Puerto Rico’s Monica Puig made Olympic history Friday afternoon at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, stunning two-time Wimbledon champion and eleventh-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 to secure the Carribean island their ninth Olympic medal, and first won by a Puerto Rican woman. Already guaranteed to walk away with at least a silver medal, Puig will go for gold in Saturday’s gold medal match, where she will face second-seeded German Angelique Kerber.
Kvitova Races Out of the Blocks, But Puig Strikes Back to Secure Opening Set
Straight off the bat, it was clear that this promised to be a fierce battle of heavy hitting from the back of the court, with Kvitova gaining the upper hand time and time again early on. Playing with a lethal combination of depth and controlled aggression, one could say Kvitova was “in the zone” right from the get-go, jumping out to an early 3-0 lead.
Though the early signs looked ominous for Puig, the Puerto Rican knew Kvitova would only be able to sustain this level for so long, showcasing her world-class defence to fight her way to an incredibly important hold. Long and behold, Puig’s resilience was rewarded almost immediately with a break back, as Kvitova had lost the rhythm she had enjoyed in the first three games, as unforced errors—by the bunches—began to creep into her game. Taking full advantage, the unseeded Puerto Rican showed no signs of slowing down, backing up the break with an impressive hold at love to restore parity at 3-all.
In danger of surrendering another break, Kvitova came up with the goods, saving a break point en route to a crucial hold, before Puig responded with an emphatic hold of her own to draw level once more. This time, however, the Puerto Rican made no mistake; deep returns down the middle of the court making all the difference for Puig as she would clinch the decisive break in the ninth game, before clinching it, 6-4, with some huge serving.
Keen and “Konfident” Kvitova Forces a Decider
After the disappointment of losing the opening frame, Kvitova regrouped in impressive style, jumping out to the same lead as she did in the first set, 3-0, as the question loomed: Could this be another case of déjà-vu?
Thankfully for the Czech, it was far from it. With Puig tightening up under pressure and Kvitova beginning to raise her level on the big points, the two-time Wimbledon champion showed why she is often regarded as one of the most dangerous players on tour—her ruthless easy power causing all sorts of troubles for the Puerto Rican, as she would break once more to mount a 4-0 advantage. Not long thereafter, the eleventh seed would continue to impress, consolidating for 5-0 with some wondrous first-strike tennis.
Puig did what she could to register a game on the scoreboard before holding a total of three break points in the following game, but it proved to be all in vain as Kvitova came roaring back time and time again, eventually serving out the set to win it, 6-1.
Puig Overcomes Early Disappointment to Power Through to First Olympic Final
After being brutally outclassed by the Czech for the better part of set number two, Puig was desperately looking to get off to a better start in the decider, and did just that. After holding to open the decider, the 22-year-old benefited from a series of unforced errors from Kvitova to gain the upper hand early, breaking at the second time of asking after the Czech missed a routine forehand put away. Aiming to consolidate, thrice did Puig hold a game point to go up 3-0, but thrice did Kvitova up the ante, pegging her back before finally breaking back, thanks to an untimely double fault from the Puerto Rican. Could Puig live to rue those missed chances?
From there, the pair would exchange a pair of holds before reversing the script and exchanging a pair of breaks, with both players showing clear signs of nerves as the match went down to the wire. Having twice led by a break and twice failing to consolidate, Puig was looking to continue the run of breaks at 4-3 in the decider, with the finish line in sight. Fortunately for her, it was Kvitova who came undone in the eighth game, giving Puig a pair of opportunities to serve for the match.
The Czech managed to save the first with a brave smash that landed just inside the baseline, but the second was a different story. On the front foot in another heavy-hitting exchange from the back of the court, Kvitova cracked, dumping a backhand into the net to give Puig the break and with it, a chance to serve for an Olympic medal.
After failing to consolidate the break on two previous occasions earlier in the set, it was a case of third time lucky for the Puerto Rican number one as she would never relinquish control from there, holding on to that advantage to successfully serve out the match and seal a hard-fought 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 victory.
Go For Gold: Puig to Face Off Against Kerber for Olympic Glory
In the gold medal final, Puig will meet none other than reigning Australian Open champion and second-seeded German Angelique Kerber, who edged out American Madison Keys 6-3, 7-5 in the other semifinal. The pair has met twice before, with the German gaining the upper hand on both occasions.
However, Puig is a much more different player than she was this time last year, when they met in the second round of Toronto, not to mention that Kerber is playing the best tennis of her career. All things considered, this classic tale of offence vs. defence could go right down to the wire as both women fight for Olympic glory.