Exactly one year after her historic triumph at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Monica Puig recorded another memorable victory over Colombia’s Mariana Duque-Mariño, battling past the resilient Colombian, 6-4, 6-7(4), 7-5, in two hours and 46 minutes to qualify for the main draw at the 2017 Western & Southern Open.
Puig Powers Through 12-Minute Tenth Game to Steal Opening Set
Well aware of the kind of tennis Duque-Mariño is capable of producing, especially when she is dictating the points with her heavy forehand, Puig was determined to start the match on her own terms, and did just that as she powered her way to a commanding 4-1 lead, utilizing her trademark aggression to overwhelm Duque-Mariño from the forecourt.
With her back seemingly up against the wall, Duque-Mariño suddenly came to life in the sixth game—an easy hold followed by some crafty play to reclaim the early break was all it took to get herself back in the set as Puig began to go off the boil for the first real time in the match.
Looking to get the momentum swinging back in her favour, Puig immediately regrouped, taking advantage of a pair of untimely double faults from the Colombian to jump out to a 0-40 lead. But to the surprise of everyone, three wild returns from the Puerto Rican erased any looks she had at a break point and from there, the errors would just continue spilling from the 22-year-old’s racquet, resulting in a vital hold for Duque-Mariño from 0-40 down.
Understandably frustrated with herself, Puig found herself in danger of surrendering a fourth game in a row after having led 4-1, but eventually rediscovered her range to hold for 5-4, thus moving one step closer to securing the crucial opening set.
As Duque-Mariño served to stay in the set, Puig began to restamp her authority on the match, jumping out to a 15-40 lead to earn herself a pair of set points, alas she was unable to take either of them as the Colombian seemed to produce her best tennis when it mattered most, much to the frustration of the Puerto Rican. A third and fourth set point would later come and go for the 15th seed, as well as five game point chances for Duque-Mariño, but in the end, it was Puig who was just able to shift into a new gear to take the opening set, 6-4, thanks a failed drop shot attempt from the Colombian to move one step closer to securing just her second main draw berth in Cincinnati.
Duque-Mariño Saves Two Match Points, Sends Match Into Decider
The second set began similarly to the first as both women continued to go toe-to-toe from the back of the court, resulting in some unbelievable rallies between the two. But in a case of déjà-vu, it would be Puig who would strike first, taking advantage of a few uncharacteristic misses from Duque-Mariño to get the break in the sixth game, only to give it right back in the ensuing game as she, herself, began to go off the boil.
From there, relatively easy holds were exchanged until the twelfth game when Puig, leading 6-5, had two chances to seal the deal at just the right time. However, Duque-Mariño had other ideas. The threat of elimination only seemed to bring the best out of the Colombian, who played two sensational points, the second of which ended with a spectacular drop volley, before securing a crucial hold to force a second-set tiebreak.
After trading mini-breaks early, Puig appeared to have the upper hand once again, racing out to a 4-2 lead. But after the change of ends, Duque-Mariño suddenly sprung to life once more, reeling off the last five points of the tiebreak to steal the second set, 7-6(4).
Puig Edges Duque-Mariño for Emotional Victory
After trading breaks early, both women weren’t willing to give the other an inch in the battle for the final set; Duque-Mariño would edge ahead, but not before Puig hit back with immediate authority.
At 5-4, the Colombian had the perfect opportunity to close out the match, putting Puig under pressure at 15-30, but the Puerto Rican bravely fought past that dangerous roadblock to level the match at five-games-all, and that was when everything changed.
Playing with a newfound confidence, Puig broke at love to move ahead 6-5 before finally closing out the match at the third time of asking to secure a very memorable victory on the one-year anniversary of her Olympic triumph, which she broke down in tears about when asked to discuss it with the crowd in her post-match interview.
Next Up for Puig: Taylor Townsend
Awaiting the Puerto Rican number one in the first round of the main draw will be another qualifier in American Taylor Townsend, who came from a set down and saved multiple match points to outlast German Carina Witthoeft in three sets to qualify earlier in the day. This will be the pair’s first meeting, but will undoubtedly be one of great intrigue as both women vie for a second-round showdown with world number two Simona Halep.