Red-Letter Day For British Stars At Wimbledon As Trio Claim First-Ever Grand Slam Wins

It was an incredible day at SW19 for British trio Ryan Peniston, Jack Draper and Alastair Gray
21:18, 28 Jun 2022

The Brit pack are pushing each other on to greater heights – but even by this year’s grass-court season standards that have seen some memorable highs, Tuesday was a red-letter day at Wimbledon for some of the so-called lesser lights as Ryan Peniston, Jack Draper and Alastair Gray all claimed their first ever main-draw wins in any grand slam singles at the Championships.

Nine British players reached the second round at Wimbledon this year - the highest-number since 1997. There were also wins on Tuesday for Heather Watson, Katie Boulter and Liam Broady.

The 26-year-old Peniston, from Southend, admits he is expecting someone to pinch him and wake him up from what has been a dream few weeks – a spell that has earned him around £146,000 and counting, and took him to £78,000 so far at Wimbledon with an emphatic 6-4, 6-3, 6-2 win over Switzerland’s world No95 Henri Laaksonen. This follows a great win over Denmark’s world No5 Casper Ruud at Queen’s on his way to the quarter-finals. 

World No135 Peniston is currently property-hunting to set up a flat-share with pal and fellow wildcard Gray, so the extra money will certainly come in useful. Although as he ruefully conceded – “I might have to win this to be able to buy anything around here”. It might still have to be Putney instead - although that is hardly the rough end of London either.

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Peniston has revealed he had cancer as a young toddler, and that this had stunted his growth to a degree in the intervening years. And even in the warm afterglow of winning his first ever five-set match, he returned to that subject – believing it had made him strive all the harder to get where he has now arrived in style. 

Peniston said: “I am feeling very good, and very happy with the win. For the first match at Wimbledon, main draw match, it couldn't have been any better. To be honest, I was chatting with my coach, Mark Taylor and I was kind of saying I'm waiting for someone to pinch me and I wake up back in May sometime. I’m just loving every second of it. 

“The cancer had a huge impact for me. It was a terrible thing to go through, especially for my family. And it gives me so much strength. It definitely affected my growth, I was a late bloomer. I didn't start growing until 15, 16. 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. But it made me tougher as a player and a person - a blessing in disguise. 

“Me and Ali, yeah, we're great friends. It would be cool if we could find a place around this area to stay. It would be awesome, and we're definitely looking for that. But especially in these times, yeah. I think I might have to win this to be able to do that!” 

While for Draper, being the son of the former CEO of the LTA will certainly have opened some doors and eased a few paths, he is now at 20 making real waves of his own that are solely to do with his ability, desire and dedication. He got a wildcard last year and lost in the first round – so the straight-sets 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 win over Belgian wildcard Zizou Bergs was a sweet moment. 

Draper said: “It is pretty different out there, playing a five-set match, knowing that after you win the second, you still got a long way to go potentially. But this is what I want to do. I want to have a great career, especially in Grand Slams. I know this is just a start, and hopefully I can keep on going from here. I am glad with the way I came through the match. Obviously this is my first sort of Grand Slam on merit with my ranking, and first main-draw win. These are all good new experiences for me.” 

Gray, 24, who attended the same Texas Christian University as Cameron Norrie and is now based in Surbiton, beat Taiwan’s Chun-Tsin Hseng 6-3, 6-3, 7-6. 

The fan of adrenaline sports such as water skiing and ‘jetty-jumping’ needed no such white-knuckle ride to move into the second round as he closed things out in straight sets. Gray, the second-lowest ranked player in the men’s draw at 288, said: “I am feeling pretty great. You know, my first singles match at Wimbledon this year and to come away with a win in straight sets, it feels pretty amazing. It is something I've dreamed of as a kid, so a pretty special time. 

“With Ryan winning too, it was both of our debuts today. Then we're playing doubles together as well. Ryan and I are great friends, training partners. We have the same coach. So to be going through this with him is just amazing.”

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