Southend is known for having the world’s longest pleasure pier (1.34 miles), one of the first theme parks (the now defunct Kursaal) and having England’s World Cup-winning captain, the late Bobby Moore, as manager of the city’s football club. And now it can claim to be the birthplace of Ryan Peniston.
I’m pretty sure my first matches on grass were at a tournament in Frinton. Must have been an under-tens tournament. I was probably eight-years-old and it was a lot of fun Ryan Peniston
Peniston has turbo-charged his way into the public consciousness in recent weeks during the build up to his Wimbledon debut.
Ryan Who? became Ryan Who Else? as he stunned tournament favourite Casper Ruud in straight sets at Queen’s Club on his ATP main draw singles debut, with the wild card following it up by overcoming world top 50 ace Francisco Cerundolo to reach the quarter finals.
And Peniston, again a wild card, underlined his stunning form by beating eighth-seed Holger Rune in the Rothesay International at Devonshire Park, Eastbourne.
We then dug for information. Peniston, 26, who graduated from the University of Memphis tennis programme, was part of the GB University team which won the global Master’U Championships.
We also learned how he survived a soft-tissue cancer as a child, rhabdomyosarcom, having a tumour removed and undergoing chemotherapy.
And became a martial arts black belt.
He said: “I’m a black belt in a martial art called Tang Soo Do which my family also practice. And I did that, I started at the age of 4 or 5 and it’s up until the age of 13 I started to do less, I did less lessons. It helped me massively with flexibility, discipline, mindset. And just respect. I think that was a big one that you learn in those lessons. It was a lot of fun doing the sparring. I did it in two places, just down the road in Great Wakering in the centre, on the Sundays, we had lessons. And then I would do it twice a week, Thursdays and Saturdays, at the tennis hall.”
But it is the health scare story that has captured the imagination beyond the tennis itself.
He said: “There are tons of details, really. When I was a kid, or even a teenager, I didn’t really ask my parents about it. But when I got older, probably 18 plus, I wanted to know more of what happened and kind of who was responsible for helping me. My parents told me all about the doctors and nurses at Barts Hospital and everything they went through as well, which was emotional, hard to hear. I’m definitely glad I asked them about it.
“I have been back to Barts, for sure. I used to have check-ups there, although I now have them close to home. But I went back there again. I was able to give a little bit to charity to donate to them after one of my doubles tournaments which was really nice. It was a nice feeling to do that.
“I’d love to (invite the doctors and nurses who helped him to Wimbledon). Anything like that would be amazing.”
Peniston revealed why he waited until he was 18 to ask his family about the cancer issue.
He said: “I didn’t think about it a lot when I was a kid. I am always playing a lot of tennis and doing other stuff and it never occurred to me how serious it was. People might have said it or asked me about it and I just played off, I didn’t really know. But, no, I definitely wanted to know more just so I could almost share and relate to other people better.”
Peniston explained how his condition affected his growth.
He said: “I was really small. Probably a foot smaller than all my peers up until the age of 15, 16. I started growing and I grew quite a lot during the next two or three years. But I definitely had to rely on other skills to win tennis matches, because I was a lot smaller at that stage. Whether it was running about and anticipating, reading the game a little better instead of having a massive serve. So, I think that’s definitely helped me in my game now.”
Peniston told of his family background.
He said: “My dad’s retired, he was a train driver. And my mum is now part-time, she’s recently gone part-time, she’s a nurse at Southend Hospital. Her ward is elderly and gastric. She was a ward manager.
”It was super difficult for all my family (during the Covid pandemic with the NHS on the frontline) because my eldest brother is also a nurse, a paediatric nurse at Southend Hospital and my second eldest brother is a doctor at Southend Hospital.
“It was a really stressful time for them. I could just see that they were exhausted and it was really stressful for all of them. So me and my dad were just trying to do our best to make it as easy and relaxing as we could.”
The Essex ace was asked: “When we were clapping the carers on that Thursday night we were clapping for people like your family, weren’t we?”
Peniston said: “Exactly, yeah. We were out there banging the frying pans and everything, clapping. It was surreal but, no, it was nice that everyone was doing that.”
He revealed his ability on grass went back to when he was eight.
Peniston said: “I’m pretty sure my first matches on grass were at a tournament in Frinton. Must have been an under-tens tournament. I was probably eight-years-old and it was a lot of fun.”
He also developed his game on the natural surface representing Essex at Eastbourne.
Peniston said: “I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have played (Devonshire Park). I used to come for a week in the summer, probably six or seven years in a row to be honest, from 17 to 24. Just for summer county weekends. I know the place well and had experience playing on the courts.”
It has, eventually, of course, led to breakthrough victories to set him up for Wimbledon. He said: “A couple of wins at Queen’s was good. And Holger is a man in form as he did well at the French Open.” And, yes, a couple of more wins at Eastbourne and he is looking forward to The Championships.