The personable 23-year-old is a hometown favorite at the Miami Open tennis tournament, Paul Scicchitano reports for Patch.
When 23-year-old Monica Puig returned home after several months of living out of her suitcase, she went to the safe where she kept her most prized possession aside from her dog.
“I didn’t look at it for a few months because I was traveling so much, but just the other week I got it out of the safe where I had it and I looked at it,” the personable 23-year-old told Patch over the weekend. “I still couldn’t believe what I was holding and that I had won. It was surreal.”
Puig, of course, was referring to the gold medal she picked up at the Rio Olympics in women’s tennis — the first major win of her professional career on one of the world’s largest stages. It was also the first ever gold medal for her native Puerto Rico, an experience that changed Puig’s life and brought many of her fellow Puerto Ricans to tears.
“They’re always so lovable to me and always showing me so much support,” she confided. “I’m eternally grateful for everything that they have given me over the years and how they’ve lifted me up, especially in my toughest moments.”
Now Puig is back in her other adopted hometown of Miami to play in the Miami Open tennis tournament, which gets underway this week.
There is no question she will be a hometown favorite, particularly since perennial hometown fave Serena Williams was forced to pull out of the tournament with an injury. You can be sure there will be Puerto Rican flags in the crowd when Puig makes her debut in Crandon Park later this week.
“I have as good a chance as anybody — as everybody does. You never know what can happen week in and week out, just like at Rio,” she said stopping to sign autographs at an AT&T store on Brickell Avenue. “I’m playing good tennis and all I know is that I have to go out there and do my best. If I do my best and I win — great. If I do my best and I lose — at least I know that I’m moving in the right direction.”
Now ranked 40th in the world after a slow start at the Australian Open, Puig says she’s healthy and ready for a possible reprise of her Olympic upset against number two in the world Angelique Kerber of Germany, who is the top seed going into the event.
“I’m not worried about anyone really,” insisted Puig. “I have to focus on my game. I can’t control who’s on the other side of the net and how they play. I just have to look at myself and what I can do well and continue from there.”
Puig had her first practice on center court on Saturday and she still gets excited every time she walks out on the distinctive purple surface.
“I love that court and I always dreamed about playing there. I played there last year and the year before that. Hopefully I can play there for several more years because it’s amazing,” she said.
Puig considers Miami home. “I do, and I also consider Puerto Rico to be home so if I get to play there, great. If I get to play here, great. I just like playing in front of a home crowd.”
Known for her aggressive style of play, Puig isn’t celebrating the withdrawal of Williams, who also makes her home in South Florida.
“I just hope she gets better. She’s a great champion to our sport and hopefully injury doesn’t keep her out too long because everybody likes to have her in the draw — well, I mean I do because I’ve always wanted to play her,” Puig corrected. “I just hope she gets well and we can see her in Europe.”
There’s one other thing the two have in common thanks to Puig’s Olympic gold fortune. It’s now more difficult to walk down the street, particularly when Puig goes home to Puerto Rico.
“It’s nice to see especially the little kids when they come around and they’re asking for my autograph or taking a picture,” she explained. “I remember when I used to be one of those little kids, chasing after the pros and trying to get their signature. So, the only thing I can do is give back to them and hopefully set a good example so they can follow in the future.”
Despite persistent reports that the popular tournament may leave Miami and a very public plea from Williams to keep it here, Puig said that she will enjoy having the event in Miami as long as she can.
“All I can say is that I love Miami,” she explained. “There’s nothing better than coming here and playing in front of my family and friends … I’m definitely going to try and take advantage of the years that they have it here, and I think my family will as well.”
For more information on the tournament visit MiamiOpen.com. To purchase tickets, click here.