Monica Puig fought off a stern test in American wildcard Catherine Bellis on Wednesday evening, coming from a set and break down to outlast the teenager 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, thus booking her place in the second round of the 2016 Miami Open. On Friday, Puig will clash with 13th seed Victoria Azarenka, who is just coming off of a championship-winning run in Indian Wells last week, that coincidentally saw her reclaim a place in the world's top 10.
Bellis Takes Hour-Long First Set
Right out of the gates, it was clear that both young women were looking to take the ball early, thus putting the other on the defensive. After exchanging a pair of holds, it was Bellis, the younger of the two, who drew first blood, breaking at love to take a 2-1 lead with some impressive first strike tennis. However, Puig hit straight back, breaking to even the score at 2-all.
In a drama-filled fifth game, the Puerto Rican saved two break points before they were forced to stop play due to an ongoing drizzle that made the court very slippery. Seven minutes later, the players returned to action, with Puig benefitting from a short intermission in play. Not long after resuming play, the 22-year-old held to take a 3-2 lead. With the momentum now shifting in Puig's favour, the Puerto Rican continued to pile on the pressure, eventually breaking for a second time to take a commanding 4-2 lead.
Not to be outdone, Bellis refused to back down, and came back with a vengeance, converting her second break point to break straight back. As more unforced errors continued to spew off Puig's racquet, the American saved a break point and managed to restore parity at 4-all.
In a peculiar change in events, Bellis suddenly had three break points to go from a break down to a break up in a matter of minutes. However, some commanding, aggressive play from Puig saved all three break point opportunities. But in the end, it was a case of fourth time lucky for the 16-year-old as she did indeed break to take a 5-4 lead and with it, a chance to serve for the set.
Continuing her solid run of momentum, the American wildcard continued to impress, continuing to show why she is a rising star of the future with some fearless hitting. After saving a break point, Bellis arrived at her first set point, which she took as a Puig return sailed into the tramlines, thus winning the opening set 6-4 in just over an hour.
Puig Recovers from A Break Down to Take Second Set
Beginning to swing more freely with the first set under her belt, Bellis managed to break for a third time to begin the second set. However, Puig managed to stop the rot, winning her first game in six by breaking straight back to draw level at 1-all. Slowly beginning to find her rhythm, the Puerto Rican managed to edge her nose in front to take an all-important 2-1 lead.
Much like at one point in the opening set, the world number 67 set herself up with some glorious first strike tennis, but the world number 219 remained calm under pressure, benefiting from a few unforced errors from the Puerto Rican to level at 2-all. From there, the pair traded a pair of relatively straightforward holds before Puig began to beg the question from the receiving end once more. After a short on-court coaching visit from her coach Juan Todero, Puig seemed to put the advice into action right away, breaking to take a 5-3 lead.
When given the opportunity to serve for the set, the 22-year-old made no mistake, calmly closing out the second set 6-3 to level the match at one-set-all, much to the delight of her enthusiastic supporters.
Puig Races Away with Decider
After the first two games of the final set went with serve, it was unsurprisingly Puig who drew first blood, swinging the more freely of the two to take a 2-1 lead. With some superb serving, the Puerto Rican number one further extended her lead to 3-1, and was getting ever so closer to a spot in round two. With Bellis struggling to recapture some of the form that saw her win five games in succession, Puig took full advantage, breaking for a second time to mount a sizeable 4-1 lead.
With her back up against the wall, the 16-year-old could do nothing but fight from here on out, and that's exactly what she did. Utilizing her forehand to great effect, Bellis managed to recover one of the breaks with a stunning backhand passing shot crosscourt.
But in the end, it was a case of too little, too late as Puig restored order in the following game, benefiting from a few loose unforced errors from Bellis to reclaim the double break, and with it, a 5-2 lead.
After a visit from coach Juan Todero where he told her to use more kick on her serve, Puig had little trouble closing out the match, calmly and cooling sealing a hard-fought 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory in two hours and six minutes.