A surprisingly strong performance from Monica Puig coinciding with a few shocks elsewhere in the draw have given the Puerto Rican the chance to have a deep run at the Australian Open.
The Olympic champion produced a near flawless display to win 6-0 6-1 over Patricia Maria Tig. With two of the other three seeds in her sections suffering shock defeats and Venus Williams looking far from confident in her opening round match, the onus is very much on Puig to put together a special run.
Monica Puig performs perfectly against Patricia Maria Tig
Having lost in the first round of both Bisbane and Sydney – to Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki respectively – few were sure of the kind of level Monica Puig was performing at. Whilst the other seeded players struggled in a chaotic opening few hours, the Puerto Rican flourished.
All aspects of her game showed the kind of potency that won her the Olympic gold medal. A persistant assault on the weaker backhand flank of Tig drew a host of errors. In just twenty-five minutes she had sealed a bagel set to get her Grand Slam season off to a flying start.
The second set followed a similar pattern. Puig was unrelenting in her play and continued to carve a number of break point opportunities for herself. The infamous ‘double bagel’ was a very real posibility as Puig stormed to a 5-0 lead. Tig was able to get one game on the board before Puig booked her place in the second round.
Monica Puig must be starving. Bagel and a breadstick to kick of #AusOpen
Seeds tumble in Monica Puig’s section
Simona Halep‘s surprising exit at the hands of Shelby Rogers has left Puig’s section open for a surprise. The Romanian was convincingly dispatched by Rogers, suffering her second straight Australian Open first round defeat.
Venus Williams is the highest seed left in this section but she was unconvincing in her victory over Kateryna Kozlova. The older Williams’ sister looked as though she was struggling for movement throughout much of the match. Her raw power was enough to see her progress though, with a 7-6(5) 7-5 victory.
The final seed in the section, Kiki Bertens, is also heading home earlier than expected. Varvara Lepchenko upset the 19th seed with a 7-5 7-6(5) triumph to reach the second round for the fifth straight year.
So who is left in Monica Puig’s section?
The obvious alarm bell is Venus Williams. The seven time Grand Slam champion is an undeniable threat with her experience and power. However, Puig’s game is not entirely dissimilar as she also generates plenty of pace from her groundstrokes. This match-up will not happen unless both players made it through to the fourth round.
In the next round, the Puerto Rican is due to face German qualifier Mona Barthel. The two have never met before but Puig would expect to move comfortably through this match, especially given the form she showed against Tig.
Were she to reach the third round either Shelby Rogers or Ashleigh Barty would greet her. Both are in decent form. Rogers has already eliminated one seed in Simona Halep while Barty pushed world #1 Angelique Kerber close last week in Brisbane. Despite this, Puig has the rankings advantage and would be favourite against either opponent.
Were Venus to suffer a shock exit then it would either be at the hands of Stefanie Vogele, Varvara Levchenko or Ying-Ying Duan. Puig has never played Duan but holds a combined 5-1 winning record over the other two. Her only defeat came four years ago against Vogele on carpet. As with Barty and Rogers, if she performs to her highest level there is no question that she is the better player.
What could prevent her from reaching her first Grand Slam quarter-final?
Few have doubted that Monica Puig has the weapons to challenge in the second week of a Grand Slam. She proved her undeniable talent with the sublime and unexpected gold medal at last year’s Rio Olympics. The problem has always been that her sweeping baseline game lacks consistency.
This consistency conundrum has almost been made more difficult by her Olympic triumph. After her ability had been on display for the world to see there were increasing questions as to why she could not play like that on a more regular basis. After the Olympics she managed just a 4-5 win ratio for the rest of the year.
At just 23-years-old there is still plenty of time for Puig to develop that part of her game. Already though there is a feeling that she should have done more though. Just the one fourth round Grand Slam appearance is a disappointment to many, not least herself.
The very fact that it is now a brand new season could be massively beneficial to the Puerto Rican. With her Rio triumph now in the distant past there will be less pressure on her to perform at that standard. On paper, that should allow her to play a more free-flowing and relaxed game.
The first day of the Australian Open has certainly given Monica Puig a huge platform to build on. By chance the draw has opened up and her own performance has given hope to her fans who will understandably believe that she can at least progress to the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career.
Monica Puig will face Mona Barthel on Wednesday January 17.