Australian Open: Francesca qualifies for first Grand Slam tournament

LONDON (BBC): Britain’s Francesca Jones overcame a “wee mental breakdown” because of cuts on her fingers to qualify for a Grand Slam for the first time.

The 20-year-old booked a place at the Australian Open with a crushing 6-0 6-1 victory over China’s Lu Jiajing in the final round of qualifying in Dubai.

“I’m just super happy to qualify and really looking forward to getting out to Oz,” she said.

The Australian Open starts on 8 February in Melbourne.

‘I am just playing the game with a different set of cards’ – Jones on defying expectations

She will head there on Friday and will have to quarantine for 14 days because of coronavirus rules – but before that she needs to tackle the fact she had not really packed for such a long stay away from home, or for the hot weather of an Australian summer.

“The first thing I need to do when I get to my room is get laundry done,” she said. “I didn’t want to jinx anything so I brought enough but not too much. I went to London for Christmas and so had loads of winter clothes with me.”

Indeed it was the time spent in the chilly UK that caused the injuries to her fingers that were concerning her so much. “My fingers had split from the cold in the UK and I couldn’t hold my racquet too well on my forehand side,” she told a news conference.

“So I had a wee mental breakdown before the match. A few days before the match, my fingers were still cut and I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to take advantage of my [forehand] weapon.”

But Jones – who has a rare genetic condition that means she was born with three fingers and a thumb on each hand, three toes on her right foot and four toes on her left – put in a devastating display to win in just 61 minutes. The Bradford-born youngster got straight on the phone to her parents, who were watching from their home in Weybridge, Surrey.

“They didn’t have much to say – all I could hear was crying and screams,” said Jones, who had been playing in her first overseas Grand Slam qualifying draw. In reaching the main draw, Jones defeated former world top 30 player Monica Niculescu and then defeated Jana Fett before her win over Lu, who is 200th in the world rankings.

Jones, who has ectrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia syndrome, plays with a light racquet and very small grip, and in the gym works hard on balance and technique. Her feet do not always move the way other people’s feet do, so she has to be precise to avoid injury.

Fuelled by the scepticism of one particular medical specialist, Jones was accepted into the famed Sanchez Casal Academy in Barcelona at the age of nine.

“I use it [the condition] as a positive and advantage in many ways. I’m not playing out of revenge [on the doubters],” she said.

“I’m playing to have a positive impact on people who read my story and I hope people can take the positives from it and build on it.”