AT FIRST glance, Francesca Jones seems like the vast majority of the other competitors at this year’s Junior Wimbledon.
Competitive, enthusiastic, fiery, each one chasing the dream of one day becoming a tennis Grand Slam champion.
But the 15-year-old, from Oxenhope near Haworth, is unlike any other player to have ever appeared at Junior Wimbledon. In fact she’s unlike any other player to have appeared at Wimbledon full stop.
That is because Francesca has Ectrodactyly Ectodermal Dysplasia, or EEC syndrome for short, a rare condition which can cause a person to be born with one or more of their fingers and toes missing.
She has just four fingers on her right hand – the hand that holds her tennis racket – together with three toes on one foot and four on the other. Not that you would know from watching her play tennis. And that’s the way Jones likes it. The teenager is at Junior Wimbledon entirely on merit, not because of any special dispensation.
“If it wasn’t for my syndrome I wouldn’t be here at all,” Francesca said. “There’s no chance I would be the person that I am today without it. I went through so much when I was younger. I had so many operations. It just keeps me going, the strength that I’ve got, and I’m going to use it to my advantage as much as possible.”
That strength was very much in evidence on Sunday as Francesca made her Wimbledon debut on Court Six at the All England Club in the girls’ singles event, coming from a set down to beat Emiliana Arango of Colombia.
Since the age of nine, Francesca has been based at a tennis academy in Barcelona enjoying the benefits of warm weather training and the very best coaching.
Throw in the tournaments which take her around the world and that leaves little time to return to Yorkshire, although home remains Oxenhope.
“That’s my roots, although I haven’t seen it in ages,” Francesca said. “But that’s the way it’s got to be at the moment. I understand that. My parents go back and forth to Barcelona to see me because they’ve got jobs back home.
“That’s one of the reasons why it’s really great being here at Wimbledon. We can all get together. To have your family here supporting you around the court means everything.
“I had the opportunity to play here at Junior Wimbledon last year, but I just didn’t think I was ready. I’m 15 now but I felt so young then, and I didn’t want to come here and just be participating. I wanted to come here to win. So I left it a year and I’m really glad I did.
“Coming here is an unbelievable experience. I’ve always dreamed of playing here in the seniors, but obviously the juniors is a close second. I’ve really enjoyed it so far.”
Francesca will be back on court at the All England Club today when she faces the number five seed Kayla Day of the USA for a place in the third round.
“All my life I’ve tried to push myself,” added Francesca. “I wanted to prove that everyone can do something in life, no matter what. I wanted to prove a point. That’s the main reason why I started playing tennis. Me being here shows what you can do when you set your mind to something. That fact that I’m here and winning is even better.”