Peyton Stearns, NCAA champ for Texas, beats Jelena Ostapenko, 2017 champ at French Open

  • Peyton Stearns returns the ball during her ATX Open tennis match against Mirjam Bjorklund at the Westwood Country Club in Austin, Texas, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. Stearns is playing in the French Open for the first time and now the 21-year-old American is into the third round after knocking off 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko. Stearns used her big forehand to put together the 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 victory on Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (Mikala Compton/Austin American-Statesman via AP) Mikala Compton

  • Peyton Stearns returns the ball during her ATX Open tennis match against Mirjam Bjorklund at the Westwood Country Club in Austin, Texas, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. Stearns is playing in the French Open for the first time and now the 21-year-old American is into the third round after knocking off 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko. Stearns used her big forehand to put together the 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 victory on Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (Mikala Compton/Austin American-Statesman via AP) Mikala Compton

  • Russia's Daria Kasatkina plays a shot between her legs during the second round match of the French Open tennis tournament against Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Christophe Ena

  • The sun sets over center court during first round matches of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Monday, May 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard) Aurelien Morissard

  • Latvia's Jeļena Ostapenko returns the ball during a semi-final match against Kazakhstan's Elena Rybakina, at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Italy, Friday, May 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) Andrew Medichini

  • Australia's Thanasi Kokkinakis, front, plays a shot against Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka, rear, during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias) Jean-Francois Badias

  • France's Caroline Garcia reacts after missing a shot against Russia's Anna Blinkova during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) Thibault Camus

  • Jessica Pegula of the U.S. serves against Italy's Camilla Giorgi during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Christophe Ena

  • Spectators shield themselves from the sun with hats as they watch Australia's Thanasi Kokkinakis and Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias) Jean-Francois Badias

  • Italy's Fabio Fognini, right, plays a shot against Australia's Jason Kubler, rear, during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias) Jean-Francois Badias

  • Greece's Stefanos Tsitsipas plays a shot against Spain's Roberto Carballes Baena during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Christophe Ena

  • Jessica Pegula of the U.S. plays a shot against Italy's Camilla Giorgi during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Christophe Ena

  • Spain's Carlos Alcaraz plays a shot against Japan's Taro Daniel during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) Thibault Camus

  • Spectators walks up the stadium stairs to watch first round matches of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Tuesday, May 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Christophe Ena

  • Peyton Stearns serves during her ATX Open tennis match against Mirjam Bjorklund at the Westwood Country Club in Austin, Texas, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. Stearns is playing in the French Open for the first time and now the 21-year-old American is into the third round after knocking off 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko. Stearns used her big forehand to put together the 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 victory on Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (Mikala Compton/Austin American-Statesman via AP) Mikala Compton

  • Russia's Daria Kasatkina celebrates winning her second round match of the French Open tennis tournament against Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic in two sets, 6-3, 6-4, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Christophe Ena

  • Spain's Carlos Alcaraz plays with 3 balls in his hand as he prepares to serve during his second round match of the French Open tennis tournament against Japan's Taro Daniel, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) Thibault Camus

  • Britain's Cameron Norrie plays a shot against France's Lucas Pouille during their second round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Wednesday, May 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena) Christophe Ena

Associated Press
Published: 5/31/2023 5:50:06 PM
Modified: 5/31/2023 5:49:40 PM

PARIS — Like many a kid, Peyton Stearns enjoyed participating in sports and tried her hand at plenty.

“Soccer, gymnastics, basketball, tennis, whatever,” the 21-year-old American said Wednesday at the French Open after eliminating 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 to reach the third round at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time.

Then Stearns paused, before adding with a chuckle: “Well, not so much tennis.”

By her own admission, she came to tennis relatively late for someone who would end up at its highest level, starting private lessons at age 8. It wasn’t until about three or four years later, the 2022 NCAA champion for the University of Texas explained, that she decided to focus on holding a racket.

“Gymnastics was very structured. I didn’t like that so much. I liked to do what I want when I wanted,” said Stearns, who had never played in the French Open’s main draw until this week and next faces No. 9 seed Daria Kasatkina, a 2022 semifinalist. “I chose tennis because I loved that you can just hit the living daylights out of the ball.”

So that’s what she does, and did quite effectively against the 17th-seeded Ostapenko, outhitting a big hitter — Stearns compiled more winners, 30-29 — and leaving the field at Roland Garros with just one remaining woman who has won the title there: No. 1 Iga Swiatek, the champion in 2020 and 2022, who plays her second-round match Thursday. Barbora Krejcikova, the 2021 winner, lost in the first round.

“Sometimes I surprise myself with how lethal my ball comes off (the racket) sometimes for my opponents, and how it really puts them in trouble,” Stearns said. “Maybe I didn’t realize that earlier on, but playing against top players, I realize that it is true. It comes off pretty heavy and big and that’s how I play. Definitely helps with confidence.”

Her victory over Ostapenko can be placed alongside a slew of other early upsets in Paris, where the sometimes-odd bounces of the red clay and the changing weather conditions can contribute to unexpected outcomes.

No. 5 seed Caroline Garcia of France was defeated by Anna Blinkova 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, and 18 of 32 seeded women already were gone before the second round was finished. In the men’s bracket, No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev bowed out Tuesday against a qualifier ranked 127nd.

“I feel like at Roland Garros, it’s tricky with the clay,” said No. 3 Jessica Pegula, who advanced Wednesday when her opponent, Camila Giorgi, stopped playing because of knee pain after dropping the first set. “You can see — to me, it feels like — a lot more upsets.”

Do not tell Stearns hers was a stunning result, even though she is ranked 69th in her first full season on tour and carried a 0-1 career Slam record into this week.

“I expected this out of myself. Maybe not this early in my career. ... I’m ahead of what I projected myself doing,” she said, “but by no means cutting myself short.”

She had her own little cheering section at Court 14, a group that included her mother, Denise, Stearns’ coach, her coach’s girlfriend and a friend, which helped.

So did Stearns’ boundless self-belief, which she said allowed her to settle down amid some feelings she described as “crazy, nerve-wracking, overwhelming — all the emotions into one.”

Her tennis idol growing up was Maria Sharapova, who won five Grand Slam titles and reached No. 1 in the WTA rankings.

Sharapova was a powerful ball-striker who found her initial success on faster surfaces such as grass courts, winning Wimbledon at age 17, and hard courts, her next major championships coming at the U.S. Open and Australian Open. But Sharapova eventually did collect two French Open titles later in her career.

That’s not why Stearns came to be a fan, though.

“My mom and I loved watching her because of her outfits,” Stearns said with a snicker. “My mom’s a big shopper.”


Jobs



Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Greenfield Recorder, keeping Franklin County informed since 1792.


Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
 

 

Copyright © 2021 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy