Britain’s Francesca Jones reached the third round of qualifying for the Australian Open next month with a emphatic 7-6(7) 2-6 6-1 win over Jana Fett from Croatia.
The reason that I started committing as a professional and wanting to achieve big things in the game is because I want people to hopefully take positives from what I’ve managed to do so far, and inspire themselves. It would be great to have that positive impact on younger kids and people that are in similar positions to me. But at the same time, I’m another tennis player here that has similar goals with the other players here. Francesca Jones
The 20 year-old beat Romanian and former world top-30 player Monica Niculescu, 6-3 6-2, in Dubai on Monday, and followed this up with a decisive win that pits her against Jia-Jing Lu from China in round 3 as she looks to seal her spot in the main draw in what will be her first Grand Slam appearance.
Jones’ progress is all the more impressive since she was born with ectrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia syndrome, a rare condition that causes developmental problems for hands and feet.
She has three fingers and a thumb on both of her hands and much of her childhood was spent enduring surgeries that defined her early playing career.
Growing up, Jones could not properly grip her racket and, due to her right foot having three toes, she struggled with balance but she has defied all the odds to play tennis professionally.
“The reason that I started committing as a professional and wanting to achieve big things in the game is because I want people to hopefully take positives from what I’ve managed to do so far and inspire themselves,” Jones told The Guardian.
“It would be great to have that positive impact on younger kids and people that are in similar positions to me.
“But at the same time, I’m another tennis player here that has similar goals with the other players here.
“I think a balance over the course of my career is going to be really important.
“I’d like people to look at my story to take what they can from it and also then focus on the small or big improvements from my game and the way that I’m playing actual tennis.”
Despite her impediments, she moves well and her game is very physical as she grinds her opponents down while constantly looking to use her forehand to control points and open up the court, something she will be planning on doing against Lu next.
Another rising star, Egypt’s Mayar Sherif began her AO 2021 qualifying campaign on a strong note with a thumping first-round win on Monday, routing No 16 seed from Japan, Akiko Omae, 6-0 6-1 in just 50 minutes to set up a meeting with American Grace Min.
The rising Egyptian made her Grand Slam main-draw debut at Roland Garros last season, and is aiming to reach a second consecutive major main draw this week.
“I think the thing that worked most for me today was to keep my nerves, to hold my attitude, and from then on my game just flowed,” Sherif said after her win.
“I’m very confident about my game and about myself, and I think I just go to the court and do my best, and that even gives me more confidence.”
Min brushed aside Brit Harriet Dart, 7-5 6-2, while also winning through to the second round was No.1 seed Kaja Juvan, 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard, and No.3 seed Greet Minnen as Day 2 winners brought action in the first round in Dubai to a close.
With the field pared down from 128 to 64 over the last two days, all remaining players need to win two more matches to book their spots in the Australian Open main draw.
The 16 eventual qualifiers from this week will travel to Australia to prepare for the year’s first major at Melbourne, which starts on 8 February.
Bouchard, Canada’s former World No 5, eased into the second round with a 6-2 6-3 victory over Australian wildcard Abbie Myers, breaking 6 times during the 74-minute match, as she moves one step closer to the main draw.
The Canadian has now won 12 of her past 17 matches since professional tennis resumed in August.
Seeded No 25 this week, Bouchard is looking to return to the site of her first big major breakthrough where she reached her first-ever Grand Slam semi-final in 2014, which she followed up with a second major semi-final at Roland Garros and her maiden major final at Wimbledon.
Bouchard played with controlled aggression in beating Myers, especially effective in forcing errors with strong returning.
The Canadian will face China’s Yuan Yue in the second round of qualifying as she continues her quest to appear in the AO main draw for a 7th time.
Since August she has shaved almost 200 places off her ranking, and currently stands at No 141.
She attributes her rapid rise to the work she put in during tennis’ five-month suspension, which she spent in her new Las Vegas base under the eye of Gil Reyes, former strength coach to Andre Agassi.
“I just wanted to feel physically so strong that I didn’t want the physical aspect to be a hindrance or an excuse ever in any match,” said Bouchard of her October 2019 relocation to Las Vegas, where she also spends time on court with Agassi and Steffi Graf.
“I have confidence, I know I can stay out there for three hours, I can outlast anyone in three sets. So it just kind of removes that from the equation.
“I spent the whole quarantine training. And it was really tough not to be able to have tournaments. I kind of felt like an animal let out of a cage when we were finally able to play tournaments. So I was super motivated and I felt very strong and very prepared.
“It was a blessing in disguise, maybe, to have the down time and I think I just worked on so many things physically, with my game, mentally as well.
“And I was just so motivated to change my ranking, because I had to sit there with a bad ranking for months and months and months. I used it as motivation.”
Unlike on Sunday, the two Top 4 seeds who played on Monday claimed wins without too much trouble.
Top seed Juvan of Slovenia claimed a 7-6(4) 6-2 victory over another Australian wildcard, Storm Sanders, firing 8 aces and winning 82 percent of her first-service points en route to the 83-minute win.
The 20-year-old hopes to continue her burgeoning Grand Slam successes, having pushed Serena Williams to three sets in the second round of Wimbledon in 2019, and reaching the same stage at Roland Garros and the US Open last season.
Third seed Minnen of Belgium had an even shorter affair against another Australian wildcard, defeating Alexandra Bozovic, 6-3 6-4, in an hour and a quarter.
Minnen, who made her Grand Slam main-draw debut at the Australian Open last season, is hoping for a return appearance as she edges closer to a Top 100 debut in the WTA singles rankings.
No 12 seed Caty McNally of the United States also grabbed a win in a battle of former junior stars.
The two-time Grand Slam junior doubles champion dispatched Daria Snigur of Ukraine, the 2019 junior Wimbledon singles titlist, 6-3 6-1.
“I’ve never been to Dubai before, but I’ve always dreamed of coming here — not necessarily for Australian Open qualies!” McNally laughed, after her win. “Honestly, I’m just happy to be back, to be playing, and it just feels good after not playing for a couple months, because of the break, to be back doing what I love.”
“[Snigur] is honestly a really tough opponent, you never know what you’re going to get with her,” McNally continued.
“She hit some really great shots, so I think me mixing up my game style was really helpful, and just being on it from the first point was really great. I’m proud of that.”
A couple of formerly highly-ranked veterans, both of whom have struggled with injuries, had winning starts to their campaigns: Former Top 20 player Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania earned a 6-4 6-3 win over Lara Arruabarrena of Spain, while former Top 25 player Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine fought past Australia’s Ivana Popovic, 2-6 6-2 6-2.
Two of this week’s top ten seeds, though, fell victim to upsets on Monday.
No 5 seed Katarzyna Kawa of Poland lost to American Whitney Osuigwe, 6-4 6-3, and No 8 seed Stefanie Voegele of Switzerland fell to Germany’s Katharina Gerlach, 6-3 6-4.