded very safe.

“Financially, I needed to earn some money after six months of not competing and I’m looking forward to getting back on court and competing again.

“Some people have said this is not a real US Open because so many of the top players are not there in the able-bodied event and that is true to an extent, but you have to be so mentally tough to come through a situation like this, with no crowd, no team around you and hats off to anyone who finds a way to deal with all that and get a win.”

Wheelchair tennis will miss Whiley when she hangs up her rackets, but this super-Mum still has much more to achieve.

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