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WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen | Olympic Gold medalist Monica Puig made big changes but keeps things simple at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships after a strong run in Doha.

DUBAI, UAE - Reigning Olympic Gold medalist Monica Puig continued her solid February form, beating Yaroslava Shvedova, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 to advance at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

After a slow start to the season, which saw her go 1-3 in January, Puig opted to refocus her training on the practice courts after the Australian summer. Out of the spotlight and back at her base in Boca Raton, Florida, the 23-year-old was able to put in the work that was missing in the pre-season.

"I think post-Australian Open was a really big change for me, because I really just buckled down and I said, 'Look, this can go one of two ways: It can go really bad or it can go really well.'" she told press after the match. "I'm just going to work as hard as I can. If I lose, at least I know that I'm doing everything in my power to come out and win. And then I go back to the drawing board and just fix it."

Monica Puig

The hard work paid off immediately. In her first tournament since Melbourne, she made the semifinals of the Qatar Total Open last week, her first semifinal since the Olympic tennis event in Rio de Janeiro.

"Right now that's on my mind is just trying to become the best I can be, and I know that the only way to do that is by working. I don't mind staying on the tennis court a little while longer."

Puig's motivation has never been in doubt but she has been candid about how her incredible run to the gold medal last summer led to a cloud of pressure and negativity that bled into her game.

Monica Puig

"It was a great week for me in Rio, and it was really good, but the fact of the matter is I didn't back it up afterward," she said. "So right now I'm just trying to get back to feeling comfortable, playing at that level consistently. And right now I'm doing a great job, I think. I'm working really hard. I'm giving my 100% in tennis, and I'm just focused on this right now. This is consuming my whole life.

"I just really want this really bad. So I'm going to do whatever it takes. If that's training more, if that's fixing the little things, it doesn't matter for me. I really love what I do and I really love playing tennis. I'm just going to work really hard to accomplish some more of my dreams."

Monica Puig

In order to plug into her game, Puig has had to unplug from social media. In January, Puig told WTA Insider that the constant negativity she received on social media after her sub-par finish to the season dragged her down. After a three-week break from social media platform during the off-season, Puig took a concerted effort to take a step back.

"My New Year's resolution is to not get caught up in what other people say about me," Puig said in January. "I can go lingering into social media and that's not a good thing. I have gotten a lot of negative comments. I have a lot of people who don't really like me. I look at it and it's really bad.

"They don't know what we're going through, they don't know the struggles. They don't know what goes on behind the scenes and they don't know how hard we work. If they were put in our position maybe they would appreciate it a little bit more. So this year I'm trying to block the noises outside the court that affect me negatively."

Monica Puig

"It used to make me happy," Puig added of social media. "All of a sudden it makes me miserable. So why should I continue to do something that makes feel this way. I just don't really want to be there anymore. I get on it when I need to post something or if I get a notification of something I have to do, then ok. But I don't really like to get caught up in it too much.

"My main goal this year is to be happy. Even though I won Rio, there were a lot of moments at the end of 2016 when I was very unhappy when I let the results get the best of me and I let the negative voices get the best of me and that brought me down into a little bit of a depression."

"I'm doing what I love for a living and if I'm not happy, what am I doing?"

Monica Puig

Slowly but surely, Puig is finding the answers by focusing on the basics and simplifying her outlook. The gold medal from Rio sits in her home and she still brushes it off every now and then to remind herself that anything is possible on any given week. But for now, it's more about working and less about dreaming.

"I do have my goals and I have them set, but right now I think the biggest thing is focusing on the process, because if I get too result-oriented, then I lose sight of what's important," Puig said. "And right now what's important is to continue to grow as a tennis player and as a person.

"I feel like maturity is something that I have to work on and that I'm going to continue to work on. I'm in no rush to get anywhere. I proved that to myself that anything great can happen at any time. I just have to work really hard to get there."

Puig next plays No.15 seed Caroline Garcia in the second round.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images.


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