CHARLESTON, SC, USA - Monica Puig is not a patient woman. But with a new coaching team, maturity, and a grounded perspective, she's willing to bide her time.
The 25-year-old came into the Volvo Car Open still seeking back-to-back tour wins in 2019, and she did one better, securing a spot in her first quarterfinal of the season without losing a set. After defeating Sara Errani and Sofia Kenin in her first two rounds, Puig tallied her first Top 10 win of the season with a strong victory over No.3 seed Aryna Sabalenka in the Round of 16, 6-2 7-5 in the Round of 16.
For Puig, the result has been a long time coming. Now ranked No.63, Puig hired Kamau Murray, formerly with Sloane Stephens, as her new head coach after the Australian Open, as well as Othmane Garma as her assistant coach and hitting partner. Puig says the trio has been putting in the hard work since, but her disappointing results in Acapulco, Indian Wells, and Miami left her scratching her head.
"I've been a little bit impatient, I'm not going to lie, with wanting results right away as soon as we started working together, because we were changing a lot of things and working, and everything was working in practice," Puig said. "So I just thought, okay, it's supposed to translate over into the match.
"But it's not like that. You need patience. It finally started clicking for me a little bit this week, so I'm just riding the wave."
Puig credits Murray with settling her after Miami, where she lost in the first round to Chinese wildcard No.190 Wang Xiyu, 6-3, 6-1.
"I got frustrated after Miami, and I was just kind of like, okay, what's going on, because I'm putting in all this hard work," Puig said. "But he was just kind of like, relax. There's a lot of progress being made. You can see it in the matches. You're playing differently than you have before. It's going to happen. Just give it time.
"Also this week we've all been staying in one house, so it's like all of us together all the time. So I think they just help me maintain a really fun and light dynamic off the court and just kind of being like a family. And I really love it. It's really kept me grounded this whole week."
Along with the light-hearted vibe around her new team, Puig says Murray has introduced more structure and simplicity to her game.
"When I first started talking to Kamau about what I wanted to do and what needed to be done, he liked my game in general," Puig said. "He likes the way I play but I think it was just organizing myself a little bit more, settling in a little bit more. Sometimes not wanting to go for broke on a really long point, and just hanging in there and staying and fighting.
"I thought after the Olympics, it's kind of hard for you to keep fighting for matches because you put so much pressure that it just suddenly becomes such a struggle to fight, and you get discouraged a lot easier.
"So that's something really big that he's taught me is to continue to fight, and even if the match is getting tight, just hang in there. Just keep trusting yourself and keep going for your shots, and it'll happen when it's supposed to.
"They're both great people to work with, both very vocal. When they want something done, they explain what needs to be done, why we're doing this, what changes are going to happen and this and that.
"They're very process oriented, and I wasn't very process oriented from the start. I'm very result oriented, and I'm trying to change that. But they're like, just trust us. Stop talking and just trust what we're saying."
The ability to swing freely and play under pressure has been a frequent topic in the Charleston interview room this week. 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko spoke openly on Wednesday about trying to find the fearlessness she possessed during her incredible Paris run. Puig, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, had no problem relating.
"I agree with her 100 percent because we've both been in the same boat," Puig said of Ostapenko. "I actually did play her the year that she won and she played some of the most flawless tennis I've ever seen her play. She was hitting all the lines, winners all over the court.
"She pretty much kicked me off the court. She gave me a tennis lesson."
"So sometimes when you have those weeks like I did in Rio, and all of a sudden you're a Grand Slam champion or Olympic gold medalist and all eyes are on you all of a sudden, you expect so much more from yourself. You don't tolerate yourself losing in the first round of a tournament or you expect yourself to get to the quarterfinals or better every single week. There's that added pressure and when it's not there, you're discouraged, you get disappointed. And then [you have] losses and confidence issues.
"But I think it's just settling into your own skin and just saying, hey, you know, it happened, it can happen again. I didn't play that way by chance. It's in you. It's always going to be in you. You just have to find the courage to bring it out time and time again.
"And I think as we get older, too and we start maturing a little more mentally, we kind of are able to give ourselves a break when we're not playing our best tennis and still find a way to win.
"It's a learning process. She won it when she was super young, and I won when I was 22, and again, out of nowhere. Nobody expected us to do that.
"So it was great. At least we can say that we have that under our belt, but I know in our hearts we want more, so we're just going to keep scrapping and finding our way out of these little holes that we get ourselves into from time to time. And I really look forward to getting further in tournaments, as does she.
"So it'll be a good step forward if we can kind of break the ice on that little barrier that we have."