NEW HAVEN, CT, USA - Qualifier Monica Puig stunned the No.2 seed Caroline Garcia to reach her first semifinal of the season at the Connecticut Open.
"This definitely isn't my first rodeo coming through qualifying and getting deep in a tournament," Puig told the press, after her victory. "Those previous experiences and getting this deep in a tournament after playing qualifying definitely helped me stay tough out there, and to, you know, just continue to push along."
After narrowly avoiding being blanked second-set, Puig completed the comeback in emphatic style to seal the 7-5, 1-6, 6-2 victory - her fifth career win over a Top 10 rival.
"The first set was very tough," said Puig. "The second set, [Garcia] started playing better, but I felt like I made some crucial mistakes. I wasn't there in the second set. That really cost me. But in the third set, I had to really step up my game. If not, it was going to go just like the second set. I had to kind of refocus, reset and say, 'Okay, from here on out, this is my game plan, and no matter what happens, I have to stick to that.'"
Garcia came into the match riding high after wins over former World No.1s Maria Sharapova in Montreal and Victoria Azarenka in Cincinnati. In New Haven, Garcia was seeking her first appearance in a final since last year’s Asian-swing heroics, when she became the first player to win back-to-back titles in Wuhan and Beijing.
But the No.2 seed saw her run in New Haven cut short by the reigning Olympic champion, who recently added to her gold medal haul earlier in the summer at the 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games in Barranquilla.
Puig, who had been sidelined for most of the clay and grass seasons due to a hip injury, credited her gold medal run with helping to ease herself back into form as she made her WTA comeback.
"Little by little I started feeling better after Wimbledon," Puig told the media. "I really recovered well, focused on the fitness, then played the Central American Games, got the rust out, played some matches, then just feeling really good at this moment."
Puig added that her huge Puerto Rican fanbase "actually helps me and boosts me. I love to see that support. It's great to see them out here. They really care. They get into it. They're very passionate about their athletes. I'm really grateful that they follow me and support me. It's something great to have."
Puig’s return to form showed against Garcia, recovering from a 2-5 deficit in the opening set to edge in front. The Puerto Rican was twice down a break, and had to fight back both times before reeling off four games in a row to close out the set.
The tables turned in the second, with Garcia dialing up the intensity against Puig and rattling off five straight games to opening up a double break lead. Puig found her game again in the third, responding in kind to start the decider with a double break at 5-0.
Things got a bit complicated when she went to serve it out, Garcia recovering one of the breaks and holding serve to extend her stay in the contest - but Puig stayed calm to serve it out, closing out the match in two hours and 11 minutes.
"[Garcia] plays very aggressive, very deep in the court," said Puig. "It was just tough for me. In the third, I just had to turn the page, new chapter, just start over, just try and, you know, find a pretty consistent form."
Up next for Puig will be Carla Suárez Navarro as they each seek a spot in the final. Suárez Navarro moved past No.3 seed Petra Kvitova after three-time Connecticut Open champion Kvitova retired due to a left shoulder injury.