CHARLESTON, SC, USA - A well-rested Monica Puig has powered into the Volvo Car Open semifinals for the first time in her career, and she’s done so in dominant fashion.
The only unseeded player left in the draw, Puig posted a huge win over World No.10 Aryna Sabalenka, 6-2, 7-5 in the third round, backed it up with another one-sided upset over Danielle Collins, the No.11 seed, 6-3, 6-2 in the quarterfinals.
Now, she’s into her first semifinal of the year, and her first since New Haven in 2018.
“It's been a long time coming. I haven't really had many good results strung together in a long time. It's been a minute since I've had four matches in a row won,” Puig told press in Charleston after her win over Collins.
Puig hasn’t just played good tennis this week - she’s been nearly untouchable. According to SAP, not only has Puig not dropped a set all week, but she’s done it in dominant style: winning over 85% of her service games and over 55% of her return games, numbers well above her season average.
A big part of the Puerto Rican’s stunning resurgence can be credited to a new voice in Puig’s coaching team: Kamau Murray, former coach of Sloane Stephens who guided the American to victory at the US Open. After parting ways with longtime coach Juan Todero, Puig added Murray at the beginning of the year, though she admitted she didn’t see the results of the partnership until this week.
But another part to Puig’s Charleston dominance? According to the Puerto Rican, it’s been all about finding her zen through meditation and, more importantly, getting a good night’s sleep.
Puig revealed that she’s taken up meditation using the Peloton Digital app. Peloton, a fitness company known for at-home spin bikes that offers access to live-streamed workouts, recently expanded into meditation and yoga, and Puig is a big fan.
“I usually do it before I go to bed,” she explained. “I love Peloton. I love their workouts. I love everything about it, so the app actually has meditations, and one of the biggest things I struggle with is falling asleep, because my mind is all chit chatty.”
Every night before bed, Puig fires up a five-minute or ten-minute sleep meditation. Whereas before it could take over up to an hour and a half to fall asleep and even longer to say asleep, now Puig estimates that she’s out like a light within minutes.
“I need to do this because my sleep is terrible, and I have a really tough time falling asleep and staying asleep,” Puig said. “So that has been paying off. And I noticed the benefits of doing it, now I fall asleep in like two minutes. And little by little it has started creeping into my everyday life… on the court I feel more level or I feel more at peace.”
Meditation has been having a bit of a moment after 18-year-old Bianca Andreescu famously credited creative visualization meditation as the key to her Indian Wells success.
Puig has experienced similar benefits: all week long, she has pointed to her on-court ‘composure’ as the key to pulling off her decisive victories. So far, Puig has yet to even be taken to a tiebreaker, and of the eight sets she’s played, she’s dropped three games or less in five of them.
“It's easy to think ahead, so when you stay present and just think about what you need to do every single point, it really makes a difference,” she said.
“The composure has been the real factor, because in those moments when you're ahead, you want to stay ahead; and when it's tight, you need to stay in there and just keep fighting. So just in those moments, [I’m] just taking my time, breathing, staying present.”
According to Puig, frustrating struggle with injury served as the catalyst for her venture into meditation and mindfulness.
Last year, her season was interrupted multiple times due to injury, each coming at a time when Puig seemed to have finally found her best tennis: after an impressive US hardcourt swing which saw her claim a victory over World No.2 Caroline Wozniacki in Miami and reach the quarterfinals of Monterrey, a hip injury in Rome kept her off of the courts for the rest of the clay and most of the grass season. And in New Haven, where Puig reached the semifinals from qualifying, she was forced to retire against Carla Suarez Navarro after suffering an abdominal injury.
“I'm 25, going to be 26 this year. I'm not the 18-year-old who used to go and play three set matches and come back the next day fresh as a daisy,” Puig joked. “So I need to take care of my body, especially having the past two years dealt with illness and injuries. So if I can stay happy and healthy on the court, that's always a plus for me.
“I was not a strong believer in [meditation], and coaches before have tried to press it on me,” she admitted. “But when you're willing to accept things and welcome new things after you resisted it for a long time and then you just start seeing it, you're like, ‘Okay, well better late than never.’
“Now I really understand what mindfulness is all about and what I need to do to take the steps forward.”
Reigning Olympic gold medalist Puig will take on No.8 seed Madison Keys on Saturday at the Volvo Car Open semifinals. She would close in on a return to the WTA Top 50 should she progress to the final, and could climb as high as World No.39 with a run to the title.