Monica & Puerto Rican Pride
Published July 27, 2013 12:00
This week, wtatennis.com will be revisiting some of the fairytales from the spring, where players overcame obstacles to achieve their dreams... today: Monica & Puerto Rico.
For too long tennis has lived in the shadow of baseball and boxing in Puerto Rico. However, this may not be the case for much longer, particularly if Monica Puig has anything to say about it.
Puig's talent on the court and infectious enthusiasm off it has seen her build a growing legion of followers. The bulk of these are back in the land of her birth, where she is rapidly emerging as a rival to Carlos Beltrán and Miguel Cotto for the nation's affections.
"I'm getting quite popular back home," Puig said when asked at Wimbledon of her place within Puerto Rico's sporting hierarchy. "The big sports back in Puerto Rico are basically boxing, baseball, and basketball. Now that I've been doing well, tennis is starting to become bigger as well.
"Everybody has Direct TV, who, I think, transmitted the matches from Wimbledon, as well as ESPN. Lots of people have been watching my matches - even if they had to wake up really early!"
And those early risers in San Juan, Bayamón and Carolina, starved of success since the days of Gigi Fernández and Kristina Brandi, were rewarded by Puig's performances at the All-England Club, where she defeated No.5 seed Sara Errani en route to the fourth round.
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 made the first tentative steps to tennis superstardom.
"I left Puerto Rico relatively early," she said. "My dad is a mechanical engineer, so for his business we moved over to Miami.
"When I was little I tried lots of sports, but got bored with them pretty quickly. My mom played tennis when she was very young, so she introduced me to tennis and I loved it right away.
"I didn't really think that I was going to be anything special - I was kind of a late bloomer - but slowly all the pieces of the puzzle were finally connecting and I started to see that things were coming together."
And come together they have in 2013. Following her Wimbledon exploits, the 19-year-old broke into the Top 50 for the first time, and next week she kicks off a summer on her favored hardcourts at the Southern California Open in Carlsbad.
Yet for all this whirlwind success, Puig has never lost sight of her roots. "Obviously I never forgot my background. My grandparents on my mom's side of the family still live in Puerto Rico and I go back every summer; I speak Spanish fluently as well.
"Being known as one of the only players from Puerto Rico is a big honor. It brings pressure too, trying to follow after players like Gigi. I've received a lot of support from her and my federation and everybody in Puerto Rico.
"It's amazing, and it just helps me move forward and progress every day."