NEW YORK CITY, NY, USA - After an injury scare last week at the Connecticut Open left Monica Puig walking off of the court in tears, the Puerto Rican is breathing a sigh of relief following her strong US Open debut.
Puig came through the qualifying to make a semifinal run in New Haven before having to retire against Carla Suarez Navarro due to an abdominal strain.
“In Rome I had a really bad [hip] injury and then I couldn’t play for months,” Puig said. “So I was just really scared in New Haven. That’s also why I was crying, I just felt this big helplessness. I didn’t want to injure myself again and with the US Open right around the corner.
“But now I’m more calm, just focusing again on the thoughts I had in New Haven when I was playing well - to play more relaxed, focusing on the process of playing better. It’s all coming together quite well.”
Her emphatic 6-0, 6-0 victory over Stefanie Voegele will surely do wonders for her confidence after last week’s emotional rollercoaster - as well as snap a dismal streak of early losses at the US Open. By far her worst Slam in terms of winning percentage, Puig had only won one main draw match in her previous five appearances in New York.
“I had that bad record on my mind a little bit,” Puig said. “Especially because here in New York there’s so many Puerto Rican fans and I always want to stay longer in the tournament.
“I can hear the people in the crowd talking sometimes, and I’ll hear a bunch of Puerto Rican accents, and I know there’s a boricua in the crowd. I love it. It helps me feel better and at home here.”
With the sizable Puerto Rican diaspora turning out in big numbers to support her, Puig has admitted that the upcoming one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s devastating landfall on the island has been weighing on her mind. The hurricane, which struck Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane on September 20, caused extensive damage and left a death toll of nearly 3000.
“It was a really tough time at the end of the year for me last year, I was in China when it was all happening and I didn’t really have anything I could do,” she recalled. “I had to wait until the off season to really get involved, but I’m really happy and grateful that I did get involved when I had time.
“Thankfully none of my family was affected - they mostly live in apartment buildings so they were more protected. But obviously I was very nervous for my grandparents who are quite old. It was a really tough time trying to keep in touch with them, but thankfully everything went well with my family.”
Puig, who lives and trains in Boca Raton, hasn’t been back to Puerto Rico since her humanitarian trip with Maria Sharapova, where they paired up to distribute supplies bought with funds raised by Puig’s YouCaring account - but she’s already planning another offseason visit to the island.
“It’s slowly getting better, but I’m still told there’s power outages, there’s sometimes no running water,” she said. “It’ll take time. Rome wasn’t built in a day - you can’t rebuild a whole country in a year when so much damage was done and so much disaster happened.
“I really look forward to going back to Puerto Rico after this season and seeing what more needs to be done, and really get that one-on-one with the people. I love seeing everybody and I love seeing their faces with that little glimmer of hope. I really hope I can contribute more.”
Puig will face No.6 seed Caroline Garcia in the second round of the US Open on Wednesday. She owns a 2-0 record against the Frenchwoman, with her most recent win coming last week in the New Haven quarterfinals.