By: Caleb Texeria
Once Puerto Rico’s tennis prodigy Monica Puig entered the Centre Court to face off her final opponent, German nationally ranked powerhouse Angelique Kerber, the chants of her fans rang throughout the stadium: “Si, se puede!” As she began to start what would be a historic match, “Yes, I can” played over and over through her head. Although a Puerto Rican has won gold before, no athlete has ever represented the United States commonwealth and listened to their national anthem play during the medal ceremony. It was after three sets of 6-4, 4-6 and 6-1 that “Yes, I can” became “Yes, I did.”
As Puig watched Kerber’s last hit sail wide right, she chucked her racquet into the air and collapsed on her knees, alternating between laughter and tears of joy. She quickly regained her composure and shook her opponent’s hand. The chanting grew louder and louder as the support of her people became borderline ballistic. She blew a kiss to the crowd and grabbed a Puerto Rican flag, shaking it in a clenched fist as a sign of victory.
Caption: Monica Puig tosses her racquet after becoming the first ever gold medalist for Puerto Rico
“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.”
Puig had to fight many formidable opponents on her road to gold including Germany’s Laura Siegemund and Petra Kvitová from the Czech Republic. Kvitová is the second highest ranked left handed player, behind Puig’s final opponent Kerber. It was unexpected for Puig to get passed the quarterfinals, especially in a pool with Serena Williams, widely regarded as the best female tennis player in the world, who lost her third match in an upset to Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina.
Currently ranked 34th in the world, Puig has never advanced to the quarterfinals of a major and has not reached the round of 16 in one since 2013. The Saturday after she won, a photo of Puig was featured on El Nueva Dia, Puerto Rico’s largest newspaper, with the headline of “Por El Oro y La Gloria” — For Gold and Glory.
“Puerto Rico is small, so it is overlooked most of the time and causes people to underestimate us and our abilities. When Monica Puig won, I was proud that the world could see that Puerto Rico is capable of achieving gold,” said Dominique Rios, senior.
In a time where the nation is suffering the worst economic crisis of their existence and being declared a state of emergency due to the outbreak of the Zika virus, Puerto Rico needs all the positivity they can get, and Puig’s major win and bringing home its first Olympic gold medal could not have come at a better time.