How Francesca Jones defied the odds to reach her first Grand Slam
• 4 MINUTE READ
British No.5 Francesca Jones has qualified for her first Grand Slam after beating Lu Jiajing 6-0, 6-1 in the final round of Australian Open qualifiers in Dubai this week – and the story of how she reached this point is inspiring to say the least.
The 20-year-old LTA Pro-Scholarship Programme player overcame the odds, having entered her first overseas Grand Slam qualifying draw as one of the lowest-ranked players in the field.
But she stepped up to the challenge and after a series of impressive performances against players ranking up to 100 places higher than her, she successfully booked her place in Melbourne.
“I’m definitely excited, I’ve never been to Melbourne before and I’m excited to play on the courts there that I’ve seen on TV since I was a kid,” said Jones.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t do that with qualifying here but it’s actually been quite a nice stepping stone and transition.
“The first match was good tennis, I played well but I think there’s still so much I could have done better. To be honest in the second match the first two sets were poor from both of us, but I was happy to get through to give myself the opportunity to bring out my best in the final match.
“It’s been different but I just feel blessed by the fact that we can even compete during this current climate. I’m proud of the work my team and I have done but there’s still much more to be done and I’m aware of that.”
One of Britain’s brightest young talents, Jones’ tennis journey is unlike any player to come before her. Having been born with a rare genetic condition called Ectrodactyly Ectodermal Dysplasia Syndrome, Jones has three fingers and a thumb on each hand, three toes on her right foot and four toes on her left.
While her condition left her needing several surgeries, the Yorkshire-born tennis player does not see it as a disadvantage to her game and instead, tries to use it as a positive.
“I was born with the syndrome and it forms part of who I am” said Jones. “I have never felt like it’s a disadvantage, it’s just another part of me and it doesn’t change anything. Each person has things that make them who they are and that are part of our journey as humans on this planet.
“Having had a lot of surgeries from a young age and spending a lot of time in hospitals has maybe given me a little bit more independence and to see the world from a different angle. It’s given me the perspective I have on my life and how I want to approach it.”
Jones first started playing tennis at the age of five after being enrolled at a tennis camp at Heaton Tennis Club in Bradford over the school holidays.
“I was driving back from school one day and my Dad needed to get rid of my siblings, and I, over the summer as he had to work. We drove past the tennis club and there was a massive banner saying ‘Tennis Camp’, nine until five, seven days a week and he signed us up.
“Next thing I knew I was on a court holding a racket in my hand while someone hit a ball at me.
“Shortly after I went through some personal events that made me want to commit to the sport even more and at that point I thought that moving to Spain was the best move for me.”
This year is the fourth that Jones has featured on the LTA’s Pro Scholarship Programme, which provides support to potential British star players of the future aged 16-24.
Launched in 2016, the programme provides access to world class coaching, science and medicine support from the LTA Performance team, as well as financial support (up to £80,000) for players aged between 16 and 24 with genuine potential to reach the ATP/WTA top 100 within five years.
"The PSP programme has been great for me over the past few years, the main reason being that I went through a period of injuries that kept seeming to domino and the biggest support I had was from the doctor, Jo Larkin and the physios who put a lot of work in with me,” said Jones.
“When you’re injured and want to get back to your best, nutrition is also super important and the support from Dan Ellis, the nutritionist, has really helped get me into better shape.”
Jones will soon be heading out to Melbourne for the start of the 2021 Australian Open starting on 8 February.