Puig-Sharapova Match Intended as a Celebration
SAN JUAN—Tennis stars Mónica Puig and Maria Sharapova will face off in an exhibition match Thursday night at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico arena, in what is a rare opportunity for island residents to have an “up close and personal look” at two luminaries of the sport doing what they do best.
The event, dubbed the Mónica Puig Invitational, is also intended as a continued celebration of Puig’s achievement during the 2016 Summer Olympics, in which she won a gold medal in women’s singles competition, the first time an athlete from the Puerto Rico delegation has won Olympic gold.
“I want this event to be a celebration with the people of Puerto Rico, who I consider part of my family, as well as a chance for people to experience first-hand one of my games, because I’ve played in many parts of the world and I know that many people here on the island haven’t had the opportunity of seeing them live,” Puig said during a press conference Thursday morning at the Vanderbilt Hotel in San Juan’s Condado district.
While most of the focus of the island is on Puig, the game also marks a first for Sharapova, who has not competed in front of crowds since she was suspended last June by the International Tennis Federation after testing positive for meldonium, a banned substance. “I’m excited to play for the crowds once again, and I can’t wait to come back next year,” said Sharapova to reporters. She is set to return for competition in April.
The 29-year-old Russian tennis star, who has been ranked No. 1 in the world, has held Grand Slam titles and is also an Olympic medalist, said it is the first time she has visited the island, which further adds to the thrill. “I will only be here for a couple of days, unfortunately, but I can’t wait to come back later and experience all the wonderful things that Mónica has talked to me about, such as the people and the food,” she said.
Although it’s not the first time that Puig and Sharapova have faced each other, with the Russian veteran being the victor in their previous encounter, Puig said she was more confident of her prospects this time around. “I’m a much more mature and experienced player now. I first faced her when I was about 20, and since then I’ve had my share of big matches, so I’m more comfortable this time,” said the 26-year-old.
The Puerto Rican athlete, who was born on the island and moved to Florida at an early age, took the opportunity to praise Sharapova. “Although we haven’t been able to talk very much due to our schedules, I do know that she’s a class act, and she embodies the same values that I do. I’m very honored that she’s here.”
When asked what advice she could give the younger Puig, Sharapova said, “No one has the same path to success or from success. I don’t think I’m one to give advice to give to someone who has accomplished so much in her young career. She’s done a great job of guiding herself and surrounding herself with the right people. It’s such an individual, unique sport, and she’s doing pretty damn good for herself.”