In a candid column for Australia’s PlayersVoice, Puerto Rico’s first Olympic gold medalist Monica Puig admitted that her fairytale gold medal run in Rio 2016 sometimes felt like a ‘curse.’
Unseeded, ranked No.34 in the world and with just one career WTA title to her name, Puig blazed through the draw, knocking out Garbiñe Muguruza, Petra Kvitova and then-World No.2 Angelique Kerber on her way to making history for her country.
Looking back, however, Puig realized she was nowhere near ready to deal with the new spotlight and media attention that the gold medal brought her her, as well as the pressure to back it up.
“I had no preparation whatsoever for what was about to occur and what was going to happen afterwards,” Puig wrote. “I got kind of caught up in the moment, started expecting too much and putting myself under too much pressure… Sometimes I’d look back and wonder, ‘Did that moment curse me?’
“Somewhere in there I lost myself and I couldn’t regain a grasp of what got me to that moment. But sometimes you have to make those mistakes and understand what happened to be able to learn from them in the future.”
She added, “I also had to realise that it wasn’t luck. I knew it was in me all along; it just came out at the right moment, and it’s up to me now to find that form again and to be a little bit more consistent with it.”
Off the court, Puig faced a different kind of pressure. Halfway across the world in Asia, the Puerto Rican watched helplessly as Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria beared down on her beloved island, leaving the country looking “like a warzone.” But rather than sit back and wait, Puig realized her newfound fame could be used to make a difference.
“After Hurricane Maria devastated my homeland of Puerto Rico in September, I decided to look at it differently: that maybe Olympic success and the bigger profile gave me the opportunity to be a voice for Puerto Rico.”
“It made me realise that the tennis community is like a big family and, when somebody is in need, we’re all gonna step it up to help one another.”
She recalled the tremendous support from across the tennis world for her fundraising and relief efforts – even helping her raise almost $200,000 to bring supplies to the island – and culminating in a humanitarian trip with former World No.1 Maria Sharapova.
“Our agents are friends and really close colleagues,” Puig recalled. “When the hurricane hit, Maria reached out via her agent and said she wanted to come with me if I was going to Puerto Rico any time soon. She was one of the first people to offer her help.
“The day we spent there together handing out emergency supplies was incredible. Seeing her around the kids, around all the people in need, there was not a time during the day when she wasn’t smiling or trying to be supportive.
“I could not be more grateful to Maria for everything she has done for me and for Puerto Rico. She really is a class act.”