No. 32 Monica Puig entered the US Open with a world of expectations on her shoulders.
She, however, ran into the crafty play of Zheng Saisai, who battled back after getting down in the first set to take the match, 6-4,6-2.
At first, it seemed like Puig might escape with a lopsided victory over Zheng, ranked about 30 spots below her.
Puig dominated the beginning of the match, much to the delight of the crowd, hitting big shots Zheng couldn’t return to take a 4-1 lead.
But Zheng’s strategy of taking pace off balls – hitting Puig’s blasts high in the air and scrambling to retrieve her bigger shots – began to earn her more frequent Puig misses.
And when Zheng began to supply some offense of her own, stepping into the court almost unexpectedly, Puig seemed off-balance and the unforced errors continued.
At 4-3, deuce, a pivotal moment:
Zheng lulled Puig into a rhythm with high, defensive shots before stepping in to rip a backhand down the line for the winner.
A tentative swinging volley from Puig on the next point led to an accurate Zheng passing shot to even the match at 4-4.
Puig wouldn’t recover.
Puig finished with 28 unforced errors over Zheng’s 13.
WHAT IT MEANS:
Puig stunned the sports world with wins over Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber in the semifinals and finals of the Olympics to take home Puerto Rico’s only gold medal in Rio.
Many were looking at whether Puig could continue her stellar play into the last Grand Slam of the year.
Her first round match had few expectations: Zheng and Puig, both 22, had never played before Monday’s match.
Zheng, however, has now matched her best singles performance since she lost in the second round of the US Open in 2014.
Will Puig rebound from her first-round US Open loss and again capture the momentum she had in Rio?
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