Reigning Puerto Rican Olympic champion Monica Puig survived a late injury scare to battle past a resilient Yaroslava Shvedova, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, in a thrilling two-hour, eight-minute clash to open her Dubai Duty-Free Tennis Championships campaign.
Patient Puig Bides Her Time, Powers to Early Advantage
After trading holds for the first four games of their fifth encounter, it was Shvedova who was able to gain the upper hand early on with the help of some brutal hitting, getting the first look at a break point in the fifth game. But Puig, who is coming off an impressive semifinal showing in Doha last week, showed she was in no mood to hang around, quickly steadying the ship with a vital hold before making Shvedova rue her missed chance in the following game. With the help of some massive hitting of her own, the Puerto Rican would make the most of a shaky service game from the big-serving Kazakh to pounce and claim the first break of the encounter.
From there, the reigning Olympic champion would waste no time in nailing a fourth ace, this one putting her within one game of a one-set advantage at 5-2. Though Shvedova was able to do what she could to force Puig to serve out the set, it all proved in vain as the Puerto Rican quickly stamped her authority on this first round match, securing the opening frame, 6-3.
Smooth Sailing Shvedova Overcomes Late Blip to Draw Level
Having fallen behind towards the latter stages of the opening set, Shvedova quickly found herself with her back against the wall as an early onslaught from Puig set up two break points for the Puerto Rican number one. But to her credit, the Kazakh held firm, saving both break points in commanding style en route to a much-needed hold to start the set. And suddenly it was Puig who found herself under pressure from the service line, faced with a pair of break points herself to save on her own serve. Facing her first real test of the morning, the 23-year-old Olympic champion would pass with flying colours, saving both opportunities before letting out a big yell of “come on” once she clinched the all-important hold.
This pattern of living dangerously on serve would continue in the following game for Shvedova, who ultimately found a way to edge her nose back in front before clinching the early break at love with a blistering backhand return crosscourt. She would immediately consolidate the break with relative ease as she moved closer to forcing a decider.
However, it’s no secret that momentum in tennis is a fragile thing and can swing from one side to the other at any given time. Such was the case in the eighth game when Puig, in danger of getting broken again, managed to muster a much-needed hold that kickstarted a late fightback in the second set. After getting a hold under her belt, the Puerto Rican quickly went up 0-40 on the Shvedova serve, putting herself in prime position to get back on serve, which she did after converting at the second time of asking.
But in the end, it turned out to be only an insignificant resurgence as Shvedova, dialed in and more focused than ever, broke for a second time to secure the second set, 6-4, in impressive style.
Puig Powers Through Pain, Secures Place in Round Two
After a slight interruption in play due to an off-court medical timeout for Puig, it was Shvedova who was able to pick up right where she left off, opening the decider with another brilliant hold. Puig, despite not feeling 100%, was still in it to win it, coming out firing herself in the decider with a brilliant opening service game. This pattern would continue for much of the decider with very little to separate both women until the seventh game appeared to prove decisive—and it was.
Despite a couple of late onslaughts from Shvedova, it was the reigning Puerto Rican Olympic champion who would edge past the resilient Kazakh, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, in two hours and eight minutes.
Next Up for Puig: Caroline Garcia
Awaiting the reigning Olympic champion at the second hurdle will be 15th-seeded Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia in what will undoubtedly be another hard-hitting matchup—both literally and figuratively speaking! With Garcia in fine form, this will be a great test for Puig to see where she is confidence-wise after not the greatest of starts to the new season.