WTA Eastbourne: Monica Puig edges out Caroline Wozniacki in three-set thriller

Qualifier Monica Puig’s season just gets better and better. After coming through the qualifying of the 2016 Aegon International, the Puerto Rican cruised through her first two matches of the main draw and recorded another major scalp on Wednesday afternoon, defeating former world number one Caroline Wozniacki 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a thrilling third round encounter. Puig will now meet France’s Kristina Mladenovic in the quarterfinals, a straight-sets winner later in the day over Germany’s Anna-Lena Friedsam.

Wozniacki Recovers from Early Deficit, Takes Her Chances En Route to Claiming High-Quality Opening Set

Much like in her previous matches this week, it was Puig who was the first to settle in—the Puerto Rican drawing first blood straight off the bat after an emphatic hold to take a 2-0 lead, despite the wondrous defence of Wozniacki. However, despite holding game point in the following game, Puig was unable to consolidate her early advantage, in part, due to her own unforced errors. Taking full advantage, the former world number one quickly restored order, breaking to get back on serve, before her first hold of the match leveled the score at 2-all. Despite not being able to take her chances, Puig stuck to her guns, saving a break point with some devastating ball-striking en route to holding for a 3-2 lead.

Monica Puig hits a backhand during her third round match against Caroline Wozniacki at the 2016 Aegon International. | Photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images Europe
Monica Puig hits a backhand during her third round match against Caroline Wozniacki at the 2016 Aegon International. | Photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images Europe

In an all-important sixth game, that spanned seven deuces in total, the Puerto Rican held five break points, though she was unable to convert any of them, while the Dane squandered two game points of her own. In the end of a game dominated by great serving from Wozniacki and great ball-striking from both women, it was the former world number one who came out on top, a well-placed serve enough to regain parity at 3-all.

In the game that followed suit, Puig was made to rue her missed chances as Wozniacki took advantage of a slight lapse in concentration; a double fault gifting her her first break of the match and with it, a comfortable 4-3 lead. From there, the rest of the set went with serve, ultimately resulting in Wozniacki taking the opening set 6-4 with an impressive hold at love.

Caroline Wozniacki hits a backhand during her third round match against Monica Puig at the 2016 Aegon International. | Photo: Monica Puig celebrates after defeating Caroline Wozniacki in the third round of the 2016 Aegon International. | Photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images Europe
Caroline Wozniacki hits a backhand during her third round match against Monica Puig at the 2016 Aegon International. | Photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images Europe
 

Puig Fights Back, Claims Decisive Break to Force a Decider

Unlike in the opening set, a set predominantly dominated by the ups-and-downs of the server, the first seven games of the second frame went with serve, with the receiver not even getting a look at gaining the elusive break. But in the eighth game, things shifted dramatically in the favour of the Puerto Rican number one.

All of a sudden, with two break points within her grasp, Puig found herself in a position to go up a break and go within one game of forcing a decider. Having squandered her last five break points, dating back to the sixth game of the opening set, the 22-year-old missed her first bite at the cherry, but made no mistake on the second; a scorching crosscourt backhand return winner doing the damage, thus giving the Puerto Rican a chance to serve for a decider, leading 5-3. Having cruised on serve for the whole set, Puig was not going to let the pressure of a set in her grasp affect her game, as she sealed the second set 6-3 with minimal fuss with an ace out wide, her sixth of the match.

Monica Puig celebrates after winning a point during her third round against Caroline Wozniacki at the 2016 Aegon International. | Photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images Europe
Monica Puig celebrates after winning a point during her third round against Caroline Wozniacki at the 2016 Aegon International. | Photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images Europe

Puig Seals Victory in Impressive Style

The final set began much like the first, with Puig going up an early break with the help of some stunning winners, but Wozniacki fighting back and edging her nose in front. After the Puerto Rican broke at the fourth time of asking to open the decider, followed by a hold where she was forced to fight off a pair of break points, the Dane fought back, a simple hold and a break putting her back on level terms at 2-all. From there, Wozniacki toughed out an all-important hold with some wonderfully constructed points, thus putting her up 3-2.

Not to be outdone, Puig responded with a strong hold of her own, before her power and precision proved to be too much for Wozniacki once more; the Puerto Rican breaking at the perfect time to take a 4-3 lead. Sensing the finish line was so close, yet so far, Puig continued her march towards the finish line; a hold at love consolidating the crucial break and putting her within one game of a place in the last eight.

But on the other side of the net, Wozniacki—like always—was not willing to go down without a fight, holding to force Puig to seal the victory on her own terms. But in the end, the world number 43 proved to be too strong, sealing the victory with her eighth ace of the match.

Monica Puig celebrates after defeating Caroline Wozniacki in the third round of the 2016 Aegon International. | Photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images Europe
Monica Puig celebrates after defeating Caroline Wozniacki in the third round of the 2016 Aegon International. | Photo: Steve Bardens/Getty Images Europe

“I was aggressive there at the end,” Puig said in her post-match press conference. “You know, it’s never easy also to close out a match when you’re serving, especially when it's 5-4. You know, anything can happen, and then all of a sudden you're 5-5, fighting to get your lead back. I stayed with my game plan the whole way and the way that I was just extremely positive throughout the match.”

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