TENNIS

Monica Puig makes history with Puerto Rico's first gold medal

"I'm really proud to represent Latin America and I hope this can be an inspiration to all Latin women," the Olympic champion said.

Monica Puig makes history with Puerto Rico's first gold medal
TOBY MELVILLE REUTERS

Monica Puig hopes her landmark Olympic gold medal for Puerto Rico will be an inspiration for Latin American women, even if she may struggle to compete with the island's boxers, baseball players...and Ricky Martin.

Puig made history on Saturday when she defeated Australian Open champion and world number two Angelique Kerber 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 in the women's tennis singles final.

First Puerto Rico gold medallist

It was a first gold for the US territory to add to the island's modest previous haul of two silver and six bronze. Puig is also the first Puerto Rican woman to win a medal at an Olympics.

The title charge was a surprise for a player ranked at 34 in the world and who came into Rio on the back of a couple of first round losses, at Wimbledon and Montreal where she was even defeated by a qualifier.

"I'm really proud to represent Latin America and I hope this can be an inspiration to all Latin women that everything can be done in this life," said Puig.

In the aftermath of her victory, she struggled with the words of the Puerto Rico national anthem, admitting that her father Jose had emailed her the lyrics in the morning.

Despite being born in San Juan, Puig has spent most of her life in Miami and her pronounced American accent masks any trace of her roots.

In a way, Puig's win served to highlight the Caribbean island's standing in the world order. It is a US territory, but not a state.

She is also technically not the first Puerto Rican gold medallist. Gigi Fernández was also born in San Juan but when she was a gold medallist in doubles in 1992 and 1996, she was playing under the US flag.

"Gigi congratulated me, she's an inspiration," said Puig. "Anyone who gets a medal is inspiring. But I'm just so happy to be the first Puerto Rican woman to win gold."

"100% loyal"

Puerto Ricans celebrate Puig's success in San Juan.

She added: "I always have been 100% loyal to where I was born and the roots I was raised in. I still have family in Puerto Rico and I have been back to visit quite a lot. That island has given me so much. So much love and support throughout my career and I just wanted this one for them."

On Friday, after beating two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the semi-finals, Puig had vowed to win gold and bring some light relief to the island which has been buried under some $70 billion in debt.

There is also a growing concern over the Zika virus.

In July, US health officials reported that as many as 50 pregnant women per day had been infected, raising the risk of birth defects.

Ricky Martin: "thankyoumonica"

Puerto Rican born crooner Martin was amongst the first to recognise his island's newest star even if Puig's 101,000 Twitter followers are trailing behind the singer's impressive 14 million.

"Today, without doubt, my Puerto Rico is the happiest island in the world. thankyoumonica," tweeted Martin.

Kerber, who had been struggling with a back injury, admitted that the better player had won.

"I think she came here with no pressure and I think she played one of the best weeks of her career. She had nothing to lose, she was going for it," said the German.

"I knew actually that she was a great player and at the end she deserved it."