Monica Puig defeated Germany’s Angelique Kerber 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 to win the women’s tennis gold medal on Saturday, accomplishing something no one representing Puerto Rico has ever done in the process.
The 22-year-old Puig became just the ninth athlete from Puerto Rico to win an Olympic medal in any sport — and in beating a Grand Slam champion for the third time in four matches she became the island's first-ever gold medalist.
After the victory, Puig was visibly overjoyed.
"I just can't believe it. This is for them," Puig said of her fellow Puerto Ricans, though she lives in Miami. "This is definitely for them. They're going through some tough times right now and they needed this. I needed this. I think I united a nation and I just love where I come from."
Puig, ranked 34th in the world, was the upstart in every way, while Kerber, the Australian Open champion, was starting to look very comfortable in the role of favorite as the two entered Saturday’s final.
Puig’s underdog run to the final came amid a severe economic crisis that is devastating the U.S. territory, which fields its own Olympic team. Puig is deeply aware of what her triumphs mean.
"This Olympics isn't about me. It's about Puerto Rico, and I know how bad they want this," she said before Saturday's match-up. "The island is full of such bad news all the time so every time ... somebody from the island wins a medal, everything stops. I know how happy everybody gets."
Puig was so happy Friday after her back-and-forth 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 victory over two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova that her celebratory leap probably got enough hang time to earn points in the Olympic trampoline final. She dropped the first three games against the far more seasoned Czech, who was seeded 11th. Unfazed, Puig rallied to win the set, then regrouped again after taking just one game in the second.
Puig, who also upset French Open champion Garbine Muguruza in Rio de Janeiro, has never even been to a quarterfinal at a major.
In the men's semifinals Saturday, 2012 gold medalist Andy Murray beat Japan’s Kei Nishikori, while the 2008 Olympic champion, Spain’s Rafael Nadal, fell to Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro. Murray and del Potro will face each other in Sunday’s gold medal match.