MELBOURNE: Francesca Jones' heart-warming Grand Slam debut ended in defeat Tuesday, but the Australian Open qualifier believes she has arrived on the big stage.
Jones, a 20-year-old from Britain who has a rare congenital condition that means she has only three fingers on each hand and seven toes, fell short against American Shelby Rogers 6-4, 6-1 in 67 minutes.
But merely stepping onto a Grand Slam court was a satisfying feat having been told as a child that she would never be able to become a professional athlete.
Jones made her 57-ranked opponent work in a competitive first set before falling away.
"I have proved that I can compete at this level," Jones, ranked 245, said.
"I think now it's about accumulating as many matches as possible over the next 12 months against players such as Shelby or even of a higher level.
"I think for me the main thing is that one error can really change momentum at this level.
"That's something I need to get used to and definitely will be aware of next time I find myself at this sort of tournament."
Jones has found herself in the public spotlight since qualifying for the Australian Open, as she spreads awareness of her condition - Ectrodactyly Ectodermal Dysplasia.
"I have had loads of messages and a lot of support the last few weeks and I'm really grateful for that," she said.
"Hopefully I can continue building that group of support.
"It's been great here but... it's back to reality for me.
"My feet are very much on the ground and I just want to get going with what happens next."
Rogers plays Serb qualifier Olga Danilovic in the second round. --AFP (New Straits Times)