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Puig still reaping Rio gold

© AFP/File / by Jim SLATER | Puerto Rico's Monica Puig, pictured in May 2017, became the first unseeded player to capture an Olympic tennis crown at the Rio Games

WASHINGTON (AFP) - 

Monica Puig is still reaping the benefits of lessons she learned a year ago in winning women's tennis gold at the Rio Olympics, becoming Puerto Rico's first Games champion in any sport.

The 23-year-old from San Juan defeated Germany's second-ranked Angelique Kerber 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 in last year's Olympic gold medal match and took down fourth-ranked Spaniard Garbine Muguruza in the third round on her way to a dream title.

"I honestly just can't believe in a few weeks it's going to be a year since Rio," Puig said. "A lot of moments come back to me and a lot of memories I relieve from that moment."

August 13 will mark a full year since Puig became the first unseeded player to capture an Olympic tennis crown.

And while she hasn't gone deeper than the second round at a Grand Slam since then, the 67th-ranked Caribbean standout has found that she plays better when she can escape tennis and focus on other things as she did when she was in the Olympic Village last year in Brazil.

"It was some of my best tennis but what sticks with me most was what I did off the court. I was more relaxed," Puig said.

"When I went back to the village it was a complete disconnect from tennis. That helped me stay in the moment and time (my best effort) for when it was time to go and not time it on the night before and use it up in the wrong moment."

Puig, whose only WTA title came at Strasbourg in 2014, said she hopes to follow her dream Olympic title with more magic at Grand Slams.

"That was my biggest dream and biggest goal in tennis. My second one would be a Grand Slam," Puig said. "It's nice to get that done so early in my career so I can focus on the other ones and maybe get them all done at once."

Puig sees the key as maintaining her mental focus rather than focusing too much on only improving serves or developing more devastating shots.

"The mental game is the most important part," Puig said. "The mentality is where the difference is on the court in the sets."

Puig opened at the WTA Citi Open on Tuesday with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over US qualifier Louise Chirico. She next faces Russian seventh seed Ekaterina Makarova, who ousted US qualifier Jamie Loeb 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.

by Jim SLATER

© 2017 AFP