Jordanne Whiley: becoming one of Britain’s greatest champions
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Jordanne Whiley announces her retirement today, bringing to an end a career that has seen the 29-year-old become Britain’s most decorated female wheelchair tennis player of all-time.
Her incredible journey – which started at just three-years-old when she was unexpectedly awarded her first trophy in Israel – led to Whiley becoming a history-making Grand Slam champion and four-time Paralympic medallist.
Along the way, Whiley has been supported by the LTA’s Elite Wheelchair programme for the highest performing players targeting major tournament success, which has never been in short supply…
Here we look back on the career of one of British tennis’ greatest champions.
Early beginnings and first trophies
With dad Keith a keen multi-sport athlete and a former Paralympic bronze medallist in wheelchair racing, Whiley’s own path to sporting success was maybe written from the start.
Her first wheelchair tennis trophy came aged three while Keith was competing at the Israel Open. It was there that Whiley picked up a racket and started hitting balls for the first time and the tournament were so taken by what they saw they presented a young Jordanne with her own trophy.
It wasn’t long before Whiley started to catch the wheelchair tennis bug at beginners’ camps organised by the Tennis Foundation, whose activities have since been integrated into the LTA. That offered an introduction to the sport and, just as importantly, allowed her to form new friendships, some of which continue to this day.
And so, a successful junior career began, with Whiley winning her first international junior and senior titles in 2006 and lifting the first of three successive Junior Masters singles titles in 2007, aged 14.
While she was still 14, Whiley made history on home soil, becoming the youngest ever women’s singles National champion. In the same year, she was also part of the Great Britain team that won a first ever World Team Cup junior gold medal.
A year later Whiley made her Paralympic Games debut in Beijing, aged 16, representing Great Britain in the singles and doubles. All her early victories and milestones led to the young Brit becoming junior world No.1 for the first time in 2009.
Grand Slam history beckons
Whiley’s achievements as a former Junior Masters champion and world No.1 junior are among the many things she shares with now best friend and long-time doubles partner Yui Kamiji.
The British-Japanese team first came together in the second half of 2013 and was successful from the start, winning three of their first four tournaments together and ending the year with the first of their two Doubles Masters titles. That year they also finished as runners-up at their first Wimbledon together in July 2013.
However, their success reached a whole new level in 2014, starting with the Australian Open, where Whiley and Kamiji faced the first of many all-Dutch challenges over the years, defeating Jiske Griffioen and Marjolein Buis 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-2 to win the first of their 12 Grand Slam titles together.
With Whiley now the first British female wheelchair tennis player to win a Grand Slam title, another championship decider against Dutch opposition came at Roland Garros. With Griffioen now partnering Aniek van Koot, Whiley and Kamiji emerged as victors again, prevailing 7-6(3), 3-6, 10-8 and raising the possibility of completing the calendar Grand Slam.
Having lost out to Griffioen and Van Koot in the final on their Wimbledon debut in 2013, Whiley and Kamiji now had the chance to avenge that loss and that’s exactly what they did. But this time there was no match tie-break required as Whiley and Kamiji fought back to win 2-6, 6-2, 7-5. The history-making feat of the calendar Grand Slam was now just one tournament away.
Up until September 2014 no Brit had ever won a calendar Grand Slam in any singles or doubles draw, senior or junior – but that was all about to change.
The opponents were familiar – Griffioen and Van Koot; the match score was familiar – three sets; but once again Whiley and Kamiji showed their resilience and emerged victorious 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Whiley was now the first Brit to win to complete a Grand Slam – a record she continued to hold until this year, when Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid achieved the same in men’s doubles.
New York, New York - so good to win there twice
After making history in 2014, 2015 brought an MBE for Whiley, for services to wheelchair tennis, while on the court the Grand Slam titles began to mount up.
Whiley and Kamiji claimed the second of their three Australian Open titles and the second of their five Wimbledon titles together.
The US Open brought defeat for Whiley and Kamiji in their doubles semi-final, but other exciting things were happening on the court and Whiley beat second seed Van Koot 6-7(1), 6-4, 6-3 to earn her place in her first Grand Slam singles final. Awaiting her in the decider was Kamiji.
