Olympic champion Monica Puig feels she is “on the right track now” after dealing with the aftermath of her historic triumph in Rio last summer and her two victories in Doha on Wednesday seem to be evidence of that.
Puerto Rico’s first every Olympic gold medallist shocked three grand slam champions – Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber – en route to the title at the Games in Brazil and has since been trying to handle the attention and pressure that came with her stunning triumph.
Heading into the Qatar Total Open this week, Puig had won back-to-back matches just twice since Rio, but on Wednesday she impressively pulled off double duty by destroying Laura Siegemund in the morning and beating Yulia Putintseva – who retired in the third set – in the afternoon to become the first player through to the quarter-finals in Doha.
The rain that wreaked havoc with the tournament on the first two days of main draw action did not completely subside on day three but it allowed almost seven hours of uninterrupted play.
Organisers scheduled matches starting 11:00am as opposed to the typical daily start time of 15:30 to take advantage of the dry weather earlier in the day.
Expecting a tricky day ahead, Puig blasted through her first round 6-0, 6-1 over Germany’s Siegemund in a mere 40 minutes.
The Puerto Rican world No47 returned to the court for her second round against Putintseva, who had played just one set against seventh-seeded Timea Bacsinszky earlier in the day before the Swiss retired with a left thigh injury while down 1-6.
Puig and Putintseva split the opening two sets of their second round before the latter retired with a left thigh problem three games into the decider.
Despite already contesting four sets in one day, Puig hit the practice courts straight after her Kazakh opponent waved the flag, to work on her game with her coach Nacho Todero.
“My coach and I are focusing all about the process and the process of things and how to continue to keep my mind where it needs to be so if there was something that didn’t work in the match or where I didn’t feel comfortable I would go back on the practice courts,” Puig told Sport360.
“I did it in Rio and it got me some good results but for me it’s all about getting better and that’s what I’m going to try and continue to do.”
Puig and the majority of the players had been waiting for two days to step on the court to no avail due to the weather – a situation that can be both physically and mentally taxing.
“I got into Doha quite early so the good thing is that at least I was very anxious to play so that’s what I think helped push my momentum in the right direction. My coach and I were very focused on what we had to do and what we had to accomplish today so that was the good thing,” explained the 23-year-old.
The reaction to Puig’s Olympics glory back home in Puerto Rico was huge and she was given a hero’s welcome fit for kings when she touched down in San Juan. She has been trying to steady her game ever since and feels she’s finally found the right path.
“It was a bit overwhelming since Rio. I’m not really sure how I was. Maybe I was just a little bit too emotionally and physically exhausted or I just didn’t also really know how to cope with the pressure of all of it,” confessed Puig.
“But finally for the first time I feel like I’m settling into my own skin again and I finally feel like I’m more comfortable with what I’m doing. It took a really long time but I’m glad that I went through that process and I learnt so much. So my coach and I are really thankful for that little period of timing because out of something kind of stressful we resolved some things and we’re on the right track now.”
Puig returned to San Juan in December for an exhibition match with Maria Sharapova, whose 15-month doping ban ends in April.
“That was incredible, it was a really fun event,” said Puig.
“A huge turnout. It was a lot of fun. Especially with Maria, I could see how much she wanted to get back on the court. She’s really funny, we had a lot of laughs and hopefully the event will continue to grow and hopefully have another edition at the end of this year.
“It was the first interaction [with Sharapova] and it was actually really fun, we had so many laughs, so many little jokes. She’s a really nice person, really humble person as well and I’m really looking forward to seeing her back on the tour.”
In the quarter-finals in Doha, Puig awaits the winner of the clash between Angelique Kerber and Daria Kasatkina.
Putintseva, who made the St. Petersburg final earlier this month, said she felt her injury for the first time during Fed Cup last weekend in Astana. The 22-year-old Kazakh will try to find out what the exact problem is with her thigh before next week’s Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
World No6 Agnieszka Radwanska takes on Sport360’s fun Arabic language test ahead of the Qatar Total Open.
Watch to see how the 27-year-old fared.
After more than 11 years on tour, Agnieszka Radwanska can be considered a veteran in the sport.
Yet, at 27, she is far from being the oldest player amongst the tennis elite, with seven women in the top-20 aged above her, including the 35-year-old world No1 Serena Williams.
Tennis can be an unforgiving sport and like many other disciplines, your body takes a beating as every season passes by.
Age is no longer a factor when it comes to success in tennis and it’s how one feels that determines how far a player can still go.
“Mentally, I feel much younger. Physically, I feel much older,” Radwanska told reporters ahead of her eight appearance at the Qatar Total Open.
“It’s hard to say, generally just to put everything together, how I feel, what year? I’ve been on the tour 11 years now. It’s quite a long time. Physically, for sure, I’m not feeling so young.”
The Pole, who peaked at No2 in the world and is now ranked No6, had her best grand slam result in 2012, when she reached the Wimbledon final, and continues to search for ways to advance her game and conquer her major dream.
One of those efforts has resulted in her taking a bold decision to change her racquet from Babolat to Srixon this season. For someone who has incredible feel like Radwanska – nicknamed ‘La Profesora’ and ‘Ninja’ for pulling off inconceivable shots from every inch of the court – it was definitely a risk after spending so many years using Babolat.
Her first tournament with the new racquet saw her reach the final in Sydney, where she looked like she was hitting the ball harder than usual, without losing any of her deft touch.
“I’m trying. Of course, it was a tough decision, changing the racquet after so many years playing the same racquet. But, well, I think this is kind of the last year or the last kind of timing that I can change something,” Radwanska explained.
“So, yeah, I was really thinking about this for long time. Around Christmas, I said, ‘Yeah, why not? Let’s change something’.”
Following Sydney, the Krakow-native suffered a shock second round defeat at the Australian Open to surprise eventual semi-finalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni – a 34-year-old Croat who was ranked 79 entering Melbourne.
It was Radwanska’s earliest Australian Open exit since 2009. But while clearly disappointed, the Pole says she was able to keep that result in perspective.
“Well, as we can see, Mirjana had the best tournament of her life. She played unbelievable tennis till the end of the tournament. It wasn’t only one match,” said Radwanska.
“So, well, it’s always disappointing losing first week of the grand slam. Doesn’t matter who you play. But, well, I think I also was a bit unlucky. That’s kind of a lesson, that those players still can play really good tennis, without any pressure, you know, just hitting the ball as hard as they can. You really have to be careful on those ones, as well.”
Radwanska will be looking to rebound this Middle East swing – a region where she has done well in the past. She has reached the semi-finals in Doha in five of her seven appearances, while she won the Dubai title in 2012.
Seeded No4 in Doha, Radwanska has a bye in the first round and awaits the winner of the clash between ex-world No1 Caroline Wozniacki and last year’s French Open semi-finalist Kiki Bertens.
“Of course, is not easy draw,” confessed Radwanska, who trails her good friend Wozniacki 6-9 head-to-head (Radwanska has won their last two meetings end of 2016).
“We’ll see after that match who’s going to win. Caroline is playing good tennis at the moment. She’s definitely starting to be more confident. Playing really better than before. I guess it’s going to be her. Yes, we played couple times the end of the last year. That was really three good, long matches. So we’ll see.”