Jones looking for a big break
One of 16 Australian men contesting this week’s wildcard Play-off, Greg Jones is on the hunt for an early birthday present. The tall right-hander turns 21-years-old on 31 January 2010 – Australian Open men’s finals day – and there’s no gift he’d rather give himself than a shot at the coveted Australian Open singles title.
“If I were to win this tournament I would live eat and breathe that first round Australian Open match the next month,” says Jones, who today defeated Dane Propoggia 6-1 6-4 in the first match of his AO Play-off round robin.
“When you get that big an opportunity you don’t know how many times it’s going to come around. Hopefully it will be for the rest of my career, but you’ve got to try and take the opportunity when you get it. “
A competitor at the last two Australian Open Play-offs, Jones is yet to win a set at the event. He lost round robin matches to Andrew Coelho, Colin Ebelthite and Joe Sirianni in 2007, and to Brendan McKenzie and Brydan Klein (withdrawing injured from his third group match against Peter Luczak) in 2009. He’s not about to let some disappointing results dampen his enthusiasm for the tournament, however.
“I’m really excited this year because it’s the first year where I feel I’ve had good preparation and I’m fit and healthy and everything’s going well leading into it,” says Jones, who had to contend with strained lower abdominals and a rolled ankle at last year’s Play-off. “I’ve actually played pretty well the last couple of weeks so I have a lot of confidence and I’m looking forward to it.”
After a slow start to his season, Jones hit his straps on clay in April, reaching the finals at the Bundaberg Futures and winning Ipswich Futures a week later. “I came off four weeks training before that so I was pretty fresh and playing well, full of confidence and excited to play,” he says.
While delighted by his success on the red dirt, Jones headed to Europe determined to further refine his claycourt game. “These days you’ve got to be able to play on clay before you can get away with being a grass court specialist or a fast court specialist,” he says, explaining that while he suffered some early defeats in Italy and the Netherlands, it was time well spent.
“The idea of playing on clay quite a bit this season was to learn a few skills that I maybe haven’t picked up during my career growing up on synthetic grass and hard courts. Clay courts are different in Europe because here in Australia they are a little bit quicker because it’s more dry and at tournaments here you mostly play against Australians who typically don’t play so much on clay.
“It’s tougher in Europe with guys who have grown up on it. Once I learned those lessons I felt like I was able to transfer them onto hard court and it improved my game.”
Jones reaped the rewards of his dedication by reaching the semifinals of a grasscourt Futures event at Frinton and a hardcourt Challenger at Penza in July before rounding off the year with three Challenger quarterfinal showings in Asia and a semifinal finish at the Bendigo Futures in December.
Coming into the Play-off on the back of some of the best form of his career, he is eager to begin his quest for a wildcard into Australian Open 2010, and to get some valuable match practice before the Australian Open Series starts in January.
“It’s great to get all the Australian players together and training together in one place,” he says. “We need guys to practice with and it’s not always easy in Australia because we’re so spread out (geographically). As Australian players it’s good to have competition leading up to the summer because it’s a time when we have our biggest opportunities so we want to be playing our best tennis.
“It’s great to play in an actual tournament atmosphere - it feels just like a Grand Slam because there are so many people around and that’s what we want. It’s much better than being around here and not having anyone watching us.”
With the Optus age and team championships, an Australian Money Tournament and the Play-off all taking place during the 2009 December Showdown there is a heightened atmosphere at Melbourne Park. Jones says he is loving every minute of it, and is delighted to be able to play his part in helping to inspire the next generation of Australian tennis players.
“For the younger kids this environment is the best possible thing they could have because it’s so inspiring,” he says enthusiastically. It’s great for them having all the top Australian players here while they’re competing because they can get a taste of things.
“It’s something I feel maybe my generation when I was a bit younger missed out on because we had nationals but they were always played so remotely from the top players and the guys playing the Australian Open. The December Showdown is a great concept for Australian tennis.”
Jones says this year the Australian Open Play-off, and its wildcard prize, is the most open he’s contested. “A few of the top players aren’t playing and that creates a big opportunity,” he explains. “There are a lot of guys in contention in the draw and there aren’t as many outright favourites as there were in previous years.
“The biggest threats are guys like Brydan (Klein) who’s had some time off but who’s played three tournaments back already and is a good player and Nick Lindahl who, when he gets going, can play a really good standard of tennis. Then there are a few dark horses like Kaden Hensel who’s beaten two top 100 players.”