Two players will break new ground at the 2021 Australian Open by contesting the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time. Olga Danilovic and Francesca Jones both earned their place by navigating three qualifying rounds in Dubai last month - get to know them at wtatennis.com.
Olga Danilovic (SRB)
It's arguably a belated first appearance on the big stage for Danilovic. Back in July 2018, the Serb gatecrashed the tour in style at the age of 18, becoming the seventh player in history to win a WTA tournament on her main draw debut at the Moscow River Cup. The teenager's title run was a compelling one, too. As a lucky loser ranked World No.187, Danilovic scored her first Top 10 win over top seed Julia Goerges in the quarterfinals, and it culminated with a 7-5, 6-7(1), 6-4 victory over Anastasia Potapova in a dramatic all-teenage final.
Indeed, that tournament seemed to be the announcement that the formidable 2001-born generation had arrived. Danilovic had been a leading light of that cohort since her U14 days, when she dispatched both Amanda Anisimova and Iga Swiatek to reach the 2015 Les Petits As final - losing there to Potapova. As a junior, Danilovic - the daughter of decorated basketball player Sasha - also excelled, winning three Grand Slam titles in doubles, all at different majors and with different partners.
But Danilovic's Moscow points had come too late for that year's US Open cut - and though she defeated future champion Bianca Andreescu in the first round of qualifying, a loss to Jaimee Fourlis ended her hopes of a Grand Slam debut in the second. Danilovic would crack the Top 100 that autumn, peaking at World No.96 - but thereafter began to struggle, losing 14 out of 17 matches between October 2018 and April 2019. By August 2019 the Belgradian had sunk back down to World No.277, and her last WTA main draw victory came at Tashkent 2018.
Throughout, though, Danilovic accepted her rollercoaster career arc as "part of the process" - and eventually, the uptick came again. Her second rise, highlighted by the Montreux ITF W60 title in September 2019, hasn't been as spectacular as her first. But after six defeats in Grand Slam qualifying rounds, the 20-year-old was able to harness her power game in impressive fashion last month to dismiss Kristina Kucova, Sachia Vickery and Ankita Raina in Dubai to secure a pass into Melbourne. No.16 seed Petra Martic poses a stern first-round test, but all the signs point towards Danilovic's talent coming to fruition in 2021.
Francesca Jones (GBR)
At the age of 16, Francesca Jones told Made in Leeds, a local British newspaper in her home city, that her motto was that "the greatest thing in life is to do what people say you can't do." Even as a teenager, Jones had more experience of that than most. Born with electrodactyly ectodermal dysplasia syndrome, she has three fingers and a thumb on each hand, three toes on her right foot and four toes on her left. As she was growing up, doctors repeatedly warned her that her dream of a professional tennis career was impossible.
Just as repeatedly, Jones has defied them, reaching a junior career high of World No.31 before winning five ITF World Tour titles as a teenager as she inched her way up the WTA rankings. But since the tennis' resumption last summer, the 20-year-old's results have made it clear that she's not just an inspirational story but potentially a serious threat.
Last August, Jones powered to the Prague 125K quarterfinals via a stunning 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 upset of former Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki, showing off both her indomitable fighting spirit and a heavy, relentless topspin forehand en route. As one of the lowest-ranked players in Dubai last month for Australian Open qualifying - her first ever appearance in Grand Slam prelimary rounds - World No.241 Jones again brought those weapons to bear for three impressive runs that have catapulted her to prominence. A 6-3, 6-2 upset of idiosyncratic former World No.28 Monica Niculescu, whose wiles have stymied so many young talents, was followed by a battling 7-6(7), 2-6, 6-1 defeat of Jana Fett and a 6-0, 6-1 rout of Lu Jia-Jing to book her spot in a major main draw at the first time of trying.
A flurry of media attention has followed, but the level-headed Jones has taken it all in stride: "If I can have any positive impact on children or adults, and they can take strength from my story and create their own, then that would be great," she told the press last week. "So it's nice to have the platform here. My objectives are bigger than just qualifying for here, and hopefully I can continue to spread the word over the years."
Like Danilovic, Jones faces a tough test off the bat in the shape of in-form Yarra Valley Classic quarterfinalist Shelby Rogers - but regardless of the outcome, has laid a new marker in a groundbreaking rise.
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