One hour and one minute.
That’s all Francesca Jones needed to win her final qualifying match in Dubai, securing a spot in the 2021 Australian Open.
Sixty total points won. Eighteen winners recorded to just three unforced errors. A 90% first serve winning percentage. Jones dominated from start to finish en route to a 6-1, 6-0 victory over China’s Jia-Jing Lu.
The win marks the first time the 20-year-old Jones qualified into the main draw of a Grand Slam. It’s the culmination of perseverance, determination, and passion for tennis, starting from an early age in her home town of Leeds, United Kingdom.
Jones always believed in her abilities to become a professional tennis player. This enabled her to quash the doubters, who thought she couldn’t play the sport, due to a rare genetic condition called Ectrodactyly Ectodermal Dysplasia (EED), resulting in just three fingers and one thumb on each hand. Jones is missing three toes, and she’s had frequent surgeries over the years.
“My parents are my biggest inspiration,” Jones said when discussing the importance of family throughout her tennis journey. “Their values I hold dear to my heart. They’ve worked extremely hard and invested a lot in me. I am extremely grateful.”
Her parents researched organized activities for their 5-year-old daughter to enroll in during the summer. They came across the Heaton Tennis and Squash Club in Bradford, which hosted a four-day tennis camp.
Jones attended the camp, where she met her first professional coach Matt McTurk, and where her love affair with tennis began.
“She was very competitive,” McTurk said. “She always had her own ideas; she was a very bright girl. From a very early age, she wanted to be a professional player. She wanted to make a living out of that.”
Jones started booking more lessons at the club, before working with McTurk full time. In a given week, McTurk worked with Jones five hours individually and she trained with her fellow club players for six to eight hours.
As time went on, Jones became one of the top players in the county. At the same time, her family considered relocating to Barcelona, where Jones could train at the esteemed Sanchez-Casal Academy.
Jones fell in love with the city and the Academy upon arrival.
“Education at the time was a big thing for me,” Jones said. “The Sanchez-Casal Academy had a school on campus which allowed me to have the best of both worlds.”
While at the Academy, Jones trained between four to five hours a day, which included fitness. Away from the courts, Jones focused on her studies, while exploring the city.
The coaches at the Sanchez-Casal Academy trained with several top-ranked tennis players, including former Grand Slam champions Andy Murray and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Jones brought a talent and an appreciation for the sport that set her apart at a young age.
“You sometimes have players that get bored and question why they are here. Francesca wasn’t one of those,” said Emilio Sanchez, the Academy’s founder. “She always had the mindset to be a professional player. She is a tennis fanatic.”
Jones accepted the realities of being born with EED, never using it as an excuse with her coaches.
“We never discussed it,” McTurk said. “It wasn’t ever an issue. She never saw it as a limitation.”
Sanchez remembers Jones’ focus on both the technical and tactical elements of the game. She possessed heightened anticipation for where opponents were going to hit the ball on the court.
This intelligence gave Jones an edge as a younger player over her competitors because she positioned herself in the correct spot to hit her shots with pace.
“She’s a fighter and a hard worker, willing to put the right effort to overcome any obstacle,” Sanchez said.
Jones’ affinity for the clay courts, the surface at the Academy, became apparent as she rose through the junior ranks. She was 31st in the junior world rankings before turning pro.
As a professional, Jones won five ITF titles, all on clay courts. Her last two came in 2019, at the ITF events in Minsk, Belarus. In both of the championship matches, Jones was up a set and lost the second. Her mental fortitude propelled her to victory in both matches, winning the third sets in emphatic fashion 6-2 and 6-1, respectively. She is ranked No. 245 in the world.
“It’s one of the strongest things she has,” said Jones’ current coach Andreu Guilera when discussing the mental side of her game. “She fights for every ball and she always gives her best.”
As Jones prepares for her first Grand Slam main draw match against American Shelby Rogers on Monday night (Tuesday morning in the U.S.), she understands the importance of this moment. Given her connection to the Britain Lawn Tennis Association’s scholarship program for the last four years, as one of the country’s best tennis players ages 16-24, Jones wants to impress in her Australian Open debut. Being a part of this program allows Jones to give back to the Sanchez-Casal Academy that shaped her as a player, through sports medicine and financial support.
But Jones has bigger goals than just qualifying for Grand Slam main draws. She hopes to use this achievement as motivation for young players dealing with doubt and criticism.
“Every single human being faces challenges. My condition is my challenge,” Jones said. “It doesn’t take away from the fact that everyone has barriers that need to be overcome. Even if I make a minimal impact on people, that would mean a lot to me. It’s great that I’ve used this platform so far and I hope my message of “don’t limit yourself” will get out there, even if it’s just one person or 100 people.”