Raised in Miami and rising in the rankings, Monica Puiq could be considered a local ray of sunshine at the Sony Open Tennis who is ready to have an on-court coming--out party at her home town tournament and she wants you to watch.
“I had the opportunity to have a wild card last year and I had a lot of nerves,” The Sunset resident said. Puiq said. “And this year, I couldn’t be more thrilled to make it with my own ranking and I’m so excited to play at my home tournament. “
Born in Puerto Rico, Puiq and her family moved to South Florida when she was only a year old. She is classic Caribbean South Florida, proud to be Hispanic and ready to represent the Magic City sometimes called, The Capitol of Lain America.
“I feel a lot of happiness knowing that I can play in Miami, where I grew up and my family can see me play,” the 20-year-old said. “My family usually can only see me on the computer and the TV.
“And my dad doesn’t get get to see me up-close and personal at a huge event such as this one very often.”
Tall and tanned, the 57th ranked player in the world has spent lots of time on Key Biscayne working hard and relaxing under the sun.
“When I was younger, I used to train over there [Key Biscayne],” Puiq said. “I actually have been one of those people you see running the bridge over there. But now when I’m in Miami, I go to Key Biscayne to go to the beach. I love it.”
Puiq is generating lots of buzz on tour and around The Key. Marcia Perez, 21, of Coral Way works at the Key Biscayne Tennis Association and couldn’t be more excited about a Dade County girl making good.
“Of course to see a young girl, especially from my city makes me even more proud to rep my city, to have a good upcoming tennis player from Miami is amazing.” Perez said.
Puiq’s family moved to Miami in 1994 and instantly fell in love with the tropical setting and seemingly limitless opportunities
When her father, Jose, decided life in the U.S. would potentially provide them with the future they wanted, Monica’s mom, Astrid, went to work making sure their children, Rickey and Monica, were immersed in academics and extra curricular activities.
“I grew up in sports,” Astrid said. “In Puerto Rico sports are a very big thing, basketball and baseball, everything. And I wanted my kids to experience sports. I let them explore which sports they would like, but it was important that they choose a sport and do activity outside the house.”
Rickey, 23, now a senior at the University of Central Florida, excelled at baseball, and Monica explored the world of dance as an entrée to being active.
She tried ballet and said, “Mom, this is not for me,” Astrid remembered. “She did swimming, basketball, everything her brother did, she wanted to do.”
Puiq’s close-knit family is the strong, quite support system that drives her success.
“Obliviously this has been amazing and we are very proud of her and her work ethic,” Astrid said, describing her mounting emotions as the Sony got closer, adding that her daughter’s celebrity is greater in Puerto Rico than Miami.
“I would love for her to be recognized here; it would be a dream come true. This is only her second year at the Sony, so to be recognized by the Latin’s here at home would be amazing for her.”
Despite their collective enthusiasm, the family tries not to distract Monica from her focus.
“We have to understand she is working and we want her to perform,” Astrid said, mentioning they do plan to attend the tournament with a sizable contingency. “We have people from Puerto Rico coming and the neighbors, everybody wants to come and support her. We try to play it low, but at the same time let her know we are there supporting her with her family and friends.”
Despite describing herself as a typical Miami girl who likes playing video games with her brother, she realized at an early age that she had talent that could take her to places most teens could only imagine.
“I think it came about when I started getting to finals in junior grand slams,” Puiq said. “It was at the Australian and French Open that I realized this is what I want to do with the rest of my life and I think I made the right decision.”
But her role model or idol in tennis wasn’t a famous female, like Steffi Graf, but rather Graf’s husband, Andre Agassi. Puiq grew up admiring the style of play of the former No.1 ATP player in the world and tried to immolate his game.
“I watched a lot of Andre Agassi,” Puiq said, trying to explain why she chose Agassi as her favorite player. “I think I liked Andre because he likes to be aggressive from the baseline and I that’s what I like to do, too,“ she said. “That and the return of serve are big weapons in my game, so there were similarities there.
“I got to meet him [Agassi] at an Adidas camp in Las Vegas last year and it was amazing to meet your childhood idol. “
Puiq’s big breakthrough came just last year when the unassuming pro made a mark at a grand slam.
“I beat [Italian]Sara Errani. She was No. 5 in the world at the time,” Puiq said. ”It was the greatest win of my career and I made it the fourth round of Wimbledon”
She eventually lost to fellow Floridian, Sloan Stephens in the fourth round of the All-England tournament but put the tennis world on notice that she is a player on the rise.
USTA Women’s Player Development Coach Ola Malmqvist believes Puiq is the real deal.
“Monica is one of the young up-and-coming stars on the WTA tour that has a very bright future,” Malmqvist said.
Puiq relishes her international lifestyle and has the classic bi-cultural South Florida personality and upbeat attitude.
“I represent Puerto Rico in all the events and I live in Miami,” she said, bursting with pride. “So it’s nice because Miami is so multi-cultural.”
Playing on the WTA Tour is like a dream come true for the young woman on the run. The hectic schedule and travel are both the pluses and minus’ of living life as an international professional athlete.
“I think it’s difficult in the sense because you’re always away from home because you’re traveling so much,” Puiq said. “It’s tough to get used to time changes and adapt to that but its very fun.
“You experience so many different things and different cultures. Tennis on the tour is extraordinary.”
With the unofficial 5th major in her virtual backyard, Puiq hopes to put on a good show for her fans.
“I’ve already told a couple friends that I’ll be there” Puiq said, adding that she has to be careful not to get too relaxed around familiar settings. “My focus is my agent and my coach they help me keep focused.
“I’ m at home but I am at a tournament.”
Despite all the big names at the Sony Open, Puiq’s experience will no doubt be unique.
While balancing the celebrity matrix of the Key Biscayne extravaganza, where athletes sometimes cringe at the thought of second place and winning less than the lions share of the prize money is considered a failure, a local girl is appreciating the moment and reflecting on how she is living her dream playing professionally at Crandon Park trying to make herself and her family proud.
Puiq and her family remember attending the Sony as fans, and as a group they feel a responsibility to enjoy the moment and help others do the same.
“It’s a wonderful experience to see your daughter out there,” Astrid said, choking-up with emotion. “I always remember Monica and her dad at the Sony with her little ball chasing the players for an autograph and we always tell her, ‘ you were one of those kids too, so you have to stop sign every ball, and it doesn’t matter how many kids there are, because you were once one of them. ‘”