Monica Puig would never trade her surprise singles gold at the Rio Games for any grand slam success but Puerto Rico’s first Olympic champion felt compelled to lock the medal away amid the lean period that followed her greatest tennis triumph.
She had worn the medal with pride for a while, most notably during a hero’s homecoming through the streets of San Juan where thousands of residents in the U.S. territory’s capital roared as she rolled by in an open-top bus.
The party was over in New York three weeks later, however, when she was bundled out of the U.S. Open’s first round.
Puig, who had upset an honor roll of grand slam champions at Rio, was humbled in straight sets by 61st-ranked Chinese Zheng Saisai.
After Rio, she lost in the first round of four of her next six tournaments, including her opening two in Brisbane and Sydney in 2017, so it was a hugely relieved Puig who reached the second round of the Australian Open on Monday.
“The medal is in a safe in my house now,” the 23-year-old told Reuters in an interview after her 6-0 6-1 demolition of Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig.
“I carried it around for a good while last year and all of a sudden I didn’t really want to spoil the feeling of looking at it and just being in awe of it.
“So every now and then when I need a little bit of a boost I go in there and look at it and know it wasn’t a dream, it was real.”
By any measure, Rio was a fairytale for Puig.
After thrashing French Open champion Garbine Muguruza, she battled past twice Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova and felled the current world number one Angelique Kerber in the gold medal decider at the Olympic Tennis Centre.