Yorkshire tennis prodigy Francesca Jones, 20, returns to Wimbledon after triumphing in Junior championships despite EEC syndrome

On a Sunday lunchtime five years ago, 15-year-old Francesca Jones walked onto Court Six at the All England Club to make her debut in the Junior Wimbledon girls’ singles championships in front of a handful of spectators.

Great Britain's Francesca Jones in action against Spain's Georgina Garcia-Perez during day three of the Viking Open at Nottingham Tennis Centre on Monday June 7, 2021.
Great Britain's Francesca Jones in action against Spain's Georgina Garcia-Perez during day three of the Viking Open at Nottingham Tennis Centre on Monday June 7, 2021.

Within 24 hours, the talented tennis rookie, who is from Oxenhope, near Haworth, was capturing headlines around the globe, and not just because she won her first round match.

Ms Jones has just four fingers on her right hand, in which she holds her tennis racket, together with three toes on one foot and four on the other.

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She has Ectrodactyly Ectodermal Dysplasia, or EEC syndrome, a rare condition which can cause a person to be born with one or more of their fingers and toes missing.

Ms Jones, now 20, is back at this summer’s Wimbledon Championships where she will make her main draw debut on Monday in the first round of the women’s singles against 17-year-old American tennis star Coco Gauff, quite possibly on the hallowed turf of either Centre Court or Court One.

“It was all a bit unreal,” said Ms Jones, with a smile at the memory of those eventful couple of days back in 2016.

“When I first went on court, hardly anybody knew me. I don’t think I’d even done an interview before. By the following day, I was on the evening news in Japan.

“The thing is I actually quite enjoyed it. I’d won, and it’s always good talking about a win, but it was nice that people wanted to find out more about me and my syndrome.

“It’s something I’ve always been really honest and open about. Why wouldn’t I be? In a strange way, I have a lot to thank it for. If it wasn’t for my syndrome, I wouldn’t be where I am at all. I went through so much when I was younger, so many operations, and that gave me the strength to keep going.

“I’ve never been the kind of person who feels sorry for themselves. Instead I’ve tried to use it to my advantage wherever possible.”

Ms Jones first picked up a tennis racket at the age of six when she attended a local summer course along with her sister, Chloe, and brother, Dan.

She began training at Heaton Tennis Club in Bradford, although within a couple of years her burgeoning talent had outgrown not only Yorkshire, but England as well.

By the time she was aged nine, Ms Jones was attending a tennis academy in Barcelona, benefitting from the warmer weather and some of the best coaching in the world. As tournaments started to take her around the world, she was left with little time to return to Yorkshire, although her home remains Oxenhope.

“That’s my roots,” she said. “I remember saying (back in 2016) that I’ve always tried to push myself and nothing’s changed on that front.

“I still want to prove that anyone can do anything in life no matter what. That’s why I started playing tennis in the first place. I’m living proof that you can achieve something when you set your mind to it.”

Ms Jones will earn £45,000 in prize money for appearing in the first round of the women’s singles at Wimbledon.

Victory against Coco Gauff would guarantee her a pay cheque of at least £72,000.

Ms Jones, who is currently ranked 210 in the world for women’s singles, received a wild card for this year’s Wimbledon Championships courtesy of the All England Club. Ms Gauff, with a ranking of 23, qualified on merit.

This is the first time that Gauff has returned to England since her Wimbledon debut in 2019 when, as a 15-year-old, she stunned the sporting world by reaching the fourth round, beating former champion Venus Williams along the way.