The World is Mónica’s Oyster
SAN JUAN — For all the success Puerto Rican tennis player Mónica Puig has had to date, what comes next in her young career could prove to be even more daunting as she faces a larger spotlight, drawing in a whole new level of expectations.
“What’s next is a great question that can be answered in a lot of ways,” said Marijn Bal, Puig’s manager, to Caribbean Business.
Puig—the 34th-ranked player according to the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA)—shocked the world last week when she clinched the Olympic gold medal after beating Germany’s Angelique Kerber, who ranks No. 2. She capped an awe-inspiring run that included wins against the No. 4, the No. 11 and No. 14-ranked players, as Puig caught the attention not only of nearly every single Puerto Rican, but also the rest of the world.
Plans now call for translating her recent great play into her professional career, while expanding the Mónica Puig brand beyond Puerto Rico’s shores. “We really want to reach out to Latin America,” Bal said, signaling the big opportunity the 22-year-old Puig has of becoming the face of tennis regionally.
First, there are many who believe Puig’s sponsor list is about to grow, and will continue to do so if she is able to keep her top-notch level when she returns to the pro circuit. Entering Rio de Janeiro, Puig was sponsored by ellesse, an Italian clothing line, as well as racquet manufacturer Babolat, and Asics, a Japanese footwear and apparel company. Chrysler, AT&T and the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. also sponsor the Puerto Rican player.
Besides her undisputed talent, Puig is “very charismatic, young and extremely articulate. She is very accessible and speaks both English and Spanish fluently,” Hiram Martínez, a sports editor at ESPN, told Caribbean Business. He further noted how Puig has shown these qualities from a very young age.
“You either have it or you don’t,” he added.
The talent and other intangibles are there, but as Martínez recently put it in one of his articles, playing the professional circuit could be “ungrateful” for most tennis players, unless you are among the Top 10 in the world.
“You lose every week in the first, third rounds, quarters or semifinals. Sometimes you win…. You need to have character, will, discipline, dedication, heart and much support to achieve it,” he wrote in his article.
Thus, it would be key for Puig to keep her game’s mental aspect under control if she wants to excel at the pro level—while managing the pressure of stardom.
For instance, one positive thing Martínez sees in Puig’s game is that she tends to play above her normal level against better-ranked players. “She plays them like a Top 10,” he said during an interview with this newspaper.
“Gold medal aside, she is having a great year,” Bal stressed in reference to Puig’s year in the pro circuit. From the roughly $4,000 in cash prizes she made during her first pro year, Puig has come a long way into her best year on tour to date, raking in almost $500,000 in cash prizes this year.
She reached the Round of 32 in two Grand Slams, the Australian and French opens, as well as two semis (Nottingham and Eastbourne) and one final (Sydney) in WTA events.
After her gold medal in Rio, she could have seen a significant bump in her ranking, but contrary to what happened in the 2012 London Olympics, no circuit points were awarded to players in Rio.
“That would have been nice because the points she would have gotten are comparable to winning a Grand Slam. So that would have helped Mónica a lot in the rankings,” Bal said. “But at the end of the day, for her, winning the gold medal was great, and she just wants to translate what she did in Rio into her professional career. It’s another stepping-stone.”
For his part, Martínez noted how a stronger game, better physical condition, high confidence and consistency have all contributed to her success this year.
All these elements could help Puig not only step up her game at the pro circuit level, but also take matters to the next level from a branding perspective. Add to that an Olympic gold medal and it “puts you in a great place,” Bal said.
Next up for her is the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 29 and is the pro circuit’s final Grand Slam of the year. “Expect the unexpected, and she always believes she can win no matter what,” her manager said. “It’s been a fun ride,” Bal added.
For the rest of this story, check out this week’s edition of Caribbean Business print edition, in newsstands Thursday.