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Fairytale continues for debutante Monica Puig

Monica Puig prepares a backhand stroke.
by William Denny
Saturday 29 June 2013

A contrast in styles provided an intriguing contest between the 28-year-old Czech qualifier Eva Birnerova and 19-year-old Wimbledon debutante Monica Puig, each battling for a spot in the fourth round of The Championships.

Having defeated world No.5 Sara Errani in the first round, Puig approached the match full of confidence and form. The same could also be said for Birnerova, who came through a potentially tricky match against Lesia Tsurenko with relative ease, winning 6-3, 6-4.

The Czech player has already surpassed her previous best at Wimbledon  the second round in 2006. Puig, who is making her debut appearance at The Championships, has equalled her best at a Grand Slam – the third round at Roland Garros – becoming the first woman in the Open era to represent Puerto Rico at this stage.

The first turning point of Friday's game came immediately, when Birnerova – making her sixth appearance at SW19 – broke serve thanks to some accurate and flamboyant stroke play. Both players then held serve with relative ease until the eighth game when Puig threatened to draw level with some intelligent ground strokes from the baseline. Five deuces later, she did just that following Birnerova’s second double fault of the match.

But just as she did in the opening game, Birnerova broke back with some aggressive forehand shots, forcing her younger opponent back before crisply executing her 14th winner of the match. The 28-year-old then sealed the set with some more assertive forehand strokes, proving too overwhelming for the young Puerto Rican.

Following the opening 51-minute set, Birnerova began the second strongly, guiding a neat forehand volley past Puig. Moments later, the Czech struck an immediate break of serve following an unforced forehand error from Puig. After lengthy discussions, largely between Puig and the match official, play was suspended due to bad light.

Resuming on Court 12 on Saturday afternoon, it was Birnerova who sealed the opening game of the day with a backhand volley past Puig. A delicate forehand drop shot brought the score to deuce in the fifth game, continuing her fine form from the previous evening. However, the 19-year-old would break back in the next game after a rare display of loose serving by Birnerova.

An untimely slip from Birnerova allowed a backhand pass down the line from Puig to settle the seventh game at deuce as the Czech threatened to break back immediately. However, Puig – one of only four teenagers left in the draw – held her nerve and served out the game to edge 4-3 ahead.

The overnight break in play had revitalised Monica Puig as she watched her opponent’s forehand sail long for a break in the eighth game. Racing to a 40-0 lead in the ninth, another heavy forehand by Birnerova secured the second set for Puig, to the delight of the crowd.

Having both held their opening service games in the final set, Puig exploded to life in the third, winning all four points from Birnerova’s serve before racing to a 40-0 lead in the fourth. Despite slight resistance by Birnerova, Puig sealed the game to go 3-1 ahead.

Puig looked in confident mood as she secured her seventh ace of the match and with three match points a long backhand by Birnerova sent her through into the second week.

And the Puerto Rican, who last played here as a junior in 2010, believed the overnight break in play was key to her victory, “It was kind of like a blessing in disguise. To be able to take a break, get off the court, re-group, re-focus, re-plan, everything and I just come out today with a different mindset and be ready for everything. It definitely worked.”

Puig now faces Sloane Stephens in the fourth round and admits she doesn’t really know what to expect from the No.17 seed, “She’s 17 in the World and she’s earned that spot so a lot of respect for her. I haven’t really seen her play too much, it’s something I’ll have to go back to the drawing board tomorrow and just enjoy the day today.” 

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