The power of a gold medal wasn’t enough to get Monica Puig through the first round of the U.S. Open Monday.
The surprise winner of the Rio Olympics tennis competition, Puig, the 32nd seed at the Open, fell to China’s Saisai Zheng, 6-4, 6-2. Puig was up 4-1 in the first set, then couldn’t hold her serve as Zheng’s aggressiveness became too much to counter.
“It’s always a little bit tough, especially coming off winning the Olympic gold medal,” Puig said. “A lot of pressure, a lot of expectation.”
Puig’s Rio victory sent waves of good feelings across her native Puerto Rico, a nation beset by debt and the specter of the Zika virus, a nation looking for something to grab ahold of. She was feted with a parade in San Juan, and party after party. The whole experience made her immensely proud but emotionally drained. There were many of Puerto Rican heritage in the old grandstand court Monday trying to get into the second round.
“Everyone was there supporting me,” she said. “They didn’t really let down at any moment. It’s even great to see that at my lowest points they were there for me. I really appreciate that.”
Puig, who lives in Miami but visits Puerto Rico often, found that after such a big victory, especially one where emotions of a nation were so palpable, time wasn’t on her side.
“At the end of the day, the calendar doesn’t really give you much room,” she said. “You have to get back out there like everybody else does.”
And she’s still young, still has time to improve.
“I’m still in the process of learning. There’s so much to be done with my game,” she said. “I’m 22 years old, so it’s back to the drawing board with my team and see what else we can fix.”
Two players who have beaten Serena Williams in Grand Slam finals this season advanced. Angelique Kerber, who beat Williams in the final at the Australian, essentially got a free pass when her opponent, Polona Hercog, retired with Kerber leading 6-0, 1-0. Garbine Muguruza, who beat Williams in final at the French Open, had a tough time with Elise Martens before winning, 2-6, 6-0, 6-3.
“To to be honest, it’s never the way I would like to finish the match, but I went out there to feel my rhythm and start the tournament well,” said Kerber, the No. 2 seed. “I played the first set well, so this is what I will take from this match, that I’m playing my tennis.”
Muguruza, the No. 3 seed, found the heat to be as big a foe as her opponent and she called the trainer after losing the first set.
“It was difficult a little bit to breath for me,” said Muguruza. “It was really humid . . . I forgot there was the ice towels. So I started using them, trying to breath a little bit better. I also felt this at practice two days ago. That I’m like, whew, this hot here.”