Wimbledon 2016: Reid, Watson and Whiley join Murray in quartet of Grand Slam champions
Andy Murray was not the only Brit to taste success on the final day of Wimbledon 2016
The day belonged, without a doubt, to one of Great Britain’s most admired athletes, Andy Murray.
After all, the world No2 had won a second Wimbledon title to add to his US Open title, Olympic gold and the Davis Cup. And so long has it been since the home nation produced such a men’s champion that most would have no memory of Fred Perry before the Second World War, let alone former champions from another era a century ago.
But final Sunday at Wimbledon this year would prove to be a day to celebrate not only one Briton. In its 130th iteration, The Championships saw no fewer than four British winners by the time the day was done, and had already crowned one of them with a fifth title the day before.
First up were the wheelchair champions, for whom 2016 was a special year. For the first time, Wimbledon added wheelchair singles tournaments to the doubles that it debuted for the men a decade ago and for the women seven years ago.
That GB already boasted Grand Slam champions in wheelchair tennis made it a big draw here last year, but this year, such was the enthusiasm that it became part of the BBC’s broadcast schedule too—and it proved impossible to get anywhere near Court 17 during matches.
Two of the chief reasons for the home support were Gordon Reid and Jordanne Whiley, both just 24 years old, are both multiple Major champions.
Reid, ranked No3 in singles and No1 in doubles, won his first singles Major in Australia this year, but is also reigning doubles champion at the US and French Opens.
Whiley is ranked No3 in singles and No4 in doubles, is two-time defending Wimbledon doubles champion, has five further doubles titles, and is reigning US Open singles champion. No wonder both were so delighted to have the chance of adding Wimbledon singles to their trophy cabinets.
Reid said: “I’ve always grown up watching Wimbledon on TV, mainly the singles event. It was always a dream of mine to play singles here. To now have that opportunity to be a part of the first field of players that’s going to go down in history is a massive opportunity.
“The Slams are the biggest tournaments in the calendar. For us to be here, be involved in singles as well now, it’s a huge milestone for our sport. It’s another brilliant opportunity for us to raise the profile of wheelchair tennis. Every time we’ve come here in the past and played doubles, the support we’ve had from the British public, from the people here at Wimbledon, has been spectacular.”
Whiley explained why this was such an important year for her and many others: “I think for me it’s just sport completely changed my life from when I was a young girl. I was very insecure, didn’t have many friends. I was born with my disability. I was in and out of hospital constantly. When I got into tennis, I became confident, like, I really believed in something, which made me believe in myself. I know it can really change your life. For me it’s really important that young people do see that.”
Unfortunately Whiley did not make Saturday’s singles final, but Reid reached the doubles final with 18-year-old Alfie Hewett, and the duo beat Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer in a thrilling comeback, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(6).
Into another new environment, Wimbledon’s main press conference room, Hewett grinned: “It’s just been mental, hasn’t it? Wheelchair tennis was trending on Twitter. That’s not bad.”
Reid added: “To be a part of that, helping our sport like that, that’s a massive achievement in itself. I think when you get given an opportunity like that, you have to grab it with both hands.”
One down, two to go. Sunday, Reid played solo against Stefan Olsson, and the Scottish left-hander dominated with some spectacular tennis from the word go, 6-1, 6-4.
He did a lap of honour with the first Wimbledon singles trophy, shaking hands with each and every man, woman and child who lined the court.
“It’s incredible to have the opportunity to play singles here. It’s something I’ve dreamed of for a long time. To come here and win it in front of all the people that I love, and all my friends and family and my coaching team, and so much support, it’s unbelievable and I’m never going to forget this moment.”
Last up was Whiley, seeded No1 with her long-term partner Yui Kamiji in women’s doubles They, too, dominated the Dutch No2 seeds from start to finish, 6-2, 6-2, to score their eighth Grand Slam doubles title and their third at Wimbledon.
Naturally both now look ahead to Rio and the Olympics. Whiley and British partner Lucy Shuker won Bronze in London 2012, and could, of course, face Kamiji in Rio: “I think for both of us, obviously Rio is very important. We could potentially be opponents because we can’t play together. We’re both aiming for gold medals there, but just separately!”
Reid said during the draw ahead of the tournament that he had two aims at Wimbledon this year, aside from trying to win a title: “First one, if any kids or young people with disabilities get the opportunity to see us playing sport at a high level, then they can be inspired to do a similar thing, know there’s a lot in life you can achieve when you’re in a chair. At the same time I think it’s important that young people without disabilities can see that people in chairs are real people, can be incredible athletes… There’s still a little bit of stigma in some places about disability. As much as we can bring that barrier down, get that message across to young people, it’s really important.”
Judging from the reception during Wimbledon’s final weekend, job done.
But even after Murray’s record-making victory on Sunday afternoon, and a tear-stained presentation ceremony, there was more to come on Centre Court.
Few expected at the start of the fortnight, when a downcast Heather Watson lost an oh-so-close match against Annika Beck in the first round of the women’s draw, 6-3, 0-6, 10-12, that she would end the fortnight as a Grand Slam champion.
She had never played with Finn Henri Kontinen before—their plans to join forces at Roland Garros had been dashed because her ranking was too low. But here, they blended their skills as though they had been together for years.
For a start, they beat defending champions Martina Hingis and Leander Paes in the third round from a set down, and they would not drop a set all the way to the final, where they beat Robert Farah and Anna-Lena Gronefeld, 7-6(5), 6-4.
Watson could not get the smile off her face: “Who would have thought we’re here as champions, for me, after such a horrible first‑round loss. I made it to the last day of Wimbledon, which has always been one of my goals, to reach just the second week of a Slam. I couldn’t have chosen anybody better than with Henri. He made our time on court so fun. Yeah, I’m just so freaking happy!”
As she should be: the last time that two Britons won two senior titles at Wimbledon was in 1937, and the last Briton to win a mixed doubles title was Jamie Murray in 2007, with Jelena Jankovic.
Watson summed up just what it meant to her, but her words make a fitting conclusion for all four of the British champions and their five titles this week.
“It’s a great week. I’ll remember this forever. It’s been a dream of mine since I was little to be a Grand Slam champion. I would take anything—singles, doubles, mixed doubles… Now we’re Grand Slam champions, Wimbledon champions.”