RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Monica Puig made Olympic history for Puerto Rico on Saturday night, becoming the island's first ever gold medalist after a rollercoaster win over World No.2 Angelique Kerber, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.
"I'm in shock, I just don't even really know what to say. I'm so excited," an emotional Puig reacted after the match.
Puig has been the surprise of the Olympic tennis event, playing the best tennis of her career to reach the gold medal match and dealing out upsets to the likes of French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova along the way.
Before her defeat of World No.4 Muguruza, Puig had only one career win over a Top 5 player, and now faced the task of repeating the feat against the World No.2. Kerber, who was vying to become the first German woman to win a gold medal in tennis since Steffi Graf in 1988, also lead the pair's head to head record with wins in both of their previous encounters.
"It's always tough," Puig said of playing against the Top 5. "There's always a lot of jitters, a lot of anxiety there every single night. But I knew what was the main goal going in here, and I just can't believe it."
? WTA (@WTA) August 13, 2016
Kerber hadn't dropped a set all tournament long, but Puig made sure this match would go the distance after taking the opening set 6-4. Puig's trademark aggressive game was in full flight - attacking the short balls, changing direction with ease and painting the lines. Her huge backhands caused the most damage, especially the inside-out shot that Kerber couldn't read. Some strong serving from Kerber put the German back in control and she leveled the score to take the first set 6-4.
Puig broke early in the final set and quickly built up a 3-0 lead. She fought off break points to put more distance between her and the German before Kerber finally held serve at 5-1. With the Puerto Rican serving for the medal, the 21-year-old found herself down 0-40 as the magnitude of the situation began to sink in.
Puig steeled herself and brought the score to deuce, setting off a marathon race to the finish as both players looked to close it out. After several lobs, missed overheads, double faults and winners that swung the advantage back and forth, and unforced error from Kerber finally sent Puig throwing her racquet in the air, claiming the gold medal.
Puig's victory was already historic before she even hit a ball - by virtue of reaching the final, she became the first female athlete representing Puerto Rico's to win any Olympic medal at all.
She now stands as the first athlete - male or female - to bring home a gold medal to Puerto Rico, ending a 68-year drought dating back to the island's first appearance at an Olympic Games.
"This is for Puerto Rico. This is definitely for them," she said. "They're going through some tough times right now, and they needed this. I needed this.
"I think I united a nation. I just love where I come from."
Bronze medalist Petra Kvitova later joined Puig and Kerber on the podium as the Olympic Games heard the Puerto Rican national anthem for the first time.