Former Longhorn tennis star Peyton Stearns wins pro tournament in her UT homecoming

Lindsey Plotkin, Sports Reporter

In her first return to Austin since turning professional in the spring, former Longhorn and NCAA singles national champion Peyton Stearns won the H-E-B Women’s Pro Tennis Open hosted at the Texas Tennis Center.

Stearns became the first female Texas tennis player to win the singles national title in 2022, and she helped lead the Longhorns to their second consecutive team national championship in May. Stearns turned professional after the season ended and competed in the U.S. Open this year, falling to Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova in the first round. 

On Sept. 26, Stearns returned to Austin to reunite with the 2022 National Championship-winning team for the traditional lighting of the UT Tower. On Sept. 28, she started play in the H-E-B Women’s Pro Tennis Open where she faced a mixed level of competitors. 

“I came back in for the tower lighting, and I think it was really cool the whole team was there for that,” Stearns said. “It was awesome that we all came back and showed support.” 

Stearns dominated the competition in her return to the Forty Acres, only dropping one set the entire tournament. In the first round, Stearns defeated Taiwanese player Chieh-Yu Hsu 6-1, 6-3. In the second round, she faced Martyna Kubka from Poland, whom she defeated 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. 

“(Kubka) started playing a lot better in the second set, but I also think I started playing a little safe and I thought, ‘Up 3-1 — just put balls in the court,’” Stearns told Drop Shot Series.“(In) the third set I told myself, ‘I’m not going to win by just putting balls on the court. I gotta start being a little more aggressive.’ That’s what I did.” 

In the quarterfinals, Stearns returned to her dominant play, defeating Pepperdine graduate Ashley Lahey, 6-0, 6-1 in a near perfect match. 

“Today I just had my head screwed on right,” Stearns said. “I was also hitting my forehand, which is something I didn’t do these last few days.”

In the semifinals, Stearns faced Nicole Khirin, a current freshman on the Texas women’s tennis team. Khirin fell to Stearns 6-1, 6-2, setting the former Longhorn star up with a chance for the title

In the final, Stearns took on 16-year-old Clervie Ngounoue from Washington, D.C. Ngounoue hadn’t lost a set going into the finals.

“I know Peyton, so I know she’s a really good player just like today,” Ngounoue told Drop Shot Series after her quarterfinals match. “I’m just going to try and fight it out in every single point and see where that takes me. At the end of the day, we’re playing the same game. She’s been playing it longer, but I’m going to take my chances.” 

Ngounoue’s knowledge of Stearns’ game was not enough for her to come out on top, with Stearns winning the match 6-1, 6-0, capitalizing on her strong forehand. 

For Stearns, the home court advantage seemed to help her confidence. With the win, she will take home a $25,000 cash prize and her WTA ranking will improve. 

“It was awesome being in Austin this week,” Stearns said. “Home court advantage really helped me playing, just knowing the courts, knowing the crowd.”