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Francesca Jones qualifies for Australian Open years after doctors ruled her out of tennis



Doctors told Francesca Jones when she was eight that she would never be able to play professional tennis.

The now-20-year-old Brit was born with the rare genetic condition, ectrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia syndrome, leaving her with three fingers and a thumb on each hand and a total of seven toes.

Jones has had to endure multiple surgeries and, due to her dominant right foot only having three toes, has struggled with balance throughout her career.

“The doctors told me I wouldn’t be able to play tennis due to whatever disadvantages they thought I had,” Jones told the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

“That was kinda my decision … because you’ve said that, I’m now going to go and prove you wrong.”

Prove them wrong she did.

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Aged 10, Jones was accepted to the Sánchez-Casal academy in Barcelona, developing her game on the clay courts that nurtured the early career of her fellow countrywoman and 2016 Australian Open semi-finalist Johanna Konta, and former world number one Andy Murray.

On Wednesday, Jones beat the odds to qualify for the main draw of a grand slam tennis tournament for the first time.

Jones needed just over an hour to dispatch Lu Jai-Jing of China, 6-0, 6-1 in Dubai — her third win of the week — to secure her spot on Friday’s flight to Melbourne.

“I’m just playing the game with a different set of cards,” Jones told the BBC prior to the qualification tournament.

Those cards amount to a lighter racquet with a smaller grip.

Everything else is Jones’ own dogged determination.

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“My mental strength is one of my biggest strengths, if not my biggest strength,” Jones said.

“I do have that edge against my opponents purely because of the experiences that I’ve gone through.

“I use it [the condition] as a positive and advantage in many ways. I’m not playing out of revenge.

“I’m playing to have a positive impact on people who read my story, and I hope people can take the positives from it and build on it.”

Ranked 241 in the world, Jones is now guaranteed a $100,000 pay day, which will double her career earnings.

The Australian Open gets underway in Melbourne on February 8.



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Alex de Minaur wins Antalya Open in Turkey, Bernard Tomic qualifies for Australian Open


CAlex de Minaur has opened his 2021 season in style, claiming the first ATP title on offer for the year and his fourth overall, with success at the Antalya Open in Turkey.

The Australian number one was leading Alexander Bublik 2-0 in Wednesday’s final when the Kazakh retired injured just seven minutes into the match.

The 21-year-old world number 23 dropped only one set for the week in a promising build-up to next month’s rescheduled Australian Open in Melbourne.

“I mean, it’s massive. At the start of the year that’s what you need,” de Minaur said after following up his semi-final win over second-seeded world number 16 David Goffin in a somewhat anticlimactic title decider.

“I just think I gave myself the best possible chance to go deep into this tournament and I’m happy how it finished.

“I got four matches — and today — so very happy with my level and I had some quality wins.”

Nick Kyrgios lifts up Alex De Minaur in celebration.
Alex De Minaur and Nick Kyrgios were quite the tandem early in 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic hit.(AAP: Mark Evans)

De Minaur missed his home grand slam last year in shattering fashion, an abdominal strain forcing him out of the tournament following a heroic ATP Cup campaign for Australia.

“It was a bittersweet moment last year so hopefully a year later I can come back stronger and hopefully have a great Aussie summer,” he said.

“I’m really looking forward to going back home and playing in front of a home crowd, that’s for sure.”

His stomach injury aside, the COVID-19 pandemic further stalled his progression last year, following a breakout three-title season in 2019.

But the fleet-footed baseliner, now the youngest player in the world’s top 25, came back with a vengeance when the tour resumed.

De Minaur made a career-best charge to the US Open quarter-finals in 2020, upstaging a succession of heavy hitters en route to the last eight, then reached the final in Antwerp to finish ahead of Nick Kyrgios as Australia’s top-ranked player in 2020.

Kyrgios himself barely played any matches once the world was plunged into a pandemic, preferring to stay in Canberra and train.

Tomic qualifies for Australian Open after he ‘risked his life’

One year after reaching a career low point when he failed to qualify for the Australian Open, former world number 17 Bernard Tomic has punched his ticket to the delayed first grand slam of the year.

Tomic, who still appeared to be nowhere near the level of play fans saw early on in his career, battled past Australian veteran John-Patrick Smith 6-4 5-7 7-6 (10-7) to become the only Australian to make it through qualifying.

While Tomic won the match, it was an uphill battle as Smith frequently attacked the net and kept Tomic moving around the court, employing drop shots and low balls, showing Tomic’s much maligned movement had not improved.

What had improved was the 28-year-old’s resolve to win.

He admitted post match that he was “physically pretty bad”, but he was dogged on the court.

Tomic fought back from 4-1 down in the opening set to reel off six straight games and take it.

He also fought back from 3-0 down in the second set before Smith steadied and broke Tomic to take it 7-5 and send the match into a decider.

That set was extremely tight with neither player breaking serve, and it was Smith who cracked ever so slightly as two tight line calls went against him late in the third set to send it into a match tiebreak.

“No, that was not wide … two times in two games,” he complained to the umpire to no avail.

Tomic raced out to an early 3-0 lead in the match tiebreak and despite Smith getting it back to 4-4, Tomic was never headed and a couple of aces were punctuated by a searing forehand winner to take the match.

Tomic also showed he had plenty of fight left in him off the court as he took aim at his critics.

“I am in Doha, I risked my life flying here, my health, COVID’s around, many sick, with many things that can go wrong. I’m risking my life, and I’m playing and competing. Of course, I want to get there,” he said, when asked if his tennis ambitions still burned.

He followed that up by demanding favourable media coverage.

“You’re the people who write the bad stuff about me,” Tomic said.

“I don’t think you guys have been fair towards me in the last half-decade, [or] decade. You can spin it whatever way you want, but don’t escape the fact I’ve qualified for a slam.”

“If you like me and you’re a fan of me, write nice.”

AAP/ABC



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Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton takes pole for Bahrain Grand Prix, Daniel Ricciardo qualifies sixth



Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton has set a track record at the Bahrain Grand Prix on his way to a record-extending 98th career pole position.

The seven-time F1 champion looked in total control as he set a time of one minute, 27.264 seconds under the floodlights on Saturday.

“We did some really good work overnight. I was really happy with the car from the get-go,” the veteran British driver said. “I just didn’t make any mistakes.”

He finished about 0.3 seconds ahead of his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas and about 0.4 clear of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Bottas thought he was closer to Hamilton’s time.

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Verstappen, however, is resigned to being in Mercedes’ shadow.

“We’ll see what we can do tomorrow. It [the track] is quite aggressive on the tyres here.”

Verstappen’s teammate Alexander Albon was in fourth place and a full second behind Hamilton, who will bid for his record-extending 95th F1 win on Sunday.

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Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo had a solid qualifying, taking sixth place on the grid with a lap of 1:28.417, 1.153 seconds behind Hamilton.

This gives him a shot at repeating his effort at Imola, where he benefited from some late drama to share a podium with Hamilton at the Emilia Romagna grand prix.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc took the first of his seven pole positions last season in Bahrain, but this year the team has struggled badly and he starts from 12th place behind teammate Sebastian Vettel.

Former champion Kimi Raikkonen was among the five drivers eliminated from Q1 while Carlos Sainz Jr went out of Q2 after his rear tires blocked and his McLaren stalled on the track.

Qualifying was halted for a few minutes while his car was removed.

Earlier, Verstappen beat Hamilton’s leading time to go fastest in the final practice. The Dutchman was 0.26 ahead of Hamilton and 0.37 ahead of Bottas.

Hamilton was quickest in both practice runs on Friday and looked set to make it a hat trick when he overtook Verstappen and then Bottas with about 10 minutes left in the hour-long session. But Verstappen came back out and returned to the top of the leaderboard.

Albon’s car was fitted with a new chassis after he crashed heavily following a mistake on the last turn in the second practice.

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More complaints about new tyres for 2021

Hamilton and other drivers have been complaining about the new Pirelli tyres, which they are testing ahead of 2021, saying they are too heavy. Vettel says they are even worse than before.

“If that’s the best they can do [it’s] better we stick with this [current] tyre.”

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Four-time F1 champion Vettel agreed with Hamilton the 2020 tyre should kept next year, rather than switched to the unpopular 2021 model.

“It will make the problems we struggle with now worse,” he said.

Verstappen joked the championship could become “a drift challenge” if manufacturer Pirelli used the 2021 tyres, criticised for lacking grip, as planned.

This is the 15th of 17 races in the coronavirus-shortened season, with another race to follow in Bahrain next Sunday before the campaign concludes in Abu Dhabi.

AP/ABC



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Daniel Ricciardo qualifies fifth at Turkish GP as rain and new track make conditions treacherous



Daniel Ricciardo will start the Turkish GP from fifth after a strong qualifying performance in treacherous conditions.

Heavy rain wreaked havoc on a track that had already been compared to an ice rink during practice runs, with the extra slipperiness making for an interesting grid.

Lewis Hamilton qualified in sixth — his lowest starting position of the year — while teammate Valtteri Bottas was even further behind.

Max Verstappen was fastest in practice, but slipped to second when Canadian Lance Stroll pipped the Red Bull superstar for the top spot.

After struggling in practice, Ricciardo performed well in the tricky conditions, which he said had “taken a few years off our lives”.

“I’m just glad I made it,” he told Sky News.

“Probably the best way to describe it, I did a driving course on a skid pan and it kicks you out and it never bites, there’s never any grip and honestly that’s what it felt like today.

On a strange day, F1 organisers said they would investigate after cars were allowed on track before a recovery crane had returned to safety, while a dog briefly ran on the track.

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Stroll said his qualifying success could be put down to experience driving in slick conditions back home in Canada.

“I grew up driving on ice, in my parking lot back home and drifting around, sliding around,” Stroll said.

“It’s got to be in my bones somewhere, I guess.”

Verstappen was particularly disappointed to let his grasp on pole position slip.

“I’m upset because the whole weekend I’ve been comfortable and I feel terrible now,” he said.

“Clearly something is not working for us with that tire, and yes it was extremely disappointing when you’re first in every session.

“It’s not what I like, but it can’t be all the time positive — and then saying that, you’re still second — but I always want the best, I always try to do better.”

ABC/Reuters



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