• Reading Level 5
Science | Physical Education | PSHE

Tennis star defies doctors at Grand Slam debut

Should we all make more of our gifts? In hours, Francesca Jones will play in the Australian Open despite having only three fingers on each hand – an incredible triumph over adversity. “All I could hear was crying and my dog was barking.” When tennis player Francesca Jones qualified for the Australian Open at the heats in Dubai last month, the first thing she did was phone her parents. It was an emotional conversation. Playing in a major international tennis tournament is an extraordinary achievement for any 20-year-old. But for Francesca Jones, the journey from talented teen to pro-player was even more difficult than usual. Jones, from Yorkshire, has a rare genetic condition. She was born with just six fingers and two thumbs, and only seven toes. It makes holding a tennis racket – and even balancing – a huge challenge. As a child, she loved playing tennis at summer camp, but the doctors were pessimistic about her progress. One even told her she would never make it as a professional. Yet Jones never had any doubts. “When someone does say to you at eight years old that you can’t do something, I suppose most people would be heartbroken, but I just tried to take it on the chin and see how I could prove that person wrong.” The next year she did just that. Aged just nine, she said goodbye to her parents and moved to Barcelona to join the famous Sánchez Casal Academy. There, with her specially adapted racket in hand, she excelled. “The way I see it is that I am just playing the game with a different set of cards,” Jones told reporters before her qualifying matches in Dubai. “But it doesn’t mean those cards still can’t win the game.” Her words were prophetic. Jones was not seriously expecting victory in Dubai – her fingers had split from the cold in the UK and she had only packed one set of pyjamas. Still, she triumphed. And today, as the British hopeful took on American Shelby Rogers in her Grand Slam debut, she hoped her story would inspire others. “The reason I started committing as a professional is because I want people to take positives from what I have managed to do so far.” At 20, Jones’ journey as a disabled athlete in an able-bodied world is just beginning. But others have shown her that success is possible. In 2008, swimmer Natalie du Toit became the first female amputee to qualify for the Olympics against able-bodied opponents. And in Hawaii, surfer Bethany Hamilton is still competing professionally 18 years after she lost her arm to a vicious tiger shark attack. But not everyone needs to be so brilliant, some say. In great literary classics, it is often the fictional everyman – and not the accomplished hero – who captures the reader’s heart. Indeed, it is arguably faithful but illiterate squire Sancho Panza, not mad knight Don Quixote, who is the true hero of Miguel de Cervantes’ eponymous classic. Sherlock Holmes would be lost without his dependable – yet decidedly ordinary - sidekick Watson. And it is typical Englishman Arthur Dent, who haplessly leaps from crisis to crisis all while wearing his dressing gown, who somehow becomes the star of science fiction series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Is it okay to be average? Grand debut No, say some. Francesca Jones’ incredible achievement is a reminder of what it is possible to achieve when you commit to your dreams. Her message to her fans is clear: “please don’t have any limits and keep pushing yourself”. Jones’s determination to overcome huge obstacles and become a professional athlete shows us why giving up and accepting mediocrity should never be an option. Yes, say others. It is time we accepted reality – not everyone can be a great athlete or brilliant musician. Average but hardworking people are the backbone of our society. Determination alone cannot take you to the Australian Open – you also need natural talent or skill. And, as Jones herself says: “Each person shouldn’t compare themselves to the human next to them.” KeywordsGrand Slam - The name given to the world's four top tennis tournaments: the US, Australian and French Opens and Wimbledon.

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