ACAPULCO, Mexico - Monica Puig outlasted No.6 seed Maria Sakkari in an Acapulco marathon to make a winning start to her Abierto Mexicano TELCEL presentado por HSBC campaign.
Puig, a two-time quarterfinalist here in Acapulco, was contesting her first match since the Australian - and her first match with Kamau Murray as her new coach.
Up against the giant-slaying Sakkari of Greece, Puig needed over two and a half hours to claim a hard-fought 7-5, 4-6, 6-0 victory and move on to the second round. In fact, the victory extends Puig’s stellar first-round record here: she’s never fallen at this stage in Acapulco in five appearances.
“It was a tough match, I’ve played her before and it’s been tight,” Puig told press afterwards. “It was tough conditions out there in the first two sets because it was super windy.
“But we pushed each other, you know, really took each other to the edge. I’m glad that in the third set when it counted I stepped up to the plate and just did what I needed to do and was able to come up with the win.”
The No.58-ranked Puig edged ahead after a first set full of twists and turns. After a spate of three breaks in a row, the Puerto Rican sat at 5-3 and was looking to close in on the finish line. But Sakkari fought her way back in and saved two sets points to extend her stay in the set.
With Puig serving for the set, Sakkari showed all her grit to emerge victorious after a marathon 13-minute game - needing seven break points to level the score at 5-5. But her heroics would prove to be in vain as Puig broke straight back, Sakkari’s big game producing too many unforced errors, and Puig served it out to love.
Puig suffered a letdown in the second set, and Sakkari quickly built up a 3-0 lead as she targeted the relatively weaker Puig forehand. The Puerto Rican twice came back from a set down - at 3-2 and then again at 4-3 - but she couldn’t stem the Greek player’s momentum as Sakkari broke Puig a third time to claim the set.
But it was a completely different story in the final set as Puig, who had been knocking on the door for most of the second set, finally found her best level against Sakkari. The Puerto Rican’s backhand was firing as she reeled off the next six games in a row to seal the set to love, hitting a perfectly placed dropshot to claim the victory after two hours and 35 minutes.
“I thought that I wasn’t playing my best tennis at the beginning of the second set - I started playing well towards the end. I really just wanted to continue being aggressive and continue that into the third.
“When I was taking a break between sets and changing my clothes, I had to just tell myself to focus on what my strengths are, and just keep moving forward.”
The Puerto Rican Olympic gold medalist struck 21 winners and 41 unforced errors during the match, outpacing Sakkari’s 30 and 51, respectively. Puig also served well, hitting three aces and serving at 64% of first serves.
Next up for Puig will be China’s Wang Yafan, who eased past Marie Bouzkova 6-2, 6-2 to claim the first main draw victory of the event.
After her match, Puig was also sure to acknowledge the work of her new coaching team. Led by Sloane Stephens' former coach Kamau Murray, Puig has been working with her new team since the end of the Australian Swing.
“It’s been great so far, having a new team is like a breath of fresh air,” Puig said. “We’ve been working on all aspects of my game: physical, mental, and a lot on the court. Of course the No.1 thing is to relax and have fun.
“I think that’s one of the things that we neglect - we get to play tennis for a living and that’s kind of fun, but we just put so much pressure on ourselves that we forget that this is actually a really cool profession to have.”