Britain’s Francesca Jones is thrilled to have demolished Lu Jia-jing in Dubai in the final round of qualifying for the Australian Open, dropping just one game and making the main draw in Melbourne.
I am just playing the game with a different set of cards. Doctors said I would never become a professional. His [the specialist] comments played a massive part in my life decisions and career commitments to date. Francesca Jones
This is the first time the 20-year old from Leeds, who is now based in Barcelona, has qualified for a major and it took her just an hour and 1 minute.
“I’m just super happy to qualify and really looking forward to getting out to Oz,” she said. “I’ve never been before and I’m sure it’s going to be an amazing experience.”
In reaching the main draw, Jones defeated former World top 30 and top 100 players Monica Niculescu and Jana Fett before her win over World No 200 Lu from China.
The British No 5’s progress is particularly impressive because she was born with a congenital condition, rare condition Ectrodactyly Ectodermal Dysplasia Syndrome, that means she only has 3 fingers and a thumb on each hand, 3 toes on one foot and 4 toes on the other.
“I am just playing the game with a different set of cards,” Jones says on defying expectations. “Doctors said I would never become a professional.”
She adds that proving the medics wrong has been a huge motivation throughout her career.
“His comments played a massive part in my life decisions and career commitments to date,” Jones says of the specialist who told her to give up any thoughts of playing professionally.
“I’ve always wanted to make my parents proud more than anything.”
A feisty base-liner with a solid all round game who continually urges herself on, Jones has an unusually small right hand and sometimes suffers problems with her fingernails through having to hold the racket extra tight.
“I know that I have the mental strength and I try to use it to the best of my advantage but there is a lot that needs to come together,” she added.
Jones was the only one of Britain’s five entrants to make it past the opening round of AO qualifying, which are being played in Dubai for the women and Doha for the men to limit the number of players travelling to Australia.
Striking a mighty ball, she broke with her first opportunity of the match, dealing brutally with Lu’s serve as she imposed herself impressively on the match and continued in the same fashion before taking the first set without dropping a game.
At the end she shouted ‘Vamos!’ to her Spanish coach Andrew Guilera.
Speaking ahead of her final match in Dubai, Jones likened the situation to appearing on a reality TV show.
“It’s kind of cool. Like in the X Factor, you move onto the next stage, that’s how it feels,” she said. “Simon Cowell tells you that you are through and you are on a flight to the live show.
“That’s how I see it at the moment and it would be great to go to Australia, but my feet are very much on the ground. I am playing a good player and that’s all I am focused on.”
She did stay focused to book her place in Melbourne, which goes down as the best moment in her fledgling career so far.
“I’ve had experiences that many haven’t at my age, and I think that’s moulded me into the person I am today,” she said. “It will have had an impact on my mental strength and my mentality and mindset as a whole, but I am sure everyone goes through hardship and deals with adversity in their own way.
“Everyone’s story makes a person who they are.”
It was through her serve that Jones found dominance, winning 90 percent of points when she landed her first serve, and Lu simply was unable to fight back.
Jones went into the game ranked 241 and never having featured in a Grand Slam draw, while Lu is ranked 40 places ahead of her and has significantly more experience.
Jones has had to battle hard to reach a ranking that will now be on the cusp of the world’s top 200, while AO qualification guarantees her a minimum £55,000 in first round prize money.
The Australian Open takes place in Melbourne from 8-21 February, having been scheduled to start on 18 January but was pushed back 3 weeks because of the quarantine restrictions imposed by Victoria state government officials.
Players must quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival in Melbourne.
The GB contingent in the singles main draws, which has been depleted by the withdrawal of Kyle Edmund, will now be back up to seven.