How Australian Open qualifier Francesca Jones quickly found her tennis passion in Bradford

WHAT started out as a way of keeping her occupied during the summer holidays, very quickly turned into a more serious passion for Francesca Jones.

ON THE UP: Bradford's Francesca Jones, pictured at the Battle of the Brits League tournament last month, has qualified for the main draw of the Australian Open. Picture: Julian Finney/Getty Images for LTA
ON THE UP: Bradford's Francesca Jones, pictured at the Battle of the Brits League tournament last month, has qualified for the main draw of the Australian Open. Picture: Julian Finney/Getty Images for LTA

Fast forward 15 years on from her first activity camp at Heaton Tennis Club, near Bradford, and the 20-year-old is now preparing for her first grand slam event, having sealed qualification to the Australian Open main draw earlier this week.

The rising star, from Oxenhope, entered this week’s qualifying event in Dubai ranked 241 in the world but, in two weeks’ time – having flown out to Melbourne today to begin her period of quarantine – she will be mixing with the game’s elite.

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No pressure as Bradford’s Francesca Jones prepares for grand slam debut at Austr...
PASSION: Francesca Jones celebrates against Jodie Burrage in the Battle of the Brits Premier League at the National Tennis Centre last month. Picture: Julian Finney/Getty Images for LTA)

It will all seem a far cry from those first few weeks under the watchful eye of Heaton head coach Matt McTurk, who says he spotted something special about Jones at an early stage, shortly after she was enlisted by her father for a summer activity camp when she was aged just five.

“The thing with Francesca is that she has always been incredibly competitive,” said McTurk. “Even as a five-year-old when she was part of one of our tennis camps – which I think was just meant to be a bit of activity in the summer for her – she was really competitive even then. That was quite striking at such an early age.”

Over the next few years, Jones, who attended Bradford Girls’ Grammar School, developed under McTurk’s guidance, often taking part in 10-12 hours of practice per week, until her coach felt she needed help from elsewhere in order to help her fulfil the talent he saw.

Having spent time himself on coaching courses at the famous Sanchez Casal Tennis Academy in Barcelona and knowing that British former world No 1 Andy Murray had also spent time there, McTurk regarded that as the best place for Jones to further her development. Week-long visits and summer camps came and went before Jones moved to Spain full-time in 2010.

Heaton Tennis Club head coach Matt McTurk, with Francesca Jones.

In recent years, her time has been split more often between Barcelona and UK, where she she is one of 12 players on the LTA Pro Scholarship Programme, a scheme targetted at offering support to elite players regarded as having the potential to reach the top 100 in five years.

From that very first summer camp at Heaton, Jones has had to overcome the odds, having been born with a congenital condition called Ectrodactyly Ectodermal Dysplasia, or EEC syndrome.

It means she only has three fingers and a thumb on each hand, three toes on one foot and four toes on the other.

But McTurk said her condition was never an issue during his time coaching her and believes it has provided added drive for her, particularly after she was told by one doctor that she would never be able to make it as a professional tennis player.

Matt McTurk continues to put youngsters through their paces as head coach at Heaton Tennis Club.

“I want to make it very clear – obviously she has had the support of her parents Adele and Simon and the financial support – but, ultimately, she is the one that needs to take all the credit,” added McTurk.

“We provided a good environment for her here at Heaton but I realised that if she was going to have the best chance we needed to try and find that environment where she could really thrive and push on but, it really comes down to the player.

“It is quite rare where a kid walks through the door and you see that they have this will and this drive and that competitive instinct – those are the qualities that have helped separate her from the rest.

“And with her condition that has probably driven her on to succeed even more, given her that will to succeed despite any challenges she may have faced.

“It’s brilliant, because I know how much they have put into it as a family, I know what she’s gone through and it’s incredible what she’s been able to achieve.

“To make it to the main draw of a grand slam is a massive achievement. Hopefully, it won’t stop there.”

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