Monica Puig became the first Olympic gold medalist in Puerto Rico’s history after a three sets win over World No.2 Angelique Kerber, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.
The 22-year-old Puerto Rican, ranked 34th in the world, had never reached the last eight of a major tournament and arrived in Brazil completely under the radar.
Yet having reached the last four she defeated two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic.
She was, however, still a massive underdog going into the final against current world number two Kerber.
In an utterly fearless display, she produced the tennis of her life, often forcing Kerber onto the back foot.
She pulled off a range of inspired ground stroke winners from all over the court.
The 22-year-old fell to the court and kissed it after sealing victory as fans waved Puerto Rican flags and yelled “Monica, Monica, Monica.”
She broke down in tears on the podium. “It was the tournament, and greatest moment, of my life,” said Puig.
“I’m in shock; I just don’t even really know what to say. I’m so excited,” an emotional Puig reacted after the match.
“I wanted it so badly, I fought and my put my heart and soul on the court. I’m a pretty aggressive player ….
“I have that ‘Boricua’ fire in me,” she added, using a common term for Puerto Rico and the country’s inhabitants.
“I know my country really wanted this victory,” she added.
Puig has been the surprise of the Olympic tennis event, playing the best tennis of her career to reach the gold medal match.
She dealt out upsets to the likes of French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova along the way.
World number 2 Kerber was full of praise for her opponent:
“I think she came here with no pressure and I think she played one of the best weeks of her career,” said the German.
“She had nothing to lose, she was going for it. I knew actually that she was a great player and at the end she deserved it.
“She played a really great week and beat a lot of top players.”
Before her defeat of World No.4 Muguruza, Puig had only one career win over a Top 5 player.
She was then faced the task of repeating the feat against the World No.2 Kerber.
Kerber was vying to become the first German woman to win a gold medal in tennis since Steffi Graf in 1988.
She also lead the pair’s head to head record with wins in both of their previous encounters.
“It’s always tough,” Puig said of playing against the Top 5. “There’s always a lot of jitters, a lot of anxiety there every single night.
“But I knew what was the main goal going in here, and I just can’t believe it.”
Puig had broken early in the final set and quickly built up a 3-0 lead.
She fought off break points to put more distance between her and the German before Kerber finally held serve at 5-1.
With the Puerto Rican serving for the medal, the 21-year-old found herself down 0-40 as the magnitude of the situation began to sink in.
Puig steeled herself and brought the score to deuce, setting off a marathon race to the finish as both players looked to close it out.
After several lobs, missed overheads, double faults and winners that swung the advantage back and forth, and unforced error from Kerber finally sent Puig throwing her racquet in the air, claiming the gold medal.
Puig’s victory was already historic before she even hit a ball.
By virtue of reaching the final, she became the first female athlete representing Puerto Rico’s to win any Olympic medal at all.
She now stands as the first athlete – male or female – to bring home a gold medal to Puerto Rico.
It ends a 68-year drought dating back to the island’s first appearance at an Olympic Games.
“This is for Puerto Rico. This is definitely for them,” she said.
“They’re going through some tough times right now, and they needed this. I needed this.
“I think I united a nation. I just love where I come from.”
Bronze medalist Petra Kvitova later joined Puig and Kerber on the podium as the Olympic Games heard the Puerto Rican national anthem for the first time.
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