Jordanne Whiley, world number ten women’s wheelchair tennis player on her story so far and her medal and legacy hopes for 2012.
I’ve just got back from Down Under where I played in my first ever Grand Slam event at the Australian Open. I was given a wildcard after one of the other British players, Lucy Shuker, had to pull out with injury. Although it was a real shame for Lucy, for me it was like nothing I’ve ever experienced at other tournaments, excluding the tennis part!
The event was so professional and well organised, to be around the other top players was amazing. It was also nice to feel that wheelchair tennis is now getting more recognition. Plus as a player, I got my hair done for free!
It was pretty scary to play in such a big tournament for the first time especially with so many people watching, but now I know what to expect and I can deal with the nerves better next time. I also have to remember to avoid running over other players (I almost ran over Kim Clijsters’ toe before her semi-final match!).
People always ask how I cope being away from home so much but it’s not a problem for me. I mean I can get some peace and quiet without my mum shouting at me to clear my dirty plates away! But I do always keep in contact with my parents and my coach while I’m away and I like to take some nice photos with me, so if I’m having a bad day they can cheer me up. And I’m pretty used to it now as I’ve been playing wheelchair tennis since I was three years old.
Where it all began
I first picked up a racket when I was in Israel with my dad (he was playing a tournament out there as he’s also a wheelchair tennis player). I was in plaster because I broke my leg a few weeks before and some of the girls gave me a little racket and started throwing balls to me. That week I was all over the newspapers and TV out there because Israel had never seen such a young disabled person playing tennis! As soon as I got home I wanted tennis lessons and it’s all gone from there really.
I wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for my dad. I call him my tennis wings! He never pushed me to play tennis but he always pointed me in the right direction and he put up with my teenage screaming on the court. So when I do win that medal it will definitely be dedicated to him.
Although I’ve played for years, things have become a lot more serious since I was selected to play for my country at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing. I was already playing at a high level to get there but it all took on even greater meaning when I could see my friends winning medals. At that point it all became real to me and when I got back I put together a proper training schedule with my coach and it’s gone uphill from there.
For me the main challenges of playing are mental. I know I have the chair and technical skills but tennis is probably about 80 per cent in the mind. I am starting to understand the game better now but I need to remain positive and calm on court even when things aren’t going my way.
The road to 2012
This year is going to be a big one for me. Paralympic qualification starts in May and I really want to establish myself as someone who can beat those top five players consistently. My goal is to make it to the US Open in September. I know it will take a lot of hard work but I also know I can do it if I put my mind to it.
The motivation of being selected to compete at London 2012 is just so huge. It’s my home country and all my friends and family will be watching if I play. Thinking that I could win a medal there is what makes me want to get up and train every day.
I’m hoping 2012 can be an opportunity for more people to find out about wheelchair tennis, to come along and watch the sport. It’s important to realise that anyone can get out there and play tennis, it doesn’t matter who you are or whether you have a disability. The aim of the Tennis Foundation is to make tennis inclusive for all so that anyone can go along to their local court and play. Disabled players can play with able-bodied players and everyone can have fun playing the sport together. That’s the legacy I hope 2012 leaves us with.
To keep following my progress or to find out more about wheelchair tennis, visit: www.tennisfoundation.org.uk.
Australian Open 2011 image (top), courtesy of Getty images.