Clervie Ngounoue finally dropped a set at the H-E-B Women’s Pro Tennis Open, but she did not lose her composure.
The 16-year-old D.C. native is within reach of her first ITF singles title after upsetting second-seeded Yuki Naito, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2, Saturday at the Texas Tennis Center. In Sunday’s championship match, Ngounoue, pictured above, will face the more experienced Peyton Stearns, the sixth seed who dominated Nicole Khirin, 6-1, 6-2, in a matchup of former and current Longhorns.
Ngounoue, the 2022 Australian Open junior doubles champion alongside Diana Shnaider, had little trouble all week despite returning to tour after a foot injury. But Naito played a clean first set, causing Ngounoue to overhit. Ngounoue took a 4-2 lead in the second set and later broke Naito at 4-4 to serve out the set. She dominated the third, playing a more aggressive game.
In the other semifinal, Stearns, who won the NCAA singles title in May, used a blistering inside-out forehand to keep Khirin on her heels. Khirin had to save set points to win her only game in the opening set. The 21-year-old Israeli, who received on-court treatment for what looked like an abdominal injury, staged a mini-comeback early in the second set by breaking back for 2-all. But Stearns, who later said she was proud of keeping her composure, broke for a 3-2 lead and coasted the rest of the way.
“I think today I kept my head screwed on right, better than the last two days,” said Stearns, who was visibly frustrated after dropping a set to Ashley Lahey in the second round. “But I was hitting my forehand, something I didn’t do the past two days as much. And I just believed in my shots.”
Stearns, who turns 21 in a week, has a career-high WTA ranking of No. 366 coming into the tournament. The H-E-B Women’s Pro Tennis Open marks the second final of the year for each player. Stearns lost to Katrina Scott, 7-5, 6-3, in a W25 event in Columbus, Ohio in July. Ngounoue previously reached the W15 final in Marrakech in March, losing to Eleonora Alvisi of Italy, 6-3, 6-1.
In addition to her college titles, Stearns won a W25 title in Sumter, South Carolina in 2021.
This is, of course, the first meeting between the two players. In their careers, Stearns has an overall ITF match record of 78-57, while Ngounoue is 19-10.
“I know Peyton, so I know she’s a really good player just like today,” Ngounoue said after the 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.”
Australian Elysia Bolton repeated as doubles champion, this time teaming with Jamie Loeb to defeat Martyna Kubka and Ashley Lahey, 6-3, 6-3. Bolton and Loeb, the 27-year-old American, are good friends off the court, which appeared to translate into chemistry on the court. Bolton won the title with Maegan Manasse last year.
By: Corey Smith
Photo by Joseph Sweeney