Monica Puig scored the upset of her career and delivered Puerto Rico its first Olympics gold medal on Saturday, overpowering Germany’s Angelique Kerber to win the women’s singles tennis competition.
Puig, cheered on by fans in Rio de Janeiro who waved Puerto Rican flags and shouted “Si, se puede” (“Yes, you can”) throughout her hard-fought three-set victory, beat the Australian Open champion 6-4 4-6 6-1.
With the remarkable victory, Puig reached several milestones in one fell swoop. She is the first gold medallist for Puerto Rico, the Caribbean island and U.S. territory that fields its own Olympic team at each Games.
She also became the first woman to win a medal representing Puerto Rico, whose male athletes had captured eight medals at past games, mostly in boxing.
Puig, who deployed aggressive ground strokes to beat Kerber and blasted winners from all over the court, is also the first unseeded women to win the Olympic singles gold.
The 22-year-old fell to the court and kissed it after sealing victory as fans yelled “Monica, Monica, Monica.”
She broke down in tears on the podium.
“It was the tournament, and greatest moment, of my life,” Puig told reporters. “I wanted it so badly, I fought and my put my heart and soul on the court.”
“I’m a pretty aggressive player …. I have that ‘Boricua’ fire in me,” Puig added, using a common term for Puerto Rico and the country’s inhabitants.
Though Puig resides and trains in southern Florida, she was born in Puerto Rico and said she still spends plenty of time there with family.
“I know my country really wanted this victory,” she added.
Puerto Rico has been facing a deep economic crises and badly needed a bolt of good news, Puig had said before the match.
She is not the first Puerto Rican woman to win a medal. Gigi Fernandez, also born on the island, won two Olympic gold medals representing the United States in doubles tennis.
Puig added she had not yet checked her phone, but is expecting a flood of calls, emails, tweets and congratulations over social media from her fellow Puerto Ricans.
“There will definitely be some celebration,” she said.
Kerber, who had beaten Puig twice in the past on the hard court, said she had fought hard to come back after losing the first set, but could not get the traction she needed in the decisive third set.
“I knew, actually, that she’s a great player,” the German said. “I tried everything … she played better in the end.
“I think she came here with no pressure. She had nothing to lose.”
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