‘Young girls need role models who are flawed like me’

After successfully defending her Wimbledon wheelchair doubles title – her record-breaking sixth Grand Slam – Jordanne Whiley celebrated with a cake. Her own creation. As well as being one of Britain’s most successful tennis players, she is also clearly a future contender for the Great British Bake Off.

“I love baking and I love food. When I stop playing I swear I will be very,” she pauses for a short while, “round!”

She explains: “My parents taught me to cook so I use a lot of their recipes and often make cupcakes for them. I also take cakes on tour – even though they don’t really fit in with my nutritional plan!”

That aside, at least her plan for global domination is working.

Not only did she clinch the Wimbledon crown in a three-set victory with her Japanese doubles partner, Yui Kamiji, she followed up by landing her first solo title in the Super Singles tournament at Nottingham.

To top that, the latest rankings issued by the International Tennis Federation have placed her as the number one doubles player in the world.

The Wimbledon title meant the world to the 23 year old. “We wanted to win Wimbledon so bad and we were going to fight for it no matter what. It was the most amazing feeling when we won and always an emotional one at Wimbledon because it’s such a special tournament for me and Yui.”

There was an extra edge for Whiley and Kamiji at Wimbledon because they had lost in the French Open the month before to the Dutch pairing of Jiske Griffioen and Aniek van Koot, their first defeat in six Grand Slam finals.

“I wouldn’t call it revenge, but we wanted to show everyone how strong we are. Just because we were beaten once does not mean our spirits were down. But we did want to prove ourselves at Wimbledon. Yui and I have renamed ourselves as ‘The Assassins’. Of course, I had to explain what an assassin was before Yui was on board with the idea.”

Whiley and Kamiji’s strength as a partnership is evident not only on court but off it, too, with Whiley counting Kamiji as her best friend and even coming up with novel ways of trying to keep her in the country. “I was trying to marry her off to an Englishman, but she’s having none of it and has gone and got herself a Japanese boyfriend which is a bit inconsiderate if you ask me!” she laughs.

“We’re the perfect match because she is just so calm and happy all the time. I actually think she is incapable of getting angry which is a trait I wish I possessed! We’ve just spent a month together and we never tire of each other.”

Last year Whiley compared herself to a ‘paper bag’ and Kamiji to a ‘bag for life’ when talking about their doubles partnership. It was a glorious analogy that made headlines. But she was being typically honest. She felt that she was the more likely of the duo to break down under pressure.

But now, with six Grand Slam titles and that Super Series singles success behind her, plus growing recognition and appreciation from the media and the public, Whiley’s confidence has grown. “I feel much stronger now as a person and as a player. I no longer feel like a paper bag – more like a freezer bag; no more meltdowns!”

Photo credit: The Tennis Foundation

When they first teamed up as a doubles partnership Kamiji barely spoke any English and Whiley no Japanese. In fact, their pairing was born when Whiley simply uttered the question ‘Wimbledon?’ to Kamiji. The rest, as they say, is history. “Yui’s English is definitely getting better, although she just mimics how I speak which can be pretty funny! I’ve recently learnt that she can’t say ‘red lorry, yellow lorry’ so we have a lot of fun winding her up with that one!”

As well as her strong partnership with Kamiji, Whiley also credits a lot of her success to her boyfriend, Marc McCarroll, a fellow wheelchair tennis player and current British men’s number two. “Marc is a huge support to me although he sometimes thinks he’s my coach!”

With Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray both offering marriage as an explanation for their rise in form on the court, could there be wedding bells on the horizon for Whiley and McCarroll? “Marc knows I’d marry him tomorrow, but we don’t have the time right now. The tennis tour is just too crazy! We plan to get married and have a family sometime after Rio [the 2016 Olympics], so who knows, I may scoop up all the golds in Tokyo [in 2020]!”

While Whiley is still young, and looking towards retirement is somewhat premature, she says she would like to stay within tennis when she does hang up her racket. “I never want to leave my sport. I would like to set up my own charity and write a book when I’m older. I want to help other people experience the things I have.”

Whiley was born with brittle bone disease and believes she broke her legs around 26 times as a child. It could be more – she says she gave up counting at 26. With her father Keith winning a bronze medal in the 100m sprint at the 1984 Paralympics, and also playing wheelchair tennis, she first hit a ball aged three when at a tournament with her dad in Israel. She began mimicking him at the side of the court and became an instant success.

“By the time the tournament finished they’d given me a trophy and I was all over the news out there,” she says. “A three year old in a wheelchair hitting tennis balls – they’d never seen it before. Ever since then I’ve been playing.”

Outside tennis, as well as baking, Whiley has recently started doing voluntary work with the elderly. “They’re the absolute best. They’ve got so many stories that I love listening to. Young people these days could learn a lot from them!”

Young people these days are learning a lot from Whiley, too. “I never feel pressure being a role model,” she says. “I embrace it and think it’s an honour. I think young girls need role models who are flawed like myself! How can somebody strive to be perfect when perfect is impossible? You strive to be real and be a better you. I feel strongly about embracing who you are and achieving your dreams no matter what. It’s an honour for me to be able to share my views with others.”

With the wheelchair tennis tour taking Whiley and her fellow British players all over the world, there must be some stories and tales to tell. “I have so many funny and embarrassing stories from tour, but you’ll have to wait until I write my book to find out about them!” she laughs.

“There was this one time in America where we ended up stranded by the roadside on the way back to the airport because our driver got pulled over and arrested for outstanding parking fines and speeding tickets! That was a pretty funny moment.”

Next year Whiley has the chance to go for individual glory at Wimbledon after the All England Club announced they will introduce a wheelchair singles competition from 2016. “It’s hugely exciting and great for the British public to finally see singles on grass at Wimbledon. Playing singles on grass is tough, but I’ll be challenging for the title. That and trying to win the doubles for the third year running, so a piece of cake really!”

Jordanne Whiley was a top contender for the BT Sport Action Woman of the Year Awards 2014. Find latest contenders for 2015 @BTSportAW

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Beth Shine studied a Masters in Sport Journalism at St. Mary’s University and now works as communications assistant for the Tennis Foundation. A freelance sports journalist, and keen netball player and fan, Beth follows most sports keenly with a particular interest in tennis, rugby and equestrianism.

 

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