Tennis: Jones lines up for last shot at Classic

By Kris Shannon

Young Kiwi who plays under Aussie flag eyes career in teaching as sport takes toll

Sacha Jones is a wildcard in Monday's Classic draw after winning the NZ Championships. Photo / Dean Purcell
Sacha Jones is a wildcard in Monday's Classic draw after winning the NZ Championships. Photo / Dean Purcell

A return and a farewell rolled into one - the ASB Classic promises to be a memorable week for Sacha Jones.

She was born and raised in Auckland before representing Australia for the past two years and the tournament offers her a swansong in front of friends and family before she takes a prolonged - and possibly permanent - break from the sport.

The 23-year-old has been beset by injuries for much of 2013 and the new year will bring a new start, with plans to pursue a career in teaching.

She has enrolled at the University of Auckland and is excited about her second life, a prospect seldom contemplated by those of such youth but a common reality in women's tennis.

But first Jones will get a chance to say goodbye at a tournament she first played in 2008, an opportunity afforded after winning the New Zealand Championships and, with it, a wildcard into Monday's main draw.

"All my family and friends are in Auckland and I love this city," she said. "That's the best part - I feel like my family pretty much fills up half the stand.

"I just want to enjoy it, have fun, and hopefully just play loose and relaxed and see how I do."

Even if she were to make a deep run in the tournament, the world No291 left little room for a change of heart regarding her playing future. In fact, looking ahead, Jones was unsure if she would ever return to professional tennis.

While a break from the game may renew her passion for the sport, it will hardly help a body that has been breaking down in increments.

"I've had some really bad injuries the last year or so," she said. "Just to have these sorts of injuries, it's quite debilitating to your career and also to your enjoyment factor of playing tennis.

"My body's pretty messed up and there's nothing I can really do about it. I've had four stress fractures in my ribs, two torn abs, a torn tendon in my ribs, and stress injuries in my shins.

"So there's not really much I can do for that - just a lot of painkillers and Voltaren after pretty much every match I play, which sucks."

Anyone who has read Andre Agassi's Open will know the agony that some players put themselves through just to make it to the baseline day in, day out. It's an agony Jones wants to avoid, and one which has seen her consider life after tennis for some time.

"I guess it's pretty unusual for someone at 23 to be first career down," she said. "But there's a time limit on every tennis player's career.

"So I've always been really interested in learning and wanting to have a career afterwards. It's always been pretty important to me. And I've always wanted to teach - I love teaching and I love kids a lot."

Jones will also relish the opportunity to once again live in her hometown, though she's had no regrets about her shift across the Tasman.

As Kiwi No1 Marina Erakovic has recently found, Tennis New Zealand is hardly blessed with the means to support its top talent, continually overlooked for funding. An Australian-born father meant Jones could escape that situation and she found herself nurtured by Tennis Australia as if she were one of their own.

"They've been so supportive and so nice to me, I'm really grateful for them. It sucks that I had to leave New Zealand but it was my only option, to be honest.

"My parents have put so much into my career and it got to the point where I just didn't want them to have to sacrifice their lives to be able to contribute to my career.

"It was really the only move I could make if I wanted to give myself a shot."

For now, that shot has been shattered by a fair bit of bad luck, but Jones was philosophical.

"That's life. Maybe it's just not meant to be," she said. "I won't really worry too much about that this week. I just want to have a bit of fun and enjoy playing tennis."

And, although she has no expectations, the ASB Classic should offer a fitting farewell.

"I couldn't really imagine a better place for it."

- APNZ

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