Tennis Channel Inside In - Monica Puig

Life's full of opportunities and obstacles, as tennis players understand all too well. At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, the women's singles event featured a who's who of WTA royalty, each with the game and hunger to claim the gold medal. But it was the girl from Puerto Rico who shocked them all, united a nation, and captivated sports fans everywhere with her triumphant performance.

Monica Puig became global star in an instant, and although injuries derailed her pro career, she's still using her star power for good. On the Inside-In Podcast, Puig details the precious moments surrounding her crowning achievement, transitioning from her playing career to civilian life, and why she's got so much more to offer in the years to come.


It all started with her Latin American roots. Puig's pride in her Puerto Rican heritage is abundant, and it stuck with her as she re-located to Miami with her family. Like many younger siblings, she followed her brother onto the tennis court, where she showed promise as she grew up. The seminal moment that shaped her development was a selfless act of kindness by her elementary school principal, who actually encouraged a home-school approach if tennis was something she was serious about.

"I saw her as my fairy godmother in a way," Puig recalled. "I remember the principal sat my parents down and said, 'hey, do you think she can actually do this? Because you guys should invest in it then and put her in homeschool so she can dedicate most of her time to tennis and develop her craft.' And that's exactly what happened."

That gracious approach was not lost on Puig, who got the chance to return to the school as an adult with some hard-earned gold around her neck.

Puig's pro career began as a teenager, and it was as competitive and intense as one might expect. She got along with her fellow pros, and her generation became known for the rising tide effect that the environment produced.

"You see somebody's doing well, that pushes you to work a little bit harder and be a little bit better. And that was what I feel like our generation did well," she lamented.

Puig claimed two WTA titles and was ranked inside the Top 30, but it is the Olympic triumph in 2016 that everyone will remember. The fact that she was even playing in the games was improbable, having needed a good performance in the French Open to even qualify. At 22, she dispatched Garbiñe Muguruza, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber, who was in the midst of a transcendent pro season. Nobody could see it coming, including Puig herself, as she gleefully admitted.


When the final point was played, and Puig threw her arms up in exaltation, the Rio Olympics presented a signature moment. The underdog had done the unthinkable, and Puerto Rico had its first gold medalist.

"I can't listen to the Puerto Rican national anthem without crying anymore," Puig said.

Her home island went nuts, Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin were among those wishing her well on social media, and unity was clearly being shown in support of the unlikeliest of champions.

"For me it was all about my parents in that moment," Puig remembered of her frantic attempts to call them in the midst of pure jubilation. "Once I finally was able to talk to them, that was really the best moment I've ever had."

A victory parade followed in Puerto Rico, with fans of all ages coming up to celebrate their champion. Though it may have been an individual sport, the events of that day and beyond were about the nation. This was Puerto Rico's gold medal, and Monica Puig was Puerto Rico's champion.

Unfortunately for Puig, injuries derailed her promising pro career much too soon. After years of pain and several surgeries, she hung up her racket for good in 2022. But there was no time for self-pity, because Puig knew exactly what she wanted her second act to be.

"I feel like I have a very bubbly personality, and I'm not afraid to go up and talk to anybody. Sometimes you have to get me to stop talking," she cheerfully stated.

Puig has been featured on several networks, including right here at Tennis Channel, and she's not afraid to try different assignments. Whether it's several hours of calling matches in the broadcast booth, or a special assignment at the MLB's Home Run Derby, no challenge is too big for her. And Puig has found something to replace the competitive itch that tennis has scratched her whole life, as marathon running has become her new passion. She completed the New York Marathon last fall, and plans to knock out five more before the end of 2024. The only issue with her first marathon was the timing of it, falling on the very week she got married.

"I wasn't worried, but everybody who was involved in the wedding, all of the women in my family were like, 'Are you crazy? What if you're not able to walk on your wedding day!' I was like you guys, I got it. It's gonna be fun."


While Puig may no longer be playing tennis, she's still as driven as every to live life to the fullest. She married Nathan Rakitt in November 2022 and has fully embraced domesticated life (with two lovable dogs to keep them busy), and has already started to make a name for herself as a commentator.

But if there's one takeaway from her appearance on Inside-In, it's that while she still can't fully comprehend that she's a gold medalist, she fully understands that she is now a role model to kids who have big dreams. Puig takes that responsibility seriously, and knows her crowning achievement will provide hope to those who need it. Though her playing days are over, there's still plenty on the horizon for the Puerto Rican pioneer.