WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va.—Competing for the Las Vegas Rollers, Monica Puig is getting her body into match-ready shape before the tour restarts. She's hungry for action after an elbow injury kept her sidelined since October, and then the shutdown halted her tour comeback.
"The time off for me was actually incredibly productive because I had elbow surgery in December," Puig says. "I tried to come back in March in Indian Wells and my elbow unfortunately still wasn't ready, so this quarantine and the time off pretty much gave me an opportunity to rehab my elbow and get back to playing form."
The tough part is injuries have struck again, though nowhere near as serious. The world No. 90 is 2-3 in singles sets for the Rollers, and has been featuring mostly in doubles since Tuesday. She's dealing with an ab injury as well as a lingering shoulder problem.
"She was waiting and hoping to get back on the court, and that's pretty much why this event is really good for her," says Puig's coach Diego Veronelli. "She's been finding the rhythm and feeling the adrenaline of the competition again."
The Vegas team includes Kristie Ahn, Asia Muhammad, Ajla Tomljanovic, Sam Querrey and the Bryan brothers. Muhammad has been sidelined with a shoulder injury and Tomljanovic is filling in as an alternate. On paper, the team is stacked, but with all of the injuries, Vegas is sixth in the league standings with a 4-6 record.
"I think injuries may happen a lot to people because that's what happens when you're out of competition for a while," Veronelli says. "The body's not used to that rhythm and playing in and out for back-to-back days. I feel that she recovered pretty quickly especially from the ab."
Her right shoulder has been an issue since her elbow surgery in December.
"When you have surgery, the joint that takes the most to go back to normal is the shoulder," he says. "I feel it's normal. I feel we are on the right track and that she's going to be fine for the rest of the season—whatever we have left. "
Puig in action for the Las Vegas Rollers at The Greenbrier. (Ryan Loco)
Puig enters the WTT season with a few team matches under her belt having played for Team Kindness at the Credit One Bank Invitational in Charleston in June.
"Charleston was an overwhelming success," the Puerto Rican says. "While I felt super rusty it was so great to just be back there competing and to feel all those sensations that we used to feel back when we were playing our normal schedule."
Usually, a normal WTT season would involve a lot of traveling as teams fly around the nation competing at the nine different cities. With safety at the forefront, the 2020 matches are all being played at one location, The Greenbrier.
"What I miss most is just the traveling and being able to be out there," she says. "'It's tough."
"She has been finding the rhythm and feeling the adrenaline of the competition again," Veronelli says. "And that for her, more than anybody, it's good because that's what she misses the most."
The 26-year-old is also taking advantage of the three-week season to train since she has both Veronelli and her fitness coach Claudio Galasso on hand. A number of players have private coaches at the site including Kim Clijsters, Venus Williams, CoCo Vandeweghe, Steve Johnson and Brandon Nakashima.
"We are putting in some work because after this we go straight into tournaments," Veronellli says. "The idea is to take this as competition, and as testing, but also to put some work in."
She plans to start her WTA comeback in Lexington. As happy as she is to be in a team environment, Puig doesn't have a lot of WTT experience.
"WTT is something that's still relatively new in my life, but I'm really excited to be playing a full season this time around," Puig says. "Last year, I only played one weekend with the Vegas Rollers and definitely left me wanting more, so I'm very excited to be here in Greenbrier for these three weeks."
The Vegas team is 4-6 so far this season in West Virginia. (Ryan Loco)
So many tournaments have been postponed and cancelled this year, but one change stands out amongst the rest: the Olympics moving to 2021. Puig made history in Rio in 2016 by becoming the first Puerto Rican to win a gold medal. The news wasn't bad for Puig.
"Obviously going to the Olympics was always in the plan, but my health was definitely the most important," she says. "I don't know if I was 100 percent ready to compete at the Olympics, but thankfully now we have little bit more time to regroup and to let myself get back there."
"I don't think she would have been ready," Veronelli says. "In a way, she's ready to compete now, but she is not 100 percent."
Puig serving with Ajla Tomljanovic at the net and coach Tim Blenkiron the Bryans watching on. (Ryan Loco)
Playing for Las Vegas isn't quite the same as playing for your country, but Puig naturally gravitates toward the team environment.
"The whole experience of going to the Olympic Games is surreal and just being there with so many of the other athletes for the same goals to just achieve something that millions of athletes around the world want to achieve," she says. "It's amazing to see the unity of sport."
She's eager for more team tennis vibes in her career.
"If there was one thing I could change about tennis, it would be adding more team competitions," she says. "We just have more fun, we're more relaxed, and the tennis is always way better because we're completely at ease with everything."
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