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Born without three toes and two fingers, Fran Jones defies doctors to qualify for the Australian Open
It’s hard to imagine another player overcoming such disadvantages as the notable Fran Jones, the British 20-year-old who qualified for the Australian Open despite being born with only six fingers and seven toes. “What an incredible story!” Former world number 1 Kim Clijsters wrote on her Twitter page. “Good luck!” Perhaps the closest parallel to Jones’s performance would be South Korea’s Duckhee Lee, who ranked 130th four years ago despite the numbness that robs him of vital information about his opponent’s shots. Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki have both played under autoimmune diseases, while Alexander Zverev is said to have dealt with diabetes since childhood. But nothing compares to EED (Ectrodactyly-Ectodermal Dysplasia), the rare genetic disorder that altered the way Jones’ hands and feet were formed and also left them with a cleft palate at birth. The strange thing is that without EED, Jones would never have played tennis primarily. As she explained on Tuesday – after beating Jana Fett in Dubai in the second round – a doctor insisted that she would never reach the professional level that “kicked me into the sport” at the age of eight. After beating China’s Jia-Jing Lu 6-0, 6-1, Jones was asked if she had proven the nameless doctor was wrong. “I don’t mind proving people wrong,” she replied. “I’d rather show people that you can do it – and change your perspective there. “The first 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 want to give tips because I’m not one to give tips either. But I would love if people draw strength from my story to build their own. “At just 20, Jones was already speaking like a woman with vast life experience. During Wednesday’s press conference, she was asked if she had ever been tempted to feel sorry for herself. The answer was no. “I think it was all I knew,” she said. “I had phenomenal parents [Simon and Adele, a pair of financial advisors] who just walked me through every step I wouldn’t feel sorry for myself and I don’t think people should. “Each person will be dealt their deck of cards,” added Jones, who will move up at least 20 spots from his current # 241 ranking. “If you get a full house right away, play fair. But if not, you have to find a way to win the game using a different strategy, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. I have my cards, I’m trying to learn how to play the game, and I have a lot more to learn. “What are the practical consequences of playing tennis with EED? Jones’ grip on the handle is influenced by her small hands, which requires a lighter racket than most pros. She also needs to be particularly disciplined in her physical preparation, as injuries are a constant threat. Since attending the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona from the age of nine to 16, she has been one of the players supported by the Lawn Tennis Association. But she still lives in Spain, along with the rest of her team – coach Andreu Guilera, assistant coach Jordi Samper and physiotherapist Roberto Vavassori. “My challenge was to get myself into a physical condition that would prevent injury,” she said. “My feet work differently and that means I walk differently. My balance is in a different way through my feet and in a different way through my toes. “I’ve always had a very, very small grip and a light club, and I’m hesitant to change that because it has worked well so far. I spent a lot of time in the gym gathering strength to deal with the… I don’t want to say any flaws, just the weaknesses I might have. I think everyone has physical weaknesses unless you are Cristiano Ronaldo or something. “Jones rang home on Wednesday after the good performance but said she could hardly hear anything other than the crying, screaming and barking of the dog. “It was a very emotional call because we had obviously been through a lot together and I left the UK at nine. You miss a lot of experiences with your parents and that is difficult for all of us. “She expects to fly to Melbourne on one of Tennis Australia’s charter planes on Friday, which will not hold more than 75 people in her 300 seats. However, don’t expect her to post photos on social media as she doesn’t even have active accounts yet. She prefers to have a lower profile than some of her peers, who often seem more interested in looking glamorous on Instagram than winning games. “To me, social media is a platform that can be used to your advantage,” she said. “But I also think it’s having a negative impact on society at the moment. I don’t want to get too involved in it. I like to stay with tennis and in my life and I really like my privacy in that regard. “It’s pretty much the lesson. Instead of letting her unique challenges define her, Jones maximizes everything she has without paying attention to fripperies. She can clearly see what is important and what is not – a skill certainly enhanced by her rare condition. A few other young wannabes could learn from their example.