Born without three toes and two fingers, Fran Jones challenges medics to qualify for Australian Open
It’s hard to think of another player overcoming disadvantages such as the remarkable Fran Jones, the 20-year-old Briton who qualified to reach the Australian Open despite being born with just six fingers and seven toes. “What an incredible story!” Kim Clijsters, the former world No.1, wrote on her Twitter page. “Good luck!” Perhaps the closest parallel to Jones’ success would be South Korean Duckhee Lee, whose ranking peaked at 130th place four years ago, despite deafness depriving him of important information about the shots from his opponent. Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki both performed while suffering from autoimmune diseases, while Alexander Zverev is said to have dealt with diabetes since he was little. But nothing compares to EED (Ectrodactyly-Ectodermal Dysplasia), the rare genetic disorder that altered the formation of Jones’ hands and feet while leaving her with a cleft palate at birth. What’s curious is that, without EED, Jones might never have turned to tennis. As she explained on Tuesday – after her second round victory over Jana Fett in Dubai – it was a doctor’s insistence that she never reach the professional level that had “propelled me into the sport. At the age of eight. After crushing China’s Jia-Jing Lu by a 6-0, 6-1 margin, Jones was asked if she had proven this anonymous doctor wrong. “I don’t care about proving people wrong,” she replied. “I’d rather prove to people that you can – and change your perspective there. “The first one is for revenge and I don’t play for revenge. I play to have a positive impact on the people who will hopefully read my story. I hope people can take some… I don’t mean tips, because I’m not the type to tip either. But I would like people to draw their strength from my story to build theirs. At just 20 years old, Jones already speaks like a woman with tremendous life experience. At Wednesday’s press conference, she was asked if she had ever been tempted to feel sorry for herself. The answer was no. “I think that was all I knew,” she said. “I had phenomenal parents [Simon and Adele, a pair of financial advisors] who guided me every step of the way. I wouldn’t feel sorry for myself and I don’t think people should. “Each person gets their deck of cards,” added Jones, who will climb at least 20 places from his current ranking of No.241. “If you get a full house right away, be fair play. . But if not, you have to find a way to win the game with another strategy and that’s what I do. I have my cards, I’m trying to learn to play the game, and I still have a lot to learn. So what are the practical consequences of playing tennis with EED? Jones’ grip on the grip is affected by his small hands, requiring a racquet that is lighter than most pros. She must also be particularly disciplined in her physical preparation, as injuries are a constant threat. Since attending the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona from 9 to 16 years old, she has been one of the players supported by the Lawn Tennis Association. But she is still based in Spain, along with the rest of her squad – coach Andreu Guilera, assistant coach Jordi Samper and physio Roberto Vavassori. “My challenge has been to get into a physical shape that avoids injury,” she explained. “My feet work differently and that means I run differently. My balance goes through my feet in a different way, through my toes in a different way. “I’ve always had a very, very little grip and a light racquet and I’m reluctant to change that because it’s worked well so far. In the gym, I spent a lot of time trying to gain strength to support the… I don’t mean gaps, just weaknesses that I can have. I think every human being has physical weaknesses unless you’re Cristiano Ronaldo or something like that. Jones rang the doorbell after Wednesday’s great performance but said she could barely hear anything other than the dog’s crying, screaming and barking. “It was quite a moving call because obviously we went through a lot together and I left the UK when I was nine. You miss a lot of experiences with your parents and it’s hard for all of us. She plans to fly to Melbourne on Friday, via one of Tennis Australia’s charter planes which must not contain more than 75 people in their 300 seats. Don’t expect her to post photos on social media, as she doesn’t even have an active account. She’d rather keep a lower profile than some of her peers, who often seem more concerned with looking glamorous on Instagram than winning matches. “For me, social media is a platform that can be used to your advantage,” she said. “But I also think that right now it’s having a negative influence on society. I don’t want to be too caught up in this. I like to stick with tennis and my life and I like my privacy in that regard. That’s the whole lesson. Rather than let her unique challenges define her, Jones maximizes everything she has, without paying attention to thrift stores. She clearly recognizes what is important and what is not important – a skill that has surely been honed by her rare disease. Some other young aspirants might learn from his example.