Ryan Peniston leads charge of 11 British players in Wimbledon odyssey

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

For those spectators at Wimbledon on Tuesday who can remember life before Andy Murray, trying to follow the 12 Britons due on court must have felt more like the kind of orienteering exercise you can find at nearby Wimbledon Common than a day out at the All England Club.

The last time there were 17 Britons in the main draws of the singles was in 2001, back when Tony Blair was just beginning his second term as prime minister, when Tim Henman was making the semi-finals of the men’s event.

The last time 12 Britons played in singles on the same day? Well, no one at Wimbledon could find out, that’s how rare it is.

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In the end, it was 11, with Harriet Dart’s match held over until Wednesday but these are heady days for British tennis. The nine Britons through to round two is the best result since 1997. Should Dart beat Rebeka Masarova of Spain to make it 10, it will be the best effort by British players since 1984.

Ryan Peniston probably thinks this is how it has always been. The 26-year-old won his first ATP Tour matches at Queen’s Club this month and on Tuesday he played and won his first grand slam main‑draw match, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 against the Swiss world No 95, Henri Laaksonen.

A group of fans from Peniston’s hometown of Southend made their voices heard throughout and when the match finished they launched into song. “I definitely heard them,” Peniston said. “I kind of had to focus because otherwise I’d start getting pumped up with them. Yeah, definitely after the match it was really nice to hear them shouting ‘Seasiders’.”

Paul Jubb waves to the crowd after his defeat to Nick Kyrgios
Paul Jubb waves to the crowd after his defeat to Nick Kyrgios Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Peniston’s belated arrival on the world scene has coincided with a surge of British success, with the pre‑Wimbledon events full of encouraging performances. Though 10 of the 17 British players in the main draw at Wimbledon required wildcards, all 17 avoided seeds, leading to much excitement in British ranks. If Wimbledon did not ban flags bigger than two foot by two foot, the place would have looked like a jubilee.

When Murray was forging his way on the tour, he often found himself as the lone Briton before the first round was completed. Peniston, who survived cancer as a baby, has come through late at the age of 26, but he is blessed to be playing at a time when there are British players at every turn to lean on, to support and if needed, to be consoled by.

“I think British tennis right now is an amazing environment,” Peniston said. “We’re all pushing each other every day, whether it’s in training or at tournaments. Then, when we get to come home to England and play all in the same tournaments, it’s even better. We see each other after wins, say congratulations. Even after losses say tough luck. It’s a really nice atmosphere at the moment.”

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Over on No 3 Court, meanwhile, getting in was an effort in itself, the crowds swarming around like a rugby crowd as the match began, while the media seating area was full almost throughout the entire five sets. Much of that was to see Nick Kyrgios, who kept up a monologue for the whole match but Paul Jubb was also enjoying huge support from the crowd, the 22-year-old’s athleticism and shot-making keeping Kyrgios on his toes throughout.

While Kyrgios focused his attention on the crowd, the linesmen and women and any fan who dared speak in his direction, Jubb stayed calm and though he eventually came off second best, the experience should stand him in good stead next time he plays someone of Kyrgios’s ability.

“Obviously the atmosphere was great today,” he said. “First time playing in front of a big crowd like that, maybe one as rowdy. But, no, I loved it. I’m very, very thankful and grateful for all the people who got behind me today. I also heard a lot of people cheering on Nick, a lot of people getting behind him, as well. A little combination.”

Jack Draper
Jack Draper won in straight sets against Zizou Bergs. Photograph: Adam Davy/PA

But Jubb looks like he belongs at this level and intends to be back. “I’m definitely going to try and use it to keep moving forward. I want to be winning. I don’t want to just settle for a five-set match against Nick, well played, whatever. I want to be winning no matter who I play. So until I’m there, until I feel like I’m happy with where my game’s at, reaching the goals I want to get to, then I’m going to keep pushing and driving. That’s the way I’ve always been.”

While Jay Clarke, Katie Swan, affected by a leg injury, and the newcomer Sonay Kartal were slipping to defeat, Jack Draper continued his fine form with a straight-sets win against Zizou Bergs. He was joined late in the day by Liam Broady, Alastair Gray, who picked up his first grand slam win, and Katie Boulter and even defeat for Dan Evans could not take the gloss off an excellent day.

Heather Watson completed a 6-7, 7-5, 6-2 win against Tamara Korpatsch of Germany, in a match held over from Monday night. “These are the moments you dream of as a little girl,” said Watson, in her 12th Wimbledon. “I don’t know why I’m getting emotional. I think I’ve had a couple of really rough years, like so many people have. This means a lot.”

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