On Tuesday in Nottingham I sat down to chat to Monica Puig about the upcoming grass-court season, the current position of her career, and the possibilities the near future presents for her. Read on for what she had to say!
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“I really like the grass. I kind of reminded myself when I first got on there – I was like, ‘I really like playing on it!’”
And Monica Puig – speaking after her opening win at the Aegon Open Nottingham – is no stranger to success on the lawns. The Puerto Rican has long been tipped for big things, since her days as a teenage prospect alongside Sloane Stephens and Laura Robson. A fourth round showing at Wimbledon in 2013 – during which she defeated Sara Errani in round one, in straight sets – confirmed that the young star was one to watch.
However, over the past couple of years, tour life has been up and down for the 21-year-old. A first WTA title on the clay of Strasbourg, 2014, was followed by a rally of difficult draws and early losses.
“Obviously, the results haven’t come the way that I wanted them to this year,” Monica admits, post breaking a streak of five straight losses over six weeks. “But I don’t think it’s been a bad year. I’ve had some good wins. I just need to get myself back into the habit of winning a little bit more consistently. My practises are going well and I am working really hard. I know that, sooner or later, what happens in practise will start appearing more in the matches – like it did today.”
It’s this sort of positive mindset that has Monica Puig headed for the heights.
At present, we are seeing Eugenie Bouchard – a contemporary of Monica’s – wildly struggling for form after rising to the top of the game with surprising speed. There are no shortcuts to tennis success, and Monica is aware of this. The girl who has often described herself as a ‘late-bloomer’ is now in no rush to hit elite status.
“I’m taking my time, and having a little bit of patience with myself. I know that something good will come in the future. ”
A great love for her sport, and obvious passion to accompany her enormous talent, can only help her in the long run. Puig’s work ethic and dedication have always been evident, from her twitter updates to her pumped-up persona on the court.
“I do put a lot of passion and a lot of tender love and care into everything I do out on the court, because I really love this sport,” she says. “That’s why I’m doing it as my profession.”
But before we look too far ahead, there’s the immediate to consider. Solidly inside the world’s top 100, the world number 89 doesn’t have a tremendous amount of ranking points to defend up until December. An upcoming grass-court season will be the next rung of Monica’s career ladder, and the extended swing of tournaments presents a fantastic opportunity to get back on track.
Her campaign has begun perfectly. A 7-6(5) 7-6(5) win against Lucie Hradecka was especially promising, as the Czech – a top doubles competitor – has threatened for major titles on the turf. Tuesday’s match was extremely close, and Monica showed off powerful strokes, a strong serve and fantastic spirit to come through, turning any frustration she felt into motivation to improve. The result came down to the fact that she played the biggest points better. How important does she feel mental strength is for her?
“It’s really important, especially on a day like today,” Monica enthused after her win. “It was a really tight match.”
“I think it’s just the more positive you stay, the clearer you can think. Starting to get down, starting to get negative, you can’t think the way you want, and then it doesn’t translate into something positive on the court. So I just try and always keep myself as calm as possible. It doesn’t always work, but I try!”
After the victory, Monica is staying level-headed and focussed. Taking the encouragement, she’ll move quickly on.
“For me, a win is a win, no matter if I beat somebody who I’ve beaten before, or somebody who I haven’t beaten. But Lucie’s been having such great year, she’s had some incredible wins and some really good tournaments.”
Perhaps an early French Open loss last month (to the unpredictable Sabine Lisicki) is already proving to be a blessing in disguise for the 21-year-old. After all, it granted her more time to prepare on the grass, and therefore could have affected her performance against Hradecka.
Reflecting with honesty, Monica confessed, “I think there might have been some scheduling issues in the past…. We’re always learning as we go as tennis players, and you know… maybe I should have played a little bit less, and taken a little bit more time to train.
“In my opinion, me as a player, I feel like I always perform better when I have some time to practise… to work on the things that need improvement, before going out into the match.”
That short stay in Paris certainly provided more time to assess the adjustments her clay-court game needed in order to be grass-ready. Those tweaks were on full display during Tuesday’s fighting triumph.
“It’s always a matter of making sure your serve is on point, because you win a lot of free points off the serve. You want to really work on the return so that you can start the point with an aggressive shot, or at least get the ball back and make the other person play. Obviously stay as low as you can, because the ball bounces much lower. You have to really get down and accelerate as fast as you can to start getting the initiative in the point.”
With restraining scheduling woes behind her, and an upbeat attitude to whatever is thrown at her, Monica will take to the next few weeks in the same way she is approaching the rest of her career: sensibly and steadily, match by match.
“Obviously I hope to go far in [Nottingham], and then I have Birmingham after. Then I will sit down and discuss with my team whether going to Eastbourne is a good idea or not. If I’ve played quite a few matches and I feel like I want to practice before Wimbledon, then we’ll pull out, and if we think that we need a couple more matches, we’ll stay and play Eastbourne.”
At the Aegon Open, Monica has already shown the talent, competitive nature, mature outlook and clean shots that have marked her out for future glory. For someone with such an ability to adapt to any surface, this could all add up to something special occurring sooner than she thinks – perhaps even during these next few weeks.
“I always set my sights on winning every single tournament I play. Obviously, it’s disappointing when it doesn’t happen, but you have to kind of trick your mind into saying, ‘I’m the best there is’, and ‘I’m going to win the tournament!’ So you know, when it does happen, it’s amazing. But when it doesn’t, you get back at it the next day, and just figure out what you did wrong, what you can fix, and move on.”
Roughly five minutes talking to Monica Puig reveals a lot about her. Distance from the tennis players can cause you to view them as little more than robots, but they’re real people with their own characters and interests. Monica, for example, is a very creative-minded person.
“I tend to keep a diary sometimes, but then I stop writing for a while,” she laughs. “I do like to draw things. My mind is very creative. So if I have something in my mind that I’ve been thinking about for a really long time, I might draw it out or write it out or something. I’m also very energetic, so in my room I do a lot of things that waste a lot of energy… So I sing, I do whatever it is, I’m just that type of person!”
She’s sweet and genuine, funny and easy to talk to. She’s honest, dedicated, and possesses a brilliant mindset.
Alongside everything else, the future champion is not settling for second best.
“For me, one of my favourite quotes is: ‘Shoot for the moon, and even if you don’t reach it, you’ll land amongst the stars.’”
With a positive outlook, an array of talent, and a likeable personality, the Puerto Rican is sure to become a WTA favourite. Who’s not to say that, sooner or later, Monica Puig will land on that moon?
Thanks to Monica for a fantastic interview! Got any thoughts? Share them in the comments section, or on twitter via @tennisobsessed_!