After completing the calendar Grand Slam in doubles in 2014, Whiley had the word ‘unprecedented’ tattooed in Japanese on the back of one her arms – very fitting for what was to come next.
Whiley recovered from losing the second set of her US Open singles final against Kamiji without winning a game to claim the title 6-4, 0-6, 6-1. After nine championships points Whiley had become the first British female wheelchair tennis player to win a Grand Slam singles title.
Back-to-back success at the British Open
If events in New York in September 2015 were momentous, Whiley had already demonstrated that she was in fine form, physically and mentally, just six weeks earlier in Nottingham.
Since she was a child Whiley had accompanied dad Keith and mum Julie to the British Open, one of just six Super Series tournaments on the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour, making it one of the top tier of wheelchair tennis tournaments in the world, outside of the Grand Slams.
In 2015 and 2016, Whiley became the first British female to win a Super Series singles title at the British Open, defeating Van Koot in the semi-finals and Griffioen in the finals of both tournaments.
Whiley had already arrived in Nottingham in 2015 as the first player to become world No.1 in the women’s doubles rankings, but her week was to get better and better after beating both Griffioen and Van Koot in three sets to lift the singles trophy.
Eight World Team Cup medals in nine senior appearances
Off the court, Nottingham Tennis Centre has held predominantly happy memories for Whiley, although as a young girl born with osteogenesis Imperfecta (Brittle Bone Disease) it was one of the places where she endured one of more than 25 bone breaks during her childhood.
On the court, the East Midlands venue has many happy memories, too, from wheelchair tennis beginners’ camps through to being the place where she won the first of eight senior World Team Cup medals representing Great Britain’s women. In 2009 Whiley joined forces with teammate Lucy Shuker and Louise Hunt to finish runners-up, for the first time, against the Dutch women’s team.
It was a result they would repeat again in Turkey in 2013 and the Netherlands in 2014, while around the three silver medals, Whiley also ends her career with a further five bronze medals a senior player, additional to the junior World Team Cup medal won in 2007.
Tokyo – a record-breaking Paralympics
Although Whiley has won all her Grand Slam doubles titles partnering Kamiji, in World Team Cups and four Paralympic Games, Shuker has been a constant by Whiley’s side.
Although they made an early exit in Beijing in 2008, in London in 2012 Shuker and Whiley became the first female wheelchair tennis medallists for ParalympicsGB after defeating Thailand’s Sakhorn Khanthasit and Ratana Techamaneewat in the closest of bronze medal play-offs.
A second Paralympic bronze medal followed in Rio in 2016, where Whiley played with a stress fracture in her wrist, an injury that played a major factor in a heart-breaking singles quarter-final loss.
However, with Whiley having already determined that Tokyo would be her final Paralympic Games, her and Shuker’s fortunes improved dramatically in September this year as they made history as the first British partnership to reach the women’s doubles final, ending with a silver medal after being beaten by the Dutch top seeds.
Meanwhile, Whiley’s dream to end her career with a Paralympic medal in singles competition continued to burn strong. As fourth seed, she achieved just that after battling past third seed Van Koot 6-4, 6-7(7), 6-4 to win a memorable bronze and take her collection of Paralympic medals to four.
A final Wimbledon title for Mum
Whiley has always maintained that Wimbledon, her home Grand Slam, is her favourite tournament. Having made history at The Championships with Kamiji during their ground-breaking 2014 season, the dynamic duo won their fourth successive title on the hallowed grass courts in 2017, with Whiley revealing a few days later that she had played whilst 11 weeks pregnant.
Her son, Jackson, was born at the end of January 2018 and it was while commentating for BBC TV on the 2018 Championships that Whiley decided that she definitely wanted to make her comeback to wheelchair tennis. She did so in early 2019, ending the season with six singles titles and six doubles titles.
So it is entirely fitting that Whiley’s last title as player came at Wimbledon this year as she and Kamiji beat Shuker and South Africa’s Kgothatso Montjane in the first Grand Slam women’s wheelchair doubles final to feature Brits on either side of the net. Watching on and desperate to come on court after match point was won was Jackson, who got to parade the trophy around the court with his mum.
Since her comeback in 2019, Whiley has naturally and correctly considered herself to be mum first and athlete second. As Whiley enters retirement, her number one priority will not change.