Hayden Jones is one of Australia’s leading junior players.
The 16-year-old from the Gold Coast achieved a career-high world junior ranking of No.50 in August and is currently one of only four 2006-born players ranked inside the world’s top 60.
Jones has represented Australia in the Junior Davis Cup competition and was an orange boy for the Australian Davis Cup team in Germany last month.
In our series profiling Tennis Australia’s National Tennis Academy athletes, Jones reveals he is following a different sporting path to his accomplished parents …
Tell us about your start in tennis?
I think I was six years old, almost seven. I used to go up on the local courts (on the Gold Coast) and play cricket, just block some balls around. And then John Dutton, the resident coach, invited me over to join a tennis squad. I didn’t really like it at first, to be honest, but then kind of stuck with it and got better.
Why didn’t you initially enjoy tennis?
It was just a bit boring, to be honest. I just remember the sessions felt long, but later I got into it.
Did anyone in your family play tennis?
No one played tennis. My mum, Loretta Harrop, went to the Olympics for triathlon. She won a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. My dad, Brad Jones, was a pretty good footballer and won the 1999 Grogan Medal in the QAFL.
Have your parents been supportive of your tennis journey?
Yeah, they have. I always did other sports like swimming and stuff like that. But when I turned 13, Mum was like ‘You can choose what you want to do now’, and I chose tennis.
Why did you choose tennis?
I always liked the other sports, but I just felt tennis was better for me. I just like the idea of hitting. It just feels good, you know? It feels right.
What has been your proudest moment so far on the tennis court?
Definitely representing Australia in the Junior Davis Cup competition. We went over to India earlier this year for the qualifying competition and qualified for the finals in November.
How does it feel to represent your country at such a young age?
It’s so cool and just feels really good. Tennis isn’t really a team sport, so to come together and play as a team is pretty fun. I enjoyed it a lot.
You played in the Australian Open 2022 junior competition and made the third round. Tell us about that experience.
That was definitely up there as well as one of my favourite experiences. I was lucky enough to get a wildcard from Tennis Australia, which was really good. It was just an amazing experience being around the pros and the crowds. The crowds weren’t huge, but it was pretty cool playing in front of 40, 50 people who would come and watch. I was lucky enough to play at 1573 Arena, which was cool.
You also qualified for the Wimbledon 2022 junior competition. You must be proud of that effort?
To be honest, that’s definitely one of my favourite experiences. You always watch Wimbledon on TV and the grass is just different. It’s just a unique experience that I always wanted to do. I was so nervous just going out to play my final qualifying match and I remember when I held serve at 5-4 to win, it was the tightest game and I felt just pure relief. The qualifying wasn’t played on site, it was at Roehampton, so to get to then play at the All England Club was really cool.
Who have been the biggest influences on your career so far?
Probably a couple of the coaches I worked with before I came to the National Tennis Academy – Clint Letcher, Heath Denman and John Dutton. John was the coach that got me into tennis and I used to chat tennis with him as a kid. John’s been really special for me, helping me get to where I am. I still see John, he comes over for Christmas and is like family to me.
What’s the best piece of advice you have received from him?
He’s pretty relaxed and he just always tells me just to play my game and do what I do.
Who are your favourite players to watch?
Definitely Roger Federer. I just like the way he plays, it’s so effortless and really smooth. I know this is another common answer, but I’d also say Rafael Nadal. I haven’t always liked Rafa, I thought he was a bit boring to watch. But I do now after the Australian Open final against Daniil Medvedev at the start of the year, where he came back to win. That was crazy, just insane to watch. I also like Alex de Minaur and the way he hustles for points and works hard.
How would you describe your playing style in one sentence?
Probably a bit loose – but I’ve been working on cleaning it up a bit, cutting down on errors and getting a bit more accurate.
What are your strengths as a player?
I feel like my ability to take the ball early is pretty good. Sometimes I do spray it, but I definitely think that that is something that works for me. And if I can control that better, it would help a lot more.
If you could steal a stroke from another player, what would it be and why?
I would take Nick Kyrgios’ serve. When he serves, it’s just so accurate, so big. It is probably the best serve in the world. When it’s on, it’s so good.
Do you have any pre-match superstitions?
Not really, I’m not too superstitious. But on the change of ends, I do pour water on my towel every time. I started doing this at a tournament at Ballina when I was about nine. I remember it was so hot and now it is something I’ve continued to do.
— TennisAustralia (@TennisAustralia) September 16, 2022
Your younger sister, Emerson, also represented Australia in tennis this year. Do you practise much with her?
We used to a fair bit. We also used to fight a lot on court, I’m not going to lie. When she started beating me in points, I’d get pretty annoyed. Because, you know, you can’t let that happen.
What do you like to do when you’re not playing tennis?
I actually like fishing, going to the beach or just chilling out with family and friends.
Do you have a favourite social media platform to use?
Instagram. There’s so much variety, you can see what other people are doing and it’s pretty good to keep in contact with your friends.
