2015 Season Review: Monica Puig
Photo credit: Max Gao

2015 Season Review: Monica Puig

2015 was an emotional year for Monica Puig, filled with a lot of ups-and-downs. Despite losing in the first round 14 times, Puig was able to make the semifinals of the PTT Pattaya Open, as well as win a bronze medal at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games.

Max Gao

2015 was an emotional year for Monica Puig, filled with a lot of ups-and-downs. The Puerto Rican number one began her third year as a full-time professional on the WTA tour with an eagerness to compete, something she continued to do as the season progressed, regardless of her results. This season, Puig’s best performance at a WTA event came at the PTT Pattaya Open — a tournament which has since been removed from the WTA calendar — where she made the semifinals. In addition to this, the 22-year-old represented Puerto Rico at the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games, where she earned herself a gold medal in the women’s singles competiton. Victory always tasted sweeter for the Puerto Rican, especially when you consider she was defeated at the first hurdle 14 times in 2015.

Puig’s Rough Start to the Year

Monica Puig began her 2015 season in Auckland, where she faced home favourite and doubles partner Marina Erakovic in the opening round. In that encounter, both players had their ups-and-downs but it was Erakovic who was able to clinch a crucial break in the 7th game of the final set, which was ultimately enough to see her through to the second round. Puig and Erakovic shared a warm embrace at the net, and were on court the next day — this time on the same side of the net — to play doubles. The Puerto Rican-Kiwi pairing were able to win their opening round match, but lost in the second round to experienced Czechs Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka.

A day after losing in the doubles, Puig took an eight hour flight to Hobart, where she would attempt to get some more matches under her belt before traveling to Melbourne for the 2015 Australian Open. Despite her best efforts, the WTA rising star lost in straight sets to veteran Kaia Kanepi.

A day later, Puig was seen practicing on the blue Plexicushion courts of the Australian Open, where she was preparing to play in the main draw of the women’s singles for just the second time. A few days later, the Puerto Rican number one faced off against Australian Arina Rodionova on day one of the first Grand Slam of the 2015 tennis season. In that match, Puig had no trouble as she powered to a 6-0, 6-3 win over Rodionova, earning her first singles win of the season.

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With a win under her belt, the youngster was looking to carry that momentum into the second round where she would play Yaroslava Shvedova. Unfortunately for her, she was unable to overpower Shvedova and despite her best efforts, she went down to the Kazakh in straight sets. In the doubles court, Puig teamed up with Marina Erakovic again, but went down in three sets to the Chinese pairing of Liang Chen and Zhang Kai-Lin.

Puig’s Best Week of the Season

After a somewhat disappointing stretch down under, Puig went home to rest and started training for the PTT Pattaya Open, which was set to begin a day after the final day of action at the Australian Open. In Pattaya, Puig’s confidence began to grow with every match she won and all of a sudden, she found herself in the semifinals after playing some impressive tennis against Stefanie Voegele, Romina Oprandi and Misaki Doi, who can all be very dangerous when they’re at their best. In the semifinals, Puig — seeded 7th — faced off against fellow WTA rising star Ajla Tomljanovic, in one of the best matches of 2015.

It certainly wasn’t a pretty match but there was some great tennis from both women, and the match had to be decided in a final set tiebreak. After exchanging breaks in the three games that preceded this tiebreak, both players looked very tight, and couldn’t seem to take most of their opportunities when they presented themselves. Tomljanovic squandered four match points and Puig’s chances were there to be taken. However, when it really mattered, Tomljanovic was the one who was able to hit with a little more margin and depth, which stopped Puig from playing her natural brand of aggressive tennis.

That small technical change in the Croatian-born Australian’s game was enough to win her a two hour and 56 minute battle, as Puig’s unforced errors cost the Puerto Rican a place in the final. Despite losing by the smallest of margins, the WTA rising star was proud of her week in Pattaya and hoped that this result would be the confidence boost she needed to have a successful 2015 season.

