The thrilling run by Britain’s new tennis hope came to an end on the sizzling center court at Queen’s on Friday night. But Ryan Peniston’s will for a fight was never more evident than in defeat.
Now, those close to southend southend in Essex, bound for Wimbledon, have spoken of the real battle that forged their iron will to succeed. At just one year old, Peniston was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer that required not just surgery but chemotherapy to treat.
Although he barely remembers it, the illness and its cure had a significant physical impact on his childhood, stunting his growth until adolescence. At 26, he’s relatively old enough to break out on the professional singles world tour.
But speaking to Telegraph Sport, his manager John Wright explained that for Peniston the normal rules don’t apply. “He has unbelievable strength, a never say die attitude that is just amazing to watch. Ryan faced two or three match points in tournaments over the past month, but he stood his ground and fought for them. He’s a really nice kid.”
If the crowd noise at Queen’s London club this week is anything to go by, the public agrees. After defeating world number five and recent French Open runner-up Casper Ruud on Tuesday, Peniston bounced back from a lost second set against mighty Argentine Francisco Cerundolo two days later.
Addressing the crowd after the match, he described his dizzying ascent as a “roller coaster”, “a dream”. He added: “I don’t want to wake up from this anytime soon.”
Friday’s third-round matchup against Filip Krajinovic proved to be a pretty big mountain, despite Peniston winning the first set. But even in the losing two sets that followed, he showed his desire to win, winning an epic rally with a diving volley into the net to keep his hopes, however briefly, alive.
Peniston, who outperformed his high-ranking compatriots at Queen’s by several days, is now ranked 145th in the world. He has a week to prepare for Wimbledon, where he has a wild entry.
Speaking ahead of this week’s tournament, he spoke of his childhood fascination with championships. “As a kid, I watched maybe four or five years straight,” he said. “I think since then I had this dream of playing there.”
He describes the trauma of his cancer in his early years as “a pretty rocky start to my life… for my parents it must have been very difficult, but it brought my family together.” Peniston’s awareness of how close he came to disaster before he could even walk lives with him: the first line of his Twitter bio states that “every day is a bonus”
“As I got older, I wanted to learn more about it because, as a kid, we didn’t talk about it much in the family. I think because it was such a difficult time for my parents, my siblings and relatives.”
His father got him into tennis, coaching Peniston before he eventually moved to the south of France to train at the ISP Academy and then to the University of Memphis tennis program. He hopes his impressive success as a rookie on the men’s singles tour will be a help to other stressed families.
“I just want to inspire other families and other kids who might be going through something similar,” he said. “Give them a little hope that things can work out.”
He will have many opportunities in the coming weeks. As John Wright explained: “He’s in the main draw for Eastbourne, which is fantastic, and then it’s Wimbledon. So he’ll probably get some rest before trying to qualify for the US Open. It’s unbelievable, considering where he came from.”