As spectacular as Peyton Stearns was in the first seven games with a display of bold, powerful and precision shot-making, little 22-year-old Jessica Ho was just as brilliant the rest of the way in Saturday afternoon's final of the Volvo Car Open Wild Card Qualifying Event at Family Circle Tennis Center.
As a reward, Ho earned a lucrative wild card into the March 30-31 VCO qualifying tournament on the same Family Circle Tennis Center clay courts where she scored a 1-6, 6-2, 10-7 victory over Stearns, a 17-year-old fourth seed from Cincinnati.
As the imaginary bell to start the second set went off, Ho transformed into a different player. So did Stearns.
Ho, a 5-4 former Duke player who now trains in Cape Coral, Fla., became more aggressive while maintaining her consistency. She jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the second set as Stearns' big groundstrokes suddenly started flying wildly all over the Althea Gibson Club Court.
After finishing off the second set, Ho won seven of the first 10 points in the match tiebreaker. She dropped three straight points after gaining match point at 9-4 on a Stearns error before closing out the match when Stearns sailed a forehand service return wide.
"I dropped my energy and I couldn't get it back," said Stearns.
Ho was impressed by Stearns' game in the first set.
"She was playing amazing tennis," said Ho, the fifth seed in the 32-player draw, which used the Universal Tennis Rating format. "I had never played her before, but I was impressed with her forehand. It was awesome all of the time. I think it's the best I've ever seen. Her backhand was pretty amazing as well.
"But I just let myself go in the second set," added Ho, who played one year (2016) at Duke before hitting the professional circuit full time and is currently ranked 512th in the world by the WTA Tour.
Ho was "excited, overjoyed" by her victory. "I thought it was a great opportunity to compete here for a wild card into the Volvo Car Open qualifying," she said.
The UTR rating system appeared to work well in the tournament as all four semifinalists carried 12.0 UTR ratings.
Ho went 5-0 in three days in an impressive string of victories, winning twice each on Friday and Saturday. She posted a 6-4, 6-1 win over power-hitting 6-2 sixth seed Alycia Parks of Port St. Lucie, Fla., in Saturday morning's semifinals.
Stearns scored a 6-3, 6-4 victory over 6-2 eighth seed Dalayna Hewitt of Cleveland in the semifinals.
Reach James Beck at email@example.com.