Mason's Peyton Stearns falls in her Western & Southern Open debut
The seats around Court 10 filled up quickly as the third match of the day on that court began, and it remained congested Saturday until the match was over.
The crowd, similar in size to what was on Center Court at the same time, was there to watch Mason native Peyton Stears, who grew up five miles from the Lindner Family Tennis Center, make her Western & Southern Open debut in a women's singles qualifying match against Su-Wei Hsieh.
Stearns, 19, who months ago wrapped up an impressive freshman season at the University of Texas, battled all afternoon, but eventually fell in straight sets 7-6, 6-4, and received a standing ovation from a large portion of the crowd.
"It was awesome," Stearns said. "Definitely a lot of emotions out there, as you can tell at the beginning and honestly, at the end ... like some nerves kicked in. But I mean, just being out there is so much fun."
Stearns fought back from an early 2-0 deficit in the first set and clawed her way into a tiebreaker. She had opportunities and captivated the crowd with forehand winners, massive serves, and slice backhands while sliding across the court.
Stearns said the difference in the match was "She didn't give me a lot of errors. And at the end of the day, I had more errors than she did. But I also have a bigger game than she does. You know, her game is a lot of defense, mine's on offense. I got to make her play a little bit more, especially on those returns. That first game in the second set. That was the big one when I was up 40-15. I can't miss two returns like that. I got to make her play, make her earn it. Because if I would have broken her that first game and held the second set, goes into a third set and who knows what's going to happen there."
There were several moments, early in the first set and throughout the second set, when it looked like Hsieh might pull away, but Stearns battled and kept the match close and the crowd invested.
"I try to avoid it," Stearns said when asked about having that many people in attendance who she knows. "In the end, actually, it was nice seeing some familiar faces. I look in the crowd and see someone I know. And they'd kind of give me ... like the nod of approval or like, 'Let's go, come on.' It's nice hearing that from people that are there to support you."
It was a match almost a decade in the making for Stearns, who grew up attending the W&S Open and dreaming that one day she'd play in it.
When Stearns was little, she got to do the coin toss on Center Court and one of the players in that match was Christina McHale, who happened to be playing Saturday again on Center Court about 100 feet away from Court 10 where Stearns was playing.
"Yeah, that's kind of cool," said Stearns. "My coach actually knows Christina pretty well. And when I got the wild card and everything, he sent her that picture. And she's just like, 'I feel old.'"