What is your favourite food?
I like mud crab. I live on the water on the Gold Coast, so ever since I was young I used to put crab pots in and if they were big enough, you’d have them for dinner.
What is your favourite surface to play on?
I would say grass now. I never used to like grass, but I’ve become a lot more fond of it after my experience at Wimbledon.
Had you played much on grass before competing at Wimbledon?
No, there are not too many grass courts in Australia. I didn’t really like it, I’d get annoyed when the bounces were bad.
Who is your favourite musician?
I like Kid LAROI and Lil Tjay.
What is your favourite TV series?
Definitely Suits or Arrow. I’m watching The Blacklist at the moment. That’s pretty good, with lots of twists.
Who is your dream doubles partner?
If I could choose any celebrity, it would be Robert Downey Jr who acts as Iron Man. I reckon he’s a pretty cool guy.
How would your friends and family describe you?
They’d say I’m kind of relaxed off court, but pretty intense on court. I think Mum would describe me as frustrating, she always gets pretty frustrated when I don’t do stuff. I’m pretty relaxed and chilled.
What is your earliest Australian Open memory?
I remember playing Super 10s and they took a team down to Melbourne. I would have been eight or nine. We played during the Australian Open and we got to meet all the players and even hit short court with Nick Kyrgios, which was really cool.
Do you remember the first player autograph or selfie you got?
I remember it was at the Brisbane International, when I might have been seven. Richard Gasquet walked past me and signed a big tennis ball that I had. I didn’t exactly know who he was at the time, but my dad was like ‘there’s Richard Gasquet’. So I pretended to know him and got his autograph.
Do you remember the first time you had an opportunity to hit with a top-ranked professional player?
My old coach Heath Denman, who I worked with before I come to the National Tennis Academy, is friends with Pat Rafter. When I was about 10, Pat was getting ready to play an exhibition match and was looking for someone to hit with. I remember I did two hours with him and I was exhausted, because I was trying really hard. That was pretty cool.
Having the opportunity to hit with a former world No.1 is pretty special. How were you feeling beforehand?
I was pretty nervous and excited, but kind of settled when he was really nice to me. Once we started hitting I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s fine’.
What do you enjoy most about being part of the National Tennis Academy?
I really like working with all the coaches and being around my mates from tennis. The program is really good. The coaches have definitely cleaned out my bad habits and are always working on something new with me. They lifted my hours when I came in and are helping to set goals, which is really good for me and gives me something to strive towards.
You must be one of the youngest players at the National Tennis Academy. Is learning from your older peers helpful?
I actually think I am the youngest in the academy. It’s really cool being around the older guys, learning how they do stuff. It teaches you so much. You can learn something from everyone, I reckon. There’s always something to learn.
What is your favourite part of a day at the National Tennis Academy?
I think the sessions on court are really good. We’re really focused, but we have fun as well. We’ll play points and take it really seriously, but also chuck in a bit of banter, which is pretty cool. It’s like a team environment, so I enjoy training and travelling with my friends. A lot of us help each other out, which I think is really good.
Which coaches do you work most closely with at the National Tennis Academy?
My coach at the National Tennis Academy is Des Tyson. I really like Des as a coach, I think he is really, really good with pretty much everything. My strokes especially, he has fixed my technique up a fair bit. He’s really big on consistency, which is a part that I need to get better at my game. I also recently worked with Brent Larkham, the head coach of the NTA, for a while Des was taking some leave. I really liked that too, because Brent was really hard on me. He did a lot of fitness drills and got me a lot fitter and stronger. He cut back my hours on court, as I’m trying to get stronger so that I can go longer. We really focused on that and it was really good.
Does it give you extra confidence knowing these coaches have worked with top-level players and have so much experience?
Yeah, definitely. I know that Des has worked with the Woodies and Nick Kyrgios and Brent worked with Kyrgios as well. I think just knowing that they have coached people to the highest level is really, really good. It really gives me a lot of faith.
At your age, is it difficult balancing development versus competition?
Yeah, to be honest, I struggle with that a fair bit. I’m pretty competitive. I focus more on winning now, instead of improving my game for the long term. But Brent and Des have been working on that a lot with me, so I think I’ve gotten better at that. Obviously, you want to get results now, but it’s definitely important to focus on building a game to stay with the men and in the long term.
What does your schedule look like for the rest of the year?
I want to get my ranking points up before the AO, so I might go to Japan and then head over to America for Orange Bowl and Eddie Herr, hopefully. We’ll see how that goes.
Have you competed in America before?
I’ve never been to America. I went to Europe earlier this year, which was pretty cool.
What did you learn competing in Europe?
Just how many players are at the same level, like, there’s not much that separates players. You can see everyone hits the ball well, everyone hits big, everyone works hard. There’s just tiny, tiny parts of the game that other people work on or have, that some don’t. This can determine who wins and loses at the end of the day.
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