It is not often that one of the lowest ranked players in a grand slam championship is the focus of international media attention before they even strike their first ball at that level. But as the most prominent tennis players prepared for their pre-tournament media availability on Friday ahead of the Australian Open they were followed into the main interview room by Francesca Jones, who was requested to tell them her story once more.
Speaking shortly after being drawn to face the world No 60, Shelby Rogers of the US, in the British player’s first grand slam tournament main draw match of her career, she discussed the flurry of attention that had followed her success while competing with ectrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia syndrome. The genetic condition means she was born with three fingers and a thumb on each hand, three toes on her right foot and four on her left. She showed considerable patience at the wave of questions that greeted her.
“I’m very aware of it simply because of the media I’ve got planned for the rest of the day,” said Jones, who is ranked 241st. “No, 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. Do what it is that you want to do and just commit to it … 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. So it’s nice to have the platform here.”
Jones arrived in Melbourne having slightly under-packed for the journey. Her trip began some weeks ago when she travelled to Dubai with little indication she would breeze through the three qualifying matches and head straight for Melbourne. Since her arrival, Jones has had to shop for pyjamas in Melbourne and she has taken advantage of the open doors in the city by dining out in restaurants every night.
“I actually feel like I am on a different planet over here,” she said. “I feel like I have either gone back to the past or I have gone to the future. It’s a great opportunity for players to have a breather over here.”
While Jones is located in the top half, the women’s draw is bottom-heavy. Naomi Osaka, the tournament favourite, has been handed a complicated draw with opponents more than capable of springing an upset in the right environment. Osaka could face Garbiñe Muguruza in the fourth round and Petra Kvitova or Bianca Andreescu could await in the quarter-finals. Serena Williams could face Aryna Sabalenka in the fourth round and the second seed, Simona Halep, in the quarter-final.
The world No 1, Ashleigh Barty, has a helpful draw as she continues her return after missing 11 months because of the pandemic. She is projected to face the sixth seed, Karolina Pliskova, in the quarter-final. The defending champion and fourth seed, Sofia Kenin, is scheduled to meet the fifth seed, Elina Svitolina, in the quarter-final. Victoria Azarenka and Britain’s Johanna Konta, who begins against the Slovene qualifier Kaja Juvan, will look to upset the order.