Sunday, August 14, 2016

Pica Power to the People!

I remember, years ago, watching a very young Monica Puig swing a potent backhand on an outside court during Charleston qualifying. She played with a fiery attitude, and drew quite a few spectators.

Over the past few years, I wondered if and when Puig would make the sort of breakthrough that would cause the tennis world to take notice. It happened this year, when all the aspects of her game came together and she made a big climb up the rankings, all the way to number 34 in the world.

As of today, she's still number 34 in the world, but with an accessory rarely seen adorning a tennis kit: Monica Puig has an Olympic gold medal. And she earned it in dramatic fashion, slaying giants all the way on her journey to the Olympic podium.

The 22-year-old Puerto Rican with the very aggressive game ran over French Open champion Garbine Muguruza, and also took out two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. For her final flourish, Puig defeated Australian Open champion and Wimbledon runner-up Angelique Kerber. It was a stunning match, with both women covering every inch of territory available on the court. "Epic" would actually be an appropriate adjective, in this case.

It was also a case of The Mighty Backhand battling against The Mighty Forehand, and The Mighty Backhand emerged the victor, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1. Prior to the gold medal match, neither player had dropped a set. Undoubtedly heartbreaking for Kerber fans, the occasion was nevertheless a high point in the 2016 season of both players. Kerber's movement appeared to be a bit hampered throughout the match, but she managed to stage a dramatic comeback of sorts from 0-5 down in the third set. At 5-1, it looked as though the German star might even be able to reverse her fortunes, but Puig would have none of it.


Puig even looked special, in her bold (and very becoming) red, white and blue kit. All the confidence she has displayed throughout the season just kept growing--right before our eyes--as she whacked down victim after victim in Rio. Prior to entering the Olympic stadium, the world number 34 had never faced off with a top 5 opponent, yet she managed to defeat two of them during the Games. And prior to Puig's Rio victory, no one from Puerto Rico had ever won an Olympic gold medal. In fact, no Puerto Rican woman had ever won an Olympic medal of any color.

Petra Kvitova, who looked especially fierce in Rio, despite losing her semifinal match to Puig, won the bronze medal when she defeated Madison Keys in the bronze medal match. Kvitova had that "gold medal/Fed Cup" look throughout the tournament, but it wasn't to be. Still, a bronze medal is a nice piece of hardware to get, especially for a very gifted player who badly needed a boost in her very strange career. (Fashion note: Kvitova's podium outfit was beautiful.) It was fitting that Puig stood on the medal podium between the two top 3 players (and gold medal favorites) she vanquished during the tournament.

Kerber will be playing in Cincinnati this week. Kvitova has withdrawn because of a right leg injury. (Note: I'm going to be in Cincinnati for the first time and consider Petra's withdrawal from the event to be a direct consequence of my recent run of bad luck.) Puig has also withdrawn, and has cited a lower back injury as the cause.


Arsdorf said...

Glad to see all these new blog posts.

One minor correction. Puig won that amazing third set 6-1, not 6-2, saving six break points en route.

I wonder what Gigi Fernandez is really thinking now.

And just an anecdote: Watching Puig competing at the last Pattaya tournament, a fan insisted that PUR after her name indicated she was Peruvian. When I explained that Puerto Rico, a vestige of American colonialsm, was what the PUR stood for, he continued to quarrel, arguing that Puig isn't a Spanish name. I further explained that Puig is Catalonian, and almost always mispronounced by tennis commentators.

Now the world knows much more about Monica, and hopefully there will be no more arguments about Peru.

Diane said...

Oops--that was a typo. Fixed now--thanks, Arsdorf.

Monica's status has probably further confused people because of the USA/Puerto Rico distinction in sports. I hope it all gets cleared up, too.