The dream of every British tennis player is to win a match at Wimbledon when they grow up – Ryan Peniston just had to wait a little longer than most.
As a child Peniston needed surgery and chemotherapy to treat rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft tissue cancer. The treatment stunted his growth meaning that until his late teens, his rivals towered over him.
That inevitably had an impact on his tennis development, with Peniston only making his main tour debut at Queen’s earlier this month at the age of 26.
It is an astonishing story, and the fairytale continued on Wimbledon’s Court 12 as the wildcard was almost faultless to ease past Switzerland’s Henri Laaksonen 6-4 6-3 6-2 in just under two hours.
And having fulfilled that lifelong ambition, Peniston struggled to find the words to explain just how special this development has been.
“It’s really hard to explain how it feels,” said Peniston, who benefits from the LTA’s NTC Access programme, providing cost-free access to courts on all three surfaces, coaching, trainers and the LTA’s tournament bonus scheme.
“It’s been such a journey, a long journey, and difficult – but super rewarding.
“I think it’s been unexplainable, kind of the feelings that I have, thinking about the past times and where I’ve been able to get to now.
“It’s such a terrible thing to go through, especially for my family, my close friends. [It had a] huge impact. It gives me so much strength.
“I’ve had some really, really nice messages from some foundations and people as well, from families that have gone through similar stuff. It’s really special to receive those kinds of messages. It puts everything into perspective really.
“I was a really late bloomer. I didn’t start growing until 15. I was always about a foot smaller than all my peers. They all were growing and getting bigger serves and everything. I was struggling just trying to run around and get the balls.
“It definitely made me tougher as a player and a person.”
Having worked his way to the All England Club, Peniston – who faces American Steve Johnson in the second round – recognises there is both greater attention and recognition in and out of the locker room.
And with a Court 12 appearance now under his belt – as well as playing on Centre Court at Queen’s and Eastbourne – he hopes to continue playing on the bigger stages and mingling with the biggest names.
He said: “It was an amazing experience – such a nice court to play on. I couldn’t complain about any court at Wimbledon to play on, to be honest. You could put me on the practice courts, I’d still love it.
“I was preparing to play on Court 3 yesterday, which is a big court. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to play on a big court as well in the next round.
“It’s a little bit different, to get to know a few more of the players. They’re all nice. I definitely have had more of those moments. Like Rafa (Nadal), all the other top guys, the legends. They’re just going around doing their business, doing their thing.
“It’s pretty humbling to be in the same kind of facility, same environment as them.
“When I was younger, like a teenager, I always had people say: ‘You play tennis. I’ll see you at Wimbledon one day.’
“I’d always say: ‘Yeah, yeah, hopefully, hopefully.’ Now to just say it’s happened is unbelievable.”
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