Sure, Monica Puig would have loved another week between the Olympics and the U.S. Open to “come down from the high” of becoming Puerto Rico’s first gold medalist.
Then again, that’s not how the tennis calendar works. Puig realizes that if she wants to climb back to those heights, she’ll need to figure out this sort of turnaround.
For now, she’s a 22-year-old who was seeded 32nd at the U.S. Open and lost her first-round match in straight sets. Zheng Saisai, ranked 61st, upset Puig 6-4, 6-2 on Monday.
“These are new waters for me, new territory,” Puig said. “I’m going to have to start getting used to it.”
She noted that Angelique Kerber, the player she beat in the gold-medal match, was able to come right back from a draining run in Rio de Janeiro to reach the final at Cincinnati. Kerber, in contrast, is 28 and an Australian Open champ and Wimbledon runner-up this year.
“She’s been there,” Puig said. “She knows what it’s like. She knows she’s No. 2 in the world. She’s tested the waters out a little bit.
“I’m brand new to this.”
And back when Kerber was brand new to being a major champion just a few months ago, she lost in the first round of her next Grand Slam. Garbine Muguruza, also 22, struggled as well following her French Open title.
“A lot of people go through this,” Puig said. “It’s not just me.”
She upset Kerber, Muguruza and a third major champ, Petra Kvitova, on her stunning run to gold. Less than a week ago, Puig was in Puerto Rico, riding in a parade with other Olympians through streets packed with admirers — her victory a joyous respite from the island’s economic crisis.
Then it was back to the grind of tennis. When she took the court Monday, with plenty of Puerto Rican fans cheering her on, she knew she wouldn’t be viewed as the player who has never made it past the fourth round at a major or the second round at the U.S. Open.
“A lot of pressure, a lot of expectation,” Puig said.
“Once it starts becoming a little bit more of a habit,” she added, “then I’ll feel comfortable.”
Zheng, another 22-year-old, upset Agnieszka Radwanska at the Olympics. She’ll be seeking to reach the third round at a Grand Slam for the first time when she faces 59th-ranked Kateryna Bondarenko.
And Puig will get back to working on how to start making some magical runs at the majors.
“I need to keep racking up as much experience as I can,” Puig said. “You know what? This isn’t going to be the last of me. I know I’m going to keep working hard. The Olympics was something that happened because of all my hard work.”