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Getting to Know Peyton Stearns

By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Bouncing on her toes between points, Peyton Stearns was in constant motion on Court No. 14.

Even when the ball wasn't in play, the woman who majored in Applied Movement Science at Texas looked like a player going places. 

More: Alcaraz, Djokovic in Same Half of Roland Garros Draw

Transforming a loud Court No. 14 into Peyton's Place, the 21-year-old Stearns outhit and outfought No. 17-seeded Jelena Ostapenko in a 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 Roland Garros triumph to reach the third round of a Grand Slam for the first time.

It was Stearns' first career Top 20 win and her biggest career win. Stearns, who improved to 8-2 in Tour-level clay-court matches this season, will face Daria Kasatkina for a spot in the round of 16.

No. 9-seeded Kasatkina fleeced former French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova 6-3, 6-4, and knows Stearns is riding an emotional high in her French Open debut.

"For sure it's very good win, and, yeah, I know she's making very good here. She has a good run, so it's going to be a tough match," Kasatkina said. "Plus, she's very pumped playing in a slam. I remember myself in the situation, so it's very dangerous. It's going to be a good match." 

The former NCAA champion from Texas toppled the 2017 Roland Garros champion Ostapenko a day after 2021 singles and doubles champion Barbora Krejcikova fell at the first hurdle. That leaves world No. 1 and reigning Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek as the lone former French Open champion in the field.

Unfazed by Ostapenko's jolting power and in your face competitiveness, Stearns showed her fighting spirit repeatedly firing herself up with fist pumps matching the Latvian's intensity and exceeding her energy.

"I really couldn't think about who I was playing and where I was playing," Stearns told Tennis Channel's Jon Wertheim afterward. "The nerves kind of crept in a little bit in the second set and I was able to rebound, luckily, for the third and got my mind right.

"Super, super happy with myself and my team right now."

Here are 10 facts to help you get to know world No. 69 Peyton Stearns a little bit better.

1. Stearns has been streaking on clay recently: She reached successive clay finals last month at the WTA 250 in Bogota followed by the ITF/USTA 100K tournament in Charleston. Overall, Stearns has played five finals this season, including four at the ITF Challenger level.

2. Reaching her maiden WTA final in Bogota propelled Stearns inside the Top 100 for the first time last month, ensuring her Roland Garros main-draw debut.

3. Ohio native Stearns has defeated two former Roland Garros champions in her first two French Open career matches. She topped two-time Roland Garros doubles champion Katerina Siniakova 7-6(7), 6-2 in the opening round. 

4. Rankings Rise: At this time last year, Stearns was ranked No. 384, she ended 2022 ranked No. 209 and is currently ranked a career-high No. 56 in the live rankings.  

5. Champions Challenger: Facing the best often brings out the best in Stearns. Earlier this season, she pushed 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu to three sets in Indian Wells. In Rabat last week, Stearns dropped a thriller to 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens 7-6(4), 3-6, 6-7(6).

6. History Maker: A three-time all-American at the University of Texas, Stearns made history as the first player in Texas history to win the NCAA singles title, which she captured in the spring of 2022. Stearns became the first woman since Nicole Gibbs in 2013 to win the NCAA singles and team titles in the same year.  In her Roland Garros win today, Stearns wore a white visor with an orange Nike swoosh in tribute to her Longhorn legacy

7. College Role Model: Stearns cites the success of two-time NCAA singles champion Danielle Collins, who reached the 2022 Australian Open final and a career-high rank of No. 7 as a positive influence in encouraging her to pursue a pro career.

8. On the ITF Tour, Stearns has collected five singles and two doubles titles.

9. Packing a Punch: Though the slender Stearns stands 5'8", she's not a counterpuncher. An aggressive baseliner, Stearns can sting the ball and showed it against Ostapenko, one of the hardest hitters on Tour. Stearns hit one more winner than the 2017 champion, her average first-serve speed (95 mph) and average second-serve speeds (85 mph) were both faster than Ostapenko's averages and she often stepped into the court and hammered her forehand to punctuate points.

10. Stearns has made rapid progress up the rankings cracking the WTA Top 100 one year after she won the NCAA championship. Stearns' WTA Top 100 debut was the fastest by a former NCAA champion since Lisa Raymond in 1992.

Photo credit: Hameltion/Wikimedia Commons