MASON, Ohio − When she first arrived in London to make her Wimbledon debut earlier this summer, Peyton Stearns realized her commute to the All-England Club was nearly a half-hour.
The experience gained from years as a professional tennis player come off the court, too.
“I didn’t realize players rent houses for Wimbledon,” Stearns told The Enquirer. “I’m just picking up on little things − travel hacks, hotel hacks, where the tournaments are. Just little things that experienced players know from traveling so much.”
Stearns, a Mason native, has only been a professional for over a year, making the jump in June 2022, but she’s climbing the WTA 1000 charts like a seasoned vet. Stearns, a national champion at Texas, is currently ranked No. 57. At the start of the year, she was No. 210. The surge was fueled by five singles titles on the International Tennis (ITF) circuit, a quarterfinals run in the ATX Open and a runner-up finish at Copa Colsanitas.
Stearns made her Wimbledon debut in July, falling to eventual champion Marketa Vondrousova in the first round. She followed that up with a run to the Round of 16 at the Citi Open (falling to No. 3 Jessica Pegula) and won two matches at the Canadian Open earlier this month.
“I didn’t expect to be where I am right now, honestly,” Stearns said. “In less than a year, I’m in the top 60. Definitely wouldn’t have believed you, but it’s really nice. It flew by pretty quickly now that I look back on it. It’s been a great year.”
Stearns said while she’s improved physically by refining her power, she’s enhanced her mental toughness to adapt to the tour’s vigorous turnaround.
“I think that’s a big thing that even in the bad, there’s some good. You can always fix it. There’s nothing you can’t do, technically,” Stearns said. “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. I’m not too worried about what’s going on now as long as my game is improving.”
This weekend, Stearns will try to add to her first-year rise at the Western & Southern Open, an event she attended ever since she “first picked up a racquet.” She first realized the event was coming up back in May, during the French Open.
In her Western & Southern Open debut last year, Stearns won her opening qualifying match before Taylor Townsend kept her out of the main draw.
“I’ve seen some great players come through who are currently still playing and no longer playing,” Stearns. “It’s an unreal experience being able to play here in front of family and friends − there’s no other feeling like it. It’s my favorite tournament.”
J.J. Wolf climbing the leaderboard, too
Cincinnati Country Day graduate and former Ohio State Buckeyes standout J.J. Wolf got into Cincinnati too late this week to pick up his usual order from Skyline Chili −Two coneys, one with habanero cheese, a four-way with onions and a chilito with spaghetti − but he’s gonna make sure to “hit all of the hometown spots.”
Wolf is ranked No. 43 after climbing into the top 100 last year. He made his debuts at Australian Open (reaching the fourth round), French Open and Wimbledon this year. He also made the third round at the 1000 Masters clay court event in Rome.
He’s hoping to add success at the Western & Southern Open to that list. In 2020, Wolf reached the main draw of the Western & Southern Open when the event was held in New York City. Wolf fell in the 2021 qualifying rounds and bowed to Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori in the Round of 64 in Cincinnati last summer.
“I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish, but I definitely want to accomplish more,” Wolf said. “With this being my favorite tournament, I want to see how far I can go this year and make everybody proud.”
Wolf said he enjoys keeping an eye out on matches of the other Cincinnati natives. There was a trio of locals set to play this week at the Lindner Family Tennis Center, but Madeira native Caty McNally had to withdraw due to an elbow injury.
“The culture that Cincinnati has built around tennis is second-to-none,” Wolf said. “I don’t know of any other city that has three players in a tournament of this caliber. We’re really proud to be here and thankful to have grown up here.”
Wolf and Stearns were each awarded main draw wild cards to the tournament and will play Tuesday at a time to be determined. Wolf will play Australian Alex De Minaur and Stearns matches up against No. 14 Daria Kasatkina of Russia.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati natives JJ Wolf, Peyton Stearns are back at the W&S Open