Puig Sets Her Sights On Big Time
Published March 19, 2013 04:51
MIAMI, FL, USA - Two thousand, six hundred and seventy-eight. At the time of writing, that was the number of Twitter followers Monica Puig had.
And while this may be small fry in comparison to social media behemoths like Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki, if Puig continues on her current career trajectory, this number - along with her world ranking - is likely to be heading in only one direction.
After an impressive junior career that included final appearances at both Roland Garros and the Australian Open, Puig first began making waves in the senior ranks last autumn with back-to-back titles on the ITF Circuit in France.
She carried this momentum into the new season, negotiating qualifying in Brisbane before coming within two points of knocking out then-World No.5 Angelique Kerber in the second round.
In her native Puerto Rico, Puig's exploits have led to her becoming something of a lodestar for the island's burgeoning tennis community, which has been starved of success since the retirement of Kristina Brandi.
"Tennis is really starting to get big in Puerto Rico and I'm happy it's getting so popular," Puig said. "I think people are starting to follow it more after my success. People write to me all the time and it's nice to have that fan base."
Puig, who currently sits just outside the Top 100, has been rewarded for her recent progress with a wildcard into the biggest tournament of her career, the Sony Open Tennis, in her adopted hometown of Miami.
Despite her close ties with her homeland, Puig and her family have been living in Miami for the past 18 years, and it was here where she first began to dream of future tennis superstardom.
"My parents always used to get us tickets for the first weekend in Miami," Puig said. "I would be there every year with my giant tennis ball chasing after players for autographs. I got a few. I think the most famous was probably Andy Roddick.
"At that time, I loved tennis, but I had no idea how professional players got to where they were."
But what started out as a dream soon became reality. As a 14-year-old, Puig first served warning of her potential, finishing runner-up at the prestigious Junior Orange Bowl and the Eddie Herr International.
Although never breaking into the USTA setup, Puig continued to shine as a junior, working her way up the ladder and eventually reaching No.2 in the rankings.
"I was a late bloomer! I wanted to prove to my parents and myself that pro tennis was an option," she said. "I was never part of any national or regional teams, I just did my own thing here in Miami. I think I was meant to do it my way."
This path saw her enroll in the academies of first Nick Saviano and then Harold Solomon, before eventually finding her way to current coach Alain de Vos. That was five years ago and Puig believes the partnership is going from strength to strength.
"I started off at a few academies. Then, after the Orange Bowl, I really started to take it seriously and started with my coach I have right now, Alain De Vos.
"Since then it has been five years of really hard work and we've gotten to know each other very well and it's going great at the moment!"
But what of the future?
Puig has already witnessed several of her peers make their mark at the highest level, including former junior sparring partner Sloane Stephens.
"I know Sloane quite well," Puig said of her fellow Floridian. "We used to grow up playing nationals together, although we never really played much against each other.
"She has done well recently, but she's a bit older and is a bit more experienced because she turned pro before me."
However, as single minded as she is ambitious, it is in her own performances that Puig is taking most interest.
"I don't really look into how the other girls are doing. Given my recent results, I think I can get in the Top 40 - maybe even the Top 20 - by the end of the year," she said. "It's a big goal, but I have high expectations, which is a good motivator.
"One day I'd like to get to No.1 and win all the Slams. It's a long career, but I'm ambitious and I think things are going really well at the moment."