Olympic champion Monica Puig feels she is “on the right track now” after dealing with the aftermath of her historic triumph in Rio last summer and her two victories in Doha on Wednesday seem to be evidence of that.
Puerto Rico’s first every Olympic gold medallist shocked three grand slam champions – Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber – en route to the title at the Games in Brazil and has since been trying to handle the attention and pressure that came with her stunning triumph.
Heading into the Qatar Total Open this week, Puig had won back-to-back matches just twice since Rio, but on Wednesday she impressively pulled off double duty by destroying Laura Siegemund in the morning and beating Yulia Putintseva – who retired in the third set – in the afternoon to become the first player through to the quarter-finals in Doha.
The rain that wreaked havoc with the tournament on the first two days of main draw action did not completely subside on day three but it allowed almost seven hours of uninterrupted play.
Organisers scheduled matches starting 11:00am as opposed to the typical daily start time of 15:30 to take advantage of the dry weather earlier in the day.
Expecting a tricky day ahead, Puig blasted through her first round 6-0, 6-1 over Germany’s Siegemund in a mere 40 minutes.
The Puerto Rican world No47 returned to the court for her second round against Putintseva, who had played just one set against seventh-seeded Timea Bacsinszky earlier in the day before the Swiss retired with a left thigh injury while down 1-6.
Puig and Putintseva split the opening two sets of their second round before the latter retired with a left thigh problem three games into the decider.
Despite already contesting four sets in one day, Puig hit the practice courts straight after her Kazakh opponent waved the flag, to work on her game with her coach Nacho Todero.
“My coach and I are focusing all about the process and the process of things and how to continue to keep my mind where it needs to be so if there was something that didn’t work in the match or where I didn’t feel comfortable I would go back on the practice courts,” Puig told Sport360.
“I did it in Rio and it got me some good results but for me it’s all about getting better and that’s what I’m going to try and continue to do.”
Puig and the majority of the players had been waiting for two days to step on the court to no avail due to the weather – a situation that can be both physically and mentally taxing.
“I got into Doha quite early so the good thing is that at least I was very anxious to play so that’s what I think helped push my momentum in the right direction. My coach and I were very focused on what we had to do and what we had to accomplish today so that was the good thing,” explained the 23-year-old.
The reaction to Puig’s Olympics glory back home in Puerto Rico was huge and she was given a hero’s welcome fit for kings when she touched down in San Juan. She has been trying to steady her game ever since and feels she’s finally found the right path.
“It was a bit overwhelming since Rio. I’m not really sure how I was. Maybe I was just a little bit too emotionally and physically exhausted or I just didn’t also really know how to cope with the pressure of all of it,” confessed Puig.
“But finally for the first time I feel like I’m settling into my own skin again and I finally feel like I’m more comfortable with what I’m doing. It took a really long time but I’m glad that I went through that process and I learnt so much. So my coach and I are really thankful for that little period of timing because out of something kind of stressful we resolved some things and we’re on the right track now.”
Puig returned to San Juan in December for an exhibition match with Maria Sharapova, whose 15-month doping ban ends in April.
“That was incredible, it was a really fun event,” said Puig.
“A huge turnout. It was a lot of fun. Especially with Maria, I could see how much she wanted to get back on the court. She’s really funny, we had a lot of laughs and hopefully the event will continue to grow and hopefully have another edition at the end of this year.
“It was the first interaction [with Sharapova] and it was actually really fun, we had so many laughs, so many little jokes. She’s a really nice person, really humble person as well and I’m really looking forward to seeing her back on the tour.”
In the quarter-finals in Doha, Puig awaits the winner of the clash between Angelique Kerber and Daria Kasatkina.
Putintseva, who made the St. Petersburg final earlier this month, said she felt her injury for the first time during Fed Cup last weekend in Astana. The 22-year-old Kazakh will try to find out what the exact problem is with her thigh before next week’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.