Game, set and driver's licence for Classic's wildcard teenager
By Terry Maddaford
The stamps in Sacha Jones' passport tell one story. Having to juggle a key practice session today and sitting her driver's licence test tells another.
While most 14-year-olds spent their year trudging to and from school, Jones zipped from one tennis-playing country to another in search not so much of fame and fortune but valuable experience and World Tennis Association points.
Playing in countries as diverse as the United States, Morocco, Spain, Fiji, Thailand, Australia and Mexico would be exciting for anyone. For a 14-year-old it was a hectic schedule but one she loved.
Back home to play the ASB Classic, where she has a wildcard into the qualifying tournament which starts tomorrow, Jones works hard at keeping her life in balance.
"Playing the Classic qualifier is a big stepping stone but really, I have to regard it as just another step in my effort to reach the level I want," said Jones, who turned 15 last month.
"It will be the biggest test of my career. Or the driver's licence. I don't want to get to 20 and not be able to drive," she joked.
Playing the Classic is unusual in that she gets to play a match, or hopefully matches, in front of a home crowd after a year playing on five continents.
That's a big call for Jones, who lived her early years on Waiheke Island and began, aged 4, hitting a tennis ball with older brother GD, a New Zealand Davis Cup team member.
Small in stature, she quickly stood out as a player with a game destined to take her far.
She had the knack of taking the ball early and thumping a powerful return deep. It was an approach which won her many points - and matches.
"I then went through a phase when I was doing the opposite," said Jones, "but that didn't work. I've gone back to doing what I used to do."
At 1.7m and 54kg Jones is hardly an imposing figure on court. Any lack of size, however, she compensates for with her fitness, speed and never-give-up fighting ability.
"I see a lot of bigger, heavier players who are not as nimble as me. That is something I work on."
And schoolwork by correspondence, as she has done for the past 18 months.
"It was just too difficult trying to work school and tennis together. But in other things I feel I'm really lucky. I have tons of friends in New Zealand and worldwide. That's what I like about what I'm doing."