While very few could have predicted the outcome of the Olympic tennis event at the 2016 Summer Games, Puerto Rican rising star Monica Puig stunned everyone with a miracle run to Olympic glory as she toppled future world number one Angelique Kerber, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, in one of the most electric matches of the season.
Powerful Puig Powers Through Opener
Having outdueled Puig on two previous occasions before their Olympic showpiece, it was Kerber who would draw first blood, taking advantage of a few early butterflies from the Puerto Rican to break straight off the bat. But Puig, however, would show no nerves from that point forward, breaking straight back to put any early uncertainties to rest. From there, both women would go toe-to-toe from the service line, unwilling to give the other an inch until the tenth game, when Puig rightfully sensed her opportunities.
Taking full advantage of an uncharacteristically lethargic looking Kerber, the unseeded Puerto Rican effectively forcing the German to overpress as she sealed the opener, 6-4, much to the delight of a very vocal Central American crowd.
Keen Kerber Strikes Back
The second set was a different story as Kerber, after seeking medical treatment in between sets, seemed to return rejuvenated and on a mission. Quickly jumping out to an early break, the second seed made sure lightning didn’t strike twice as she quickly consolidated the break with back-to-back aces. But when the time came to go a double break to the good, the German failed to deliver and was later made to pay for it as a mistimed forehand drive volley—driven straight into the middle of the net—gifted Puig a key back into the set.
But once she came within touching distance of making Olympic history, perhaps the stress of the occasion was too much for Puig to handle as Kerber, showcasing her trademark defensive skills, would reclaim the one-break advantage moments after surrendering it.
Like in the opener, the tenth game would prove to be a critical one as Kerber, despite holding four set points and a 40-0 lead, would need a fifth bite of the cherry as a wayward backhand from the young Puerto Rican secured the then-world number two the all-important second set, 6-4.
Puig Seals the Deal, Becomes Puerto Rico’s First Olympic Champion
With one set left to decide the new Olympic champion, it was Puig who would make the first move, swiftly claiming the early break en route to building a commanding 3-0 lead. But the youngster wouldn’t stop there; relentlessly punishing anything short, the Puerto Rican gave her home nation plenty to cheer about as she emphatically broke for a second time to go one step closer to Olympic history. Not long thereafter would the 22-year-old consolidate the double break, as she went within one game of victory.
Kerber, however, would show some fight in the following game to restore some German pride inside the Olympic Tennis Stadium, saving a gold medal point and forcing Puig to serve it out. With the match on her racquet, the rising star quickly found herself down 0-40 as the importance of the situation was finally beginning to set in.
Astoundingly, however, Puig would save all three break points in what was the start of a marathon seventh game, filled with all sorts of twists and turns. In a game that spanned six deuces and 18 points altogether and saw a pair of championship points come and go, it was a case of fourth time lucky for Puig as a wayward forehand from Kerber sealed the deal for the Puerto Rican number one.
The Magnitude of Puig’s Victory
The magnitude of Puig’s victory could not be more understated for a nation that was unified over the success of their greatest athlete of all time in a time of political conflict. In fact, Puig, herself, even noted that she heard August 13, the day of her victory, was one of the first days in a long time that Puerto Rico saw the lowest crime rate, as it goes without saying that everyone had their eyes glued to their TV screens.
After securing a medal with her semifinal victory over Petra Kvitova just a day prior, Puig had already made history by becoming the first female athlete from Puerto Rico to win an Olympic medal. But by virtue of her unexpected victory over Kerber, the now-23-year-old now stands as the only Puerto Rican—man or woman—to bring home a gold medal to the Carribean island.