Puig’s Struggles with Consistency After Losing in Pattaya

After a great week in Pattaya, Puig struggled with her consistency for the rest of the year, and was only able to win as many as three matches in a row, before suffering an inevitable defeat. A few days after losing in Thailand, the Puerto Rican traveled to Dubai, where she was defeated handily by 11th seed Lucie Safarova.

A week later, the 21-year-old traveled to Acapulco, where she clinched two impressive wins against Tereza Smitkova and Sara Errani — Puig defeated Smitkova in straight sets and only lost two games against Errani. In the quarterfinals, the Puerto Rican held three match points in the second set against lucky loser Sesil Karatantcheva, but was unable to convert any of them. In the end, those three match points came back to haunt her as she lost to Karatantcheva in three sets. On the doubles side, Puig paired up with American Lauren Davis but they lost in the second round as Davis retired three games into their second match, citing a left abdominal injury.

For the rest of the hard court swing before the beginning of the European clay court swing, Puig won three out of the seven singles matches that she played, and was simply outclassed by players who had more experience and confidence. Despite not playing her best tennis, the Puerto Rican looked forward to returning to clay, the surface that she won her maiden WTA singles title on last season.

Unfortunately for Puig, she was unable to capture the same magic this time around, as she ended the clay court season with a 1-5 record and was in dire need of a change in her game, whether it’d be technically or professionally.

The grass court season wasn’t much better for the Puerto Rican number one as she ended her short stay in the United Kingdom with a 1-4 record. After Wimbledon, Puig split with Ricardo Sanchez, the coach that helped her win her maiden WTA singles title in Strasbourg last year. In Sanchez’s place, the 21-year-old hired Juan Todero — a United States Tennis Association Professional Development (USTAPD) coach.

Puig Captures Pan American Bronze

After Wimbledon, Puig decided to play the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games, where she was seeded second in the women’s singles draw. Since she was the only Puerto Rican tennis player to compete in these games, all of her attention was solely on singles. From the get-go, the Puerto Rican number one looked in the zone, losing just four games en route to the semifinals. In the semifinals, Puig looked to be on her way to the gold medal match when she went up a set against her friend Victoria Rodriguez. However, Rodriguez fought back and her superb counter-punching and defence was able to force errors out of her much more experienced opponent, eventually resulting in a 2-6, 6-3, 6-2 win for the Mexican.

After the match, Puig was seen in tears, as she knew she missed out on a chance to make Puerto Rican history. However, she still had a shot at a bronze medal. In that all-important bronze medal match, Puig met good friend Lauren Davis — whom she played doubles with and practiced regularly with this season. In the opening stages of this encounter, it was clear that Puig was extremely nervous, as she sprayed balls al over the court and Davis took full advantage by going a set clear. However, the 21-year-old quickly regrouped, and went back to the basics. She hit with a lot more depth and margin, and Davis began to be the one who sprayed balls all over the court. As a result, the Puerto Rican leveled the match and was back on level terms. 

With all of that confidence in herself, Puig looked more self-assured, clinched a crucial break and served out the match to love to claim the bronze medal. As she fell to her knees, the 21-year-old — who had a Puerto Rican flag painted on her cheeks — put her hands over her mouth and broke into tears. The next few minutes were filled with such raw emotion as Puig blew kisses to the heavens and hugged her entire team, which showed everyone how much this sport means to the youngster from Hato Rey.

Puig’s Stronger Finish to 2015

After winning the bronze medal, Puig returned to Florida — where she lives and trains — to do a short training block before returning to Toronto to play the Rogers Cup. Since the Rogers Cup is a Premier 5-level event and the WTA rising tar’s ranking was well outside of the main draw acceptance list, she had to qualify for a spot in the main draw. In her first round qualifying match, Puig came back from a set down to defeat Magdalena Rybarikova and in the second round, she dispatched Yaroslava Shvedova in straight sets, getting revenge on the Kazakh for her two losses to her this year. As a result, she booked her place in the main draw, where she would play good friend Mariana Duque-Mariño. Duque-Mariño was coming into this match on a high; she won the gold medal in women’s singles at the Pan American Games just a month prior and had also won two rounds of qualifying to book her place in the main draw.

