Francesca Jones will play in her first Grand Slam tournament at the Australian Open, but she wants it to become a regular event.
The 20-year-old from Great Britain, who was born with ectrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia syndrome, a rare condition that caused her to have eight fingers and seven toes (three fingers and a thumb on each hand, three toes on her right foot and four on her left), won three rounds to get into the main draw as a qualifier. She recalls getting flooded with messages following her third and final qualifying win.
” I didn’t know I knew that many people, to be honest,” she joked in her pre-tournament press conference in Melbourne.
And while Jones hasn’t played a match yet, there have been some highlights in her Grand Slam experience so far.
“I probably shouldn’t say this but restaurants, and eating as many different cuisines as possible,” she said, referring to the relatively few restrictions players are under in Melbourne following their two weeks quarantine.
Jones has trained at a Spanish academy since she was young and said she has had to adjust her training in a few specific ways. Her racquet sponsor, Wilson, also creates its racquets specially for her.
“I guess some of the obvious barriers when I was a child were balance and just the way that I would put weight through my feet, and obviously grip, needed to have quite a few modifications done to my racquets when I was a child and still do today,” she said.
“I do receive a lot of treatment. I have to look after my hips because of the way that I put weight through my feet and my shoes. It’s important that I look after the rest of my body.”
But Jones says she approaches her career just like any other player.
“In terms of the day-to-day, as I’ve said previously, every athlete faces their challenges. I have strengths and I have weaknesses, and I work on my weaknesses like the next female tennis player that walks in here will,” she said. “My objectives are bigger than just qualifying for here.
“I do have big ambitions but I’m sharing probably a big objective with the rest of the players that are in this draw. For now it’s just making sure that I’m doing everything I can to achieve that on a daily basis.”
But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to make use of her special position. Jones turned into a popular figure during her qualifying run, and has received a lot of media requests in Melbourne.
“I mean, it’s great to be here and to be able to get my message across, which is, please don’t have any limits and keep pushing yourself,” she said. “Look, if I can have any positive impact on children, adults, and they can take strength from my story and create their own, then that would be great.”
Jones plays Shelby Rogers in the first round of the Australian Open. There are eight qualifiers in the field.