Tennis

Just two years after winning Olympic gold, Puig is in midst of her best-ever Miami Open

Monica Puig, of Puerto Rico, returns a shot from Caroline Wozniacki, of Denmark, at the Miami Open tennis tournament Fri., March 23, 2018, in Key Biscayne, Fla.
Monica Puig, of Puerto Rico, returns a shot from Caroline Wozniacki, of Denmark, at the Miami Open tennis tournament Fri., March 23, 2018, in Key Biscayne, Fla. AP

Monica Puig’s spent her entire life living in South Florida, but her allegiance remains firmly planted in Puerto Rico, where she was born 24 years ago.

As a proud and dedicated native daughter, Puig’s crowning achievement on behalf of Puerto Rico was delivering the Caribbean Island its first ever Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games.

The hoopla of winning gold was historic and exciting, especially with it including victories over fourth-ranked Garbine Muguruza and second-ranked Angelique Kerber. But capitalizing on the accomplishment wasn’t guaranteed as Puig came to learn.

“This type of thing hadn’t happen to me before, and it was the biggest moment of my life,” Puig said. “I was only 22 years old when it happened, and that’s still pretty young to win something so huge.

“So I didn’t really know how to handle the opportunity that came my way and the moment itself,” she added. “It took me awhile to settle in, and it’s a lot about maturity. I’m just really happy where I am and what that moment gave me, and I’m just ready to move forward and to continue to grow as a tennis player and a person.”

Puig’s growth is certainly on display at this Miami Open, where with the help of a partisan crowd she polished off Maria Sakkari of Greece 6-3, 7-5 in the third-round.

This is a first for Puig in terms of securing a fourth-round berth at the Miami Open. In five previous appearances at Crandon Park she never journeyed past the second round.

The conclusion of the Sakkari match offered some frustration for Puig, who served for the match three times before she finished in dramatic fashion with an ace.

“She was applying the pressure at the end as well, so I was a little bit nervy trying to serve it out,” Puig said. “I’m glad I was able to regroup at 5-5 and find my way there.”

On Friday, Puig upset reigning Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki 0-6, 6-4, 6-4 in the second round. The second-seeded Wozniacki later complained on social media that her family members were threatened by fans while watching the late-night encounter.

Puig acknowledged seeing the comments but said she hasn’t discussed the situation with Wozniacki.

“Honestly, I didn’t hear anything,” Puig said. “The crowd was very emotional and very excited.”

Puig will square off against 93rd-ranked American qualifier Danielle Collins, a native of St. Petersburg, in the next match with a quarterfinal slot the dangling prize.

Collins, a two-time NCAA champion out of the University of Virginia, where she graduated with a degree in media studies, outlasted Donna Vekic of Croatia 4-6, 6-2, 6-1.

Collins also did well at Indian Wells earlier this month with an upset of 15th-seeded fellow American Madison Keys en route to the fourth round.

“Nobody skyrockets to the top very fast, and the only difference is that most of the girls I’m competing against turned pro at 16,” Collins said. “I went a different route and went to college.

“To me, college was priceless,” she added. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and my parents didn’t go to college, so to graduate from such a prestigious school was important for me and my family.”

For Collins, a win over Puig, who she has known from junior events since she was 9 years old, would be monumental, But if Puig had a message ahead of the encounter it’s that she believes her Olympic vibe is returning.

“I’m just trying to find that form again that I had in 2016,” Puig said. “I feel a lot better and more confident in my game. This year is just about finding my opportunities and just moving forward.”

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