Olympic champion Puig learning to deal with success

World No. 27 Monica Puig admits that it has been difficult adjusting to her new status as Olympic champion.
World No. 27 Monica Puig admits that it has been difficult adjusting to her new status as Olympic champion.

WUHAN • Monica Puig is still getting used to her new-found fame, as the surprise Rio de Janeiro Olympics gold medallist struggles to comprehend how she won her biggest tennis title yet.

Since beating world No. 1 Angelique Kerber to win Puerto Rico's first ever Olympic gold medal last month, Puig suffered first-round defeats at two of her next three events - the US Open and this week's Wuhan Open.

Yet, her early exit in Wuhan did not prevent the tournament's organisers from celebrating her 23rd birthday with a cake. Nevertheless, the fiesty world No. 27 knows that getting used to a quick turnaround is part of maturing as a player.

Puig, who also took part in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, admitted: "It was hard when you go from being a rising star to actually living up to that title.

"It's not something I'm used to, winning something this big, then having to continue and keep going. I will officially be always labelled the 'Olympic gold medallist'. I'm getting used to that.

"(When I won) it took me a while to go to sleep and actually calm my thoughts and not replay that moment over and over again.

"I would have loved to have some down time, give my body a little bit of a breather to catch up with everything that has happened. I've had to go at a really fast rate to get my body back into shape, to focus on the tournaments and tell everybody, 'Don't celebrate too much'."

While Puig feels that she can "cut myself a little bit of slack sometimes" after her achievement in Rio, she will continue to pack her calendar towards the end of this season in search for consistency.

She began her Asian swing last week in Tokyo, where she reached the quarter-finals. After Wuhan, she will compete at the China Open in Beijing, followed by the Tianjin Open.

She hopes to be in a more relaxed frame of mind as that helped her to succeed at the Olympics.

"(During) the Olympics I (enjoyed) every moment I was on the court," said Puig, who has won two singles titles on the Women's Tennis Association Tour.

"Maybe that's something that will work for me in the future. I definitely feel a lot better on court since I started viewing things that way. I think it's a matter of time and patience before (I become more consistent)."

And, when the season is over, Puig intends to switch off completely.

She said: "I know when vacation time comes around, I'm not going to be thinking about tennis.

"I'm going to turn off Twitter and Instagram. Nobody is going to know about me for two weeks."

Alvin Chia

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2016, with the headline 'Olympic champion Puig learning to deal with success'. Print Edition | Subscribe