Sunday, January 24, 2021

Francesca Jones not fazed after remarkable path to Australian Open | Tennis

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Britain’s Francesca Jones has qualified for the Australian Open main draw, dismantling Lu Jia-Jing of China 6-0 6-1 in just 61 minutes to reach a Grand Slam main draw for the first time in her career.

Despite being one of the lowest-ranked players in the field and only making the cut-off in December after some withdrawals, the 20-year-old marked her first appearance in an overseas Grand Slam qualifying draw by defeating three higher-ranked players and producing her best tennis under the notorious pressure of the final qualifying round. The victory has secured Jones at least AUS$100,000 (£56,556), by far the biggest earnings of her career. It also led to an emotional phone call with her parents, who she moved away from aged 9-16 to join the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona.

“They didn’t really have much to say,” she said. “All I could hear was crying, screams and my dog was barking. It was quite an emotional call because obviously we’ve gone through a lot together and I left the UK at nine or ten. You miss out on a lot of experiences with your parents and that’s hard on all of us.”

Wednesday marked Jones’ third win of the week in Dubai, where the women’s qualifying tournament was relocated due to coronavirus, after wins over former world No 28 Monica Niculescu and Jana Fett. It was the first time she had beaten two top 200 opponents in a week. Jones will rise to No 217 in the WTA rankings after being ranked 352nd at the beginning of 2020.

Jones is moulding herself into an elite athlete despite being born with ectrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia syndrome, meaning she has three fingers on each hand, three toes on her right foot and she spent much of her youth and early career in hospital, continues to inspire wonder. She spoke further about the adjustments she has had to make in order to succeed – she plays with an extremely small grip and a lighter racquet than other professionals – but she frequently underlines that she does not see her syndrome as an impediment.

“I have spent a lot of time just trying to gain strength to support my muscles that can support maybe the, I don’t want to say deficiencies, but just the weaknesses that I may have,” she said. “But I think every human being has physical weaknesses unless you’re Cristiano Ronaldo or something. I just try to better mine as I would try to better myself in any other way.”

The charter flight taking Jones to Melbourne will likely depart on Friday, where she and other players will quarantine for 14 days. After spending most of her career on the ITF circuit, including competing in lower level $25k qualifying tournaments with no umpires as recently as last Autumn, Jones will enter a new world in Melbourne. Having faced only one top 100 player in her career, suddenly her colleagues are the likes of Serena Williams and Simona Halep, with many possible opponents awaiting in the draw. She will be ready.

“I know what the level is,” she said. “I’ve observed Jo Konta a lot at the NTC and know the dedication and focus these players put in to be where they are today. I’m just looking forward to putting myself in that environment and seeing how they react.”

Meanwhile, Aryna Sabalenka recorded a comfortable 6-2 6-2 victory over Veronika Kudermetova to clinch the WTA 500 event in Abu Dhabi and extend her winning streak to 15 matches.

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