Puerto Rican tennis player Mónica Puig has defied all expectations to win her semi-final match against Czech player Petra Kvitovà to move to the Rio Games ‘women’s singles final match. Mónica, ranked 34 in the world, beat 14th-ranked Kvitovà in three sets (6-4, 1-6, 6-4) to move on to the final. She is guaranteed at least a silver medal, the first medal in tennis for Puerto Rico. The quest for a Puerto Rican gold medal–which would be the country’s first ever, has propelled Puig towards victory.
On Tuesday, after her semi-final victory, Puig said that “When I’m playing in the WTA, it’s more like I’m playing for myself — my job, let’s say,” Puig told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “Here, it’s not really my job. It’s for my country, and I think nothing in the world can compare to that. It’s the most special feeling when you put on your colors of your country and you’re walking around the Olympic Village and everybody looks to see your country on the back of your shirt.”Jorge Castillo, reporting for the Washington Post, had this to say about Mónica’s run at the Olympics:
Puig’s run is a surprise. She is the 34th-ranked player in the world, according to the latest Women’s Tennis Association rankings. She has never reached the quarterfinals at a grand slam event. As the third seed at the Citi Open last month, she lost in the second round to Lauren Davis, an American. Davis is ranked 43rd in the world.
But Puig has plowed through opponents in Rio — her dog’s namesake. She hasn’t lost a set in four matches. She upset Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza, the world’s fourth-ranked player and this year’s French Open champion, in the third round in straight sets (6-1, 6-1) on Tuesday. She dismissed Siegemund by the same score Thursday. Two more wins and she’ll claim Puerto Rico’s first gold medal, though she wouldn’t be the first Puerto Rican to earn gold — Gigi Fernández, born and raised in Puerto Rico, won gold medals in 1992 and 1996 in women’s doubles for the United States.
Puig’s unexpected success is a welcomed sliver of good news for Puerto Rico at a dire time. Unable to pay $72 billion in bond debt, the unincorporated American territory’s economy has been in shambles while crime has soared in recent years. The combination produced an exodus. The island’s estimated population in 2015 was 3.47 million, according to the Pew Research Center — a 9 percent drop since 2000.
More Puerto Ricans live in the mainland United States than in Puerto Rico itself and recent evidence suggests the migration pattern isn’t changing, though Congress passed a bill on June 29 — two days before Puerto Rico was set to default on approximately $2 billion in debt payments — to clear a track to restructure the debt in hopes of rescuing the nation’s economy.
For now, Puerto Ricans — on the island and on the mainland — have Puig to root for other next couple days as she attempts to do something nobody representing Puerto Rico has ever done before.