Puig actually played doubles with the Colombian in Bogota earlier this year and since they are good friends, they were familiar with each other’s games. Judging by the early exchanges in this encounter, it would be a battle until the end — and it was! Puig clinched a crucial break en route to successfully serving out the set to go a set clear, while Duque-Mariño broke at the perfect time to level the match at one-set-apiece. In the final set, tensions were rising and you could hear a pin drop. The crowd was intrigued and since this was played on Court 4, a court that has no stands, all spectators were standing up in astonishment as both women hit winner after winner.

At 5-5, a call went against Duque-Mariño and since there was no challenge system on Court 4, the Colombian was unable to challenge and looked rattled. Taking full advantage, Puig put her foot on the accelerator, broke serve and eventually won a hard-fought 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 win over her good friend. In the second round, Puig met Angelique Kerber — who was coming off of a stunning week in Stanford. The early exchanges were tight but it was clear that Kerber was a couple notches higher than Puig in terms of level right now, and it showed.

After a couple of long exchanges, the German capitalized on the Puerto Rican’s errors to win the opening set 6-2. The second set was a much tighter affair but much like in the opening set, Kerber outclassed her younger opponent, winning 6-2, 6-3 to advance to the third round. Despite losing to one of the best players in the world right now, Puig reflected on this week with a smile on her face, and hoped it would be a sign of things to come.

Despite not qualifying for Cincinnati or New Haven, Puig managed to rebound nicely at the US Open, where she pushed Venus Williams to three sets. After losing the opening set 6-4, Puig was looking to force a decider in a second set tiebreak. Williams was looking too good and had gone up 6-3 in the breaker, setting up three match points for herself. However, Puig refused to back down, saving all three of those match points to eventually win the second set 7-6(7), much to the astonishment of everyone inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. Despite losing the final set 6-3, Puig showed great promise and why she is someone who could be on top of women’s tennis in five to ten years.

TENNIS- Anita Aguilar

After the US Open, Puig began her Asian swing in Guangzhou where she upset Andrea Petkovic in straight sets, before falling to Yanina Wickmayer. After falling in the opening round of qualifying for the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, Puig travelled to Beijing to play the final Premier Mandatory event of the season — the China Open.

Just like in Toronto, the Puerto Rican’s ranking was outside the main draw cut-off and was forced to play two rounds of qualifying in order to earn a spot in the main draw. She defeated Alison Riske and Wang Yafan respectively, and booked her place in the main draw without breaking much of a sweat. In the opening round, she met Zarina Diyas. In this match, both players were extremely up-and-down and on top of it all, Diyas was nursing an injury. After Puig took the opening set 6-4, the Kazakh decided to retire, citing a left lower calf injury. As a result, the 22-year-old — who celebrated her birthday in Beijing a day before her first round match — advanced to the second round where she met Carla Suarez Navarro. Despite her best efforts, Puig was defeated in straight sets, which her great week in the Chinese capital.

To finish her season, Puig traveled to Hong Kong where she was able to gain direct entry into the main draw. In the opening round, the WTA rising star met Luksika Kumkhum, whom she beat at the loss of just three games. In the second round, she met Samantha Stosur, someone she has always had trouble with because of the Australian’s big kick serve and heavy ground strokes. Puig did her best to stay with Stosur but lost 6-4, 6-4, which closed the chapter on her 2015 season.

Closing Thoughts

Monica Puig had an up-and-down year, with plenty of emotions — both good and bad. She showed glimpses of what she can do, but she has yet to find the consistency she needs to become world number one (which is her long-term goal). After a strong finish to the season in 2015 and after getting some of the results she wanted with new coach Juan Todero, who knows what the Puerto Rican number one could do in 2016?

Grade: C