How Britain's new tennis hope fought back from childhood cancer to achieve Wimbledon dream

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How Britain's new tennis hope fought back from childhood cancer to achieve Wimbledon dream - GETTY IMAGES
How Britain's new tennis hope fought back from childhood cancer to achieve Wimbledon dream - GETTY IMAGES

The thrilling run of Britain’s new tennis hope came to an end on the scorching centre court of Queen’s on Friday night. But Ryan Peniston’s will for a fight was never more evident than in defeat.

Now, those close to the Wimbledon-bound left-hander from Southend in Essex have spoken of the real battle that forged his iron will to succeed. Aged just one, Peniston was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer, which required not only surgery but chemotherapy to treat.

Although he barely remembers it, the disease and its cure took a significant physical toll on his early life, slowing his growth until his mid-teens. At 26, he is relatively old to burst onto the professional world singles tour.

But, speaking to Telegraph Sport, his manager John Wright explained that for Peniston the normal rules don’t apply. “He’s got unbelievable strength, a never-say-die attitude that’s just amazing to watch. Ryan’s been up against two or three match points at tournaments in the last month, but he’s stayed grounded and fought through them. He’s a very cool kid.”

If the noise from the crowd at London’s Queen’s club this week is anything to go by, the public agree. After routing the world No 5 and recent French Open runner-up Casper Ruud on Tuesday, Peniston fought back from a lost second set against the powerful Argentinian Francisco Cerundolo two days later.

Addressing the crowd after the match, he described his dizzying ascent as a “rollercoaster”, “a dream”. He added: “I don’t want to wake up from this any time soon.”

Friday’s third-round clash against Filip Krajinovic proved too big a mountain, despite Peniston taking the first set. But even in the losing two sets that followed, he showed his desire to succeed, winning an epic rally with a diving volley at the net to keep his hopes, albeit briefly, alive.

How Britain's new tennis hope fought back from childhood cancer to achieve Wimbledon dream - PA
How Britain's new tennis hope fought back from childhood cancer to achieve Wimbledon dream - PA

Peniston, who outlasted his higher-ranked compatriots at Queen’s by several days, is now ranked 145 in the world. He has a week to prepare for Wimbledon, where he has a wildcard entry.

Speaking before this week’s tournament, he spoke of his childhood fascination with the Championships. “As a kid I went to watch maybe four or five years in a row,” he said. “I think since then I’ve just had this dream to play there.”

He describes the trauma of his early-years cancer as “a pretty hectic start to my life... for my parents it must have been really tough, 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 biography on Twitter states that “every day is a bonus”.

“As I've gotten older, I wanted to learn more about it because, when I was a kid, we didn't talk about it that much as a family. I think because it was such a tough time for my parents and my brothers 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 programme. He hopes his stunning success as a debutant on the men’s singles tour will be a help to other families under stress.

“I just want to inspire other families and other kids that might be going through something similar,” he said. “Give them a bit of hope that things can work out.”

He’ll have plenty of opportunities in the coming weeks. As Wright explained: “He’s in the main draw for Eastbourne, which is fantastic, and after that it’s Wimbledon. Then he’ll probably have a bit of a rest before trying to qualify for the US Open. It’s unbelievable, considering where he’s come from.”