Jordanne Whiley is taking inspiration from Serena Williams as she prepares to make her grand slam comeback following childbirth.
Like Williams, Whiley won a slam title while pregnant, lifting the women’s wheelchair doubles trophy at Wimbledon in 2017 alongside Japanese partner Yui Kamiji.
It was the fourth title in a row for the pair but the most unexpected with Whiley, who had kept her pregnancy a secret from all but her closest circle, struggling with morning sickness.
“It was awful,” the 27-year-old told Press Association Sport. “When I told Yui I was pregnant, I said to her, ‘I’ll give it my all’ – because I was cleared by the doctor to play – ‘but let’s not expect to win this year, let’s try and aim for a final’.
“And then we got to the final I was like, ‘Look, we ain’t winning this today, I am awful, but obviously I’ll give it my all’, but then the next thing we know we’ve won it, and it was pure disbelief.”
Whiley gave birth to son Jackson in January 2018 and returned to the match court in February. She has been remarkably successful, winning five singles tournaments and climbing back to eighth in the world rankings, making her the British number one again less than six months into her comeback.
“I didn’t expect it to go this well,” she said. “I just don’t know what’s happened. I’ve had the hardest draws, I’ve always got the first seed in the second round or something, and then next thing I know I’ve won. It’s a bit of a blur.”
Whiley’s form saw her awarded wild cards for both the singles and doubles at Wimbledon, with the wheelchair events beginning on Thursday.
She said: “I was worried I wouldn’t have a chance of the wild card because I thought my ranking would be quite low but I’m just so excited to play back there. I’m playing with Yui again, which will be so nice.”
Williams has yet to add to her grand slam haul since giving birth to her daughter Olympia in September 2017 but reached both the Wimbledon and US Open finals early in her comeback and is still fighting on two fronts at the All England Club this time around.
“When I saw her at the US Open when she came back, she did incredibly well and I thought, ‘Good, it’s actually possible to come back after a baby’, because I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like, I wasn’t sure how the birth was going to go or literally anything,” said Whiley.
“I had so many injuries before I had Jackson so I didn’t know if my body would hold out. It just gave me a bit of hope really.”
Although she is happy simply to be back playing at Wimbledon, Whiley already has silverware in her sights.
She said: “There’s a lot riding on Wimbledon for me because if I do well I could qualify for the US Open but I have to make at least the semis. Obviously me and Yui are going for another doubles title.”
It may appear to have been a seamless return but it has been far from easy. Whiley’s body shape changed after giving birth to such an extent that she needed new wheelchairs, while juggling her career and motherhood has been a challenge.
“It’s been tough to get my fitness back,” she said. “Losing the weight – I still haven’t lost it all, I’ve got about three kilos to go until I’m back to pre-baby weight, so I’m pretty pleased.
“It’s hard because there’s no time in the day to do anything other than be a mum or train. And I’m studying as well so it’s pretty full on at the moment. But I wouldn’t have it any other way because I love being a mum and I also love what I do.”
Travelling to tournaments and having to leave Jackson behind has also been a wrench.
“I do feel bad but he’s really happy at home with my mum or my partner,” she said. “I know he’s having a great time so I’d rather that than him cry and miss me.
“My first big trip away in Korea, which was two weeks, was awful, I missed him so much. I would get a bit upset if I was on Facetime, because he can say, ‘gone’, so he would be like, ‘gone?’ and point to the screen. But I’m getting used to it.
“Every single tournament I go to it’s because I absolutely need to. It’s been made better by the fact I’ve had such a good comeback. I sacrificed a lot at the beginning in the hope of good results and that’s what’s happened.”