Puerto Rico now has its first Olympic gold medal, courtesy of tennis star Monica Puig, who beat Germany’s Angelique Kerber in the women’s singles tournament at Rio’s Summer Olympics on Saturday. Puerto Rico has been sending athletes to the Olympics since 1948; before today, Team Puerto Rico had amassed eight Olympic medals — none of them gold. Puig toppled Kerber, a German ranked second in the world, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1. Puig already had become the first woman representing Puerto Rico to clinch a medal. Now she had become the first, after 17 Summer Olympics, to win gold for Puerto Rico.
Puig, 22, was an underdog from the outset – she wasn’t even seeded at this competition. Her biggest career achievement until reaching the final was winning a relatively minor tournament, the Internationaux de Strasbourg in France. But as NBC Olympics reported, she played “exceptionally aggressive tennis, whacking the ball from every angle and throwing herself around the court.” Facing an opponent who hadn’t been taken to three sets before today’s final, Puig ensured Kerber would have to play three to win by seizing the first set, 6-4. Kerber responded by taking the second, also by 6-4. In the third, Puig quickly took a lead of 3-0. After the break, Kerber regrouped and seemed poised to hold serve, lashing the court with long, angled shots. But Puig put her on her heels and took the fourth game, as well. She went on to win the fifth — but Kerber held serve to force a seventh game in the last set, at 5-1. The final game was the highlight of a match that had several rousing exchanges, with the left-handed Kerber slugging it out from the baseline with the right-handed Puig, which whipped the crowd in Rio into a frenzy of applause and appreciation.
When Puig watched Kerber’s final shot sail wide, Puig tossed her racket, raised both arms and smiled. After she shook hands, she paced several steps with her hands on her head and collapsed to her knees, covering her face and shaking from sobs.
It’s just amazing,” Puig said. “I know my country really appreciates this, and I really wanted to give this to them. The way that I did it tonight, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
“I just want to tell them this is for them,” said an emotional Puig as she was interviewed after her win. “They’re going through some tough times and they needed this and I needed this,” she said, adding, “I love where I come from”.