Tennis has a new star
At 5ft 7in, Monica Puig does not look like the strongest female tennis player on the court. But when she hits the ball, she hits it with real power. On Saturday night at the centre court of the Rio Olympic Tennis Centre, this unheralded Puerto Rican brought down the odds-on favourite and world no. 2 Angelique Kerber with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 win to take the women's singles gold medal.
Representing a country with little tennis pedigree and only two silver medals to show for from the Olympics thus far, the 22-year-old was a long shot to even reach the final of the event. So far in her career, she has won only one WTA title alongside five ITF titles. But this tournament has seen a different Puig as she lost only a single set in the whole tournament and knocked out players like French Open champion Garbine Muguruza before the final heroics.
The 22-year-old was always the dominant force in the match, and despite losing the second set, she always looked like she was in command. Puig unleashed her full repertoire of strokes in the third and despite Kerber mounting a challenge late in the final set, Puig closed off the contest to become the first female athlete from her country to win an Olympic medal.
As soon as she won the final point, Puig threw her racket to the ground, buried her face in her hands and started crying tears of joy, shouting: "Oh my God".
"I got better as the tournament went on, got stronger and faster. The crowd kept telling me, 'yes, you can', 'yes, you can' and I told myself 'yes, I can', 'yes, I can'," Puig later told reporters. "I can't believe what I have achieved. It's one of my biggest dreams."
The morning before her opening round match, the little-known 34th-ranked Puerto Rican posted a picture of herself wrapped in a Puerto Rican flag on her twitter account with the caption: "Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed about this moment and it's finally here."
Then on the eve of the final, she posted: "Never wake me up from this dream I'm living."
Now after her emphatic display over the favourite, it seems like she is going to live this dream over and over again through her career.
MURRAY MEETS DEL POTRO IN MEN'S FINAL
In the men's final on Sunday, defending champion Andy Murray will take on back-in-form Juan Martin del Potro after the two players had contrasting semifinal victories on Saturday.
Del Potro put paid to former champion Rafael Nadal's hopes of a double gold, winning in three sets while Murray cruised to a comfortable victory over Kei Nishikori.
The 2009 US Open champion lost the first set 7-5, but broke Nadal early in the second set before taking it 6-4. The Argentine then broke the Spaniard to go 5-4 up in the third set, but Nadal roared back in the next game as the crowd erupted. The match went into a tie-break where the Argentine sealed victory 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5).
"I can't believe I'm in the final, especially when the draw came out and I had Novak Djokovic [in the first round]," Del Potro later said at the mixed zone. "It's a triumph of those helping me when my arms can't stand it anymore. They help me go for another ball."
Murray, however, had a much easier time dispatching Nishikori 6-1, 6-4 in just one and a half hours. After having battled through three-setters in the previous two rounds, the three-time Grand Slam champion showed his best form against the Japanese and was already looking for a repeat of his London 2012 triumph, a win that will make him the only tennis player to win two Olympic singles titles back-to-back.