Rutuja Bhosale is the top Indian tennis player on the latest WTA Doubles Rankings released on July 1, 2019, which stands at 187 globally. She topples Prarthana Thombare, who is placed at number 216 now. Rutuja is currently placed within the Top 400 in the singles.
First it was the prestigious Shiv Chhatrapati Award, then representing India at the Asian Games and the Fed Cup and now the recent top-200 doubles ranking, Rutuja in between dealing with health issues and achieving, surely has come a long way. She recovered from an injury, took a break and came back to a new association with the Pro-Tennis Coaching team in Barcelona. She moved away from the pro circuit and honed her skills in American college tennis. She risked her amateur status and sacrificed four years’ worth ranking points, but it was a challenge she had to face. Her coach Marc Conovas’ strategies worked like magic and the elusive ranking is the result of the consistent hard work produced over the years.
It’s been good so far, and Rutuja hopes to keep the form intact. She is happy that today she is at the best ranking of her career i.e. 53 and is aiming to improve it further by performing well in the upcoming tournaments. She won each competition with grit and determination. She talks to SheThePeople.TV about the endeavours, future potential in tennis and the necessity of better training facilities.
From your childhood to present what inspired you to become a professional tennis player?
I remember my childhood as a time when I was enrolled in as many classes as I could from joining Bharatanatyam classes to skating and then finally finding solace in sports. Until I was nine years old I was a regular Bharatanatyam student. I would stay after school for an hour to practice the classical dance and I really liked it. Things turned when my father put me in tennis, it kind of changed everything. I started playing tennis, influenced by my father. He is a national track and field athlete, but he also participated in Javelin Throw and 400 m hurdles and wanted me to get into sports but he didn’t know which one to choose. At that time one of his friend’s sons used to play tennis and I think that was the reason he put me into this sport. He actually wanted me to start doing track and field activities but my mom insisted on putting me into an individual sport and that’s how I came into tennis.
Initially, I would go for tennis practice for one day and skip four days, because I was never really into it. It was just about repeatedly hitting tennis ball over the net so I didn’t really like that but when I played my first tournament at Baker’s Basket, I was nine years old and the fact that I had to compete for every point and that I actually won my first match really gave me that inspiration to take it up seriously. I really loved the competitive nature of the sport and since that day I remember I started going for practice every day and I would ask ‘instead of hitting the ball over the net can I play points’ and I think that is how it started.
My parents I’d say are the ones who inspire me to do whatever I do and they are the reason for me being where I am today. They push me no matter what, win or lose, they are there for me and especially my father, who says that being an athlete is not easy. They’re going to be losses after losses after losses but you just have to be patient and one day you’re going to feel all the hard work and the losses were worth the wait.
After the injury, you had been away from the tour for about three months at the beginning of the year. Tell us about the challenges?
The challenges were mostly related to my body because I am very injury prone and I still face this challenge because injuries are part of any athlete’s life. It is kind of a setback and some people take lesser time than others to come back and some are mentally tougher than others. So, I think that injuries are something which I face and have faced and would say is one of the biggest challenges I have.
Another challenge I would say is financial support. I did have some support from MSLTA and Lakshya but I feel it wasn’t enough. That said, it made me and my parents take the decision of choosing to go for collegiate tennis in the United States. As at the time I was injured and was also facing financial issues. Going to the US happened to be a good decision ultimately because I feel I have grown as a tennis player, as a human being and I feel that whatever I learnt there, the relationships I created with the people around me are something I will treasure all my life. But it does make me wonder what if I did not play college tennis and kept playing professionally? Where I would be right now?
The challenges were mostly related to my body because I am very injury prone and I still face this challenge because injuries are part of any athlete’s life
My biggest challenge right now I would say is being fit and to play injury free.
You are currently placed as India’s fourth best female tennis player. How does it feel?
There are so many players who play tennis in India and being one of the top players is obviously a great feeling. It makes me work harder to go up higher in the rankings, to be able to keep pushing myself to do better all the time.
Did you face any criticism and discouragement for taking up this sport?
Personally speaking I never faced any discouragement from anyone around me but I have heard my parents talk and they have mentioned it a couple of times that people have told them that I am a girl and I am the only child, why are they putting in so much of money in a sport which is so tough. Is there any guarantee that the money is going to come back and also that she’s a girl and she needs to be married off soon. But my parents have taken these comments lightly and have told me about in a humorous way. In reality my family has always been very encouraging, they have always supported me in every possible way, for which I feel fortunate.
Over the years, how’s the landscape of sports changed for young women?
I feel that the sport landscape for women has changed drastically in recent years. Especially, in India, PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal, Mithali Raj and Sania Mirza and so many others are doing so well and have made the nation proud. I feel that these women are changing the face of sport in India. A lot more girls are now taking up sports, schools are also encouraging girls by giving them opportunities to compete at the state and national level. Women are surely winning hearts and inspiring young girls across the country.
People told my parents that I am a girl and I am the only child, why are they putting in so much of money in a sport which is so tough. Is there any guarantee that the money is going to come back and also that she’s a girl who she needs to be married soon. Funny!
How did your life change after being recognised internationally?
To be recognised internationally when you travel is something special because you work for something and people recognise you for that work. It’s really a special feeling. But I do not feel that life changes, it gives you new opportunities everywhere you go.
You are from Shrirampur. How is the tennis scene in India for women? Especially, in your state?
I would say that the tennis scene in India is definitely changing, not only for men but also for women. I feel Maharashtra has a lot more tennis players than any other state because so many tournaments take place there and also we have a lot of coaches and academies. Especially, in Pune, where I feel there are more women tennis players then men.
Could you briefly tell us about your goals?
My goal for this year is to win a lot of matches because the year is almost over and I haven’t really competed as much. My doubles has been really good this year, I am going up the rankings but I am hoping my form can reflect on my performance in singles as well. My aim is to finish in the top 200 this year.
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How is your family taking all the spotlight given to you now?
Even though they get to see me for very little time, they are happy with what I am doing, as it is something I chose for myself. My parents make sure that I live every moment of the spotlight but they also make sure that it doesn’t get to my head. And I keep working to achieve my dreams.
My message to the young girls would be something which I’m always told and that is to keep working hard, keep your head up high no matter what. And this quote on my phone which I feel really pushes me which says: ‘no matter how you feel, get up, dress up and never give up’.
What drives you towards tennis? What does it mean to you?
Tennis is a huge part of my life and it means the world to me. The passion and the hard work that I have put in all these years and the dream of playing in grand slams to winning matches in grand slams, representing one’s country is something that drives me all the time.
What has been your most touching moment?
It is not related to tennis. When I was about to graduate there was a ceremony for student athletes in my college where my mum had come all the way from India for the ceremony. In the ceremony every sports academic advisers give a small speech about their students and the look that my mom had listening to all my accomplishments in the four years I was at Texas A&M and the smile and her tears was something I will never forget. It was a moment to cherish.
What do you think India lacks in terms of appreciating sports?
I feel the lack of support is what is lacking. When a player achieves something everyone is there everyone appreciates you but when the player is struggling that is the time when the support needs to be there and that is where I think India is behind. The facilities and infrastructure is way behind than foreign countries.
Do you face any struggles for sponsors?
To get sponsors is really difficult because not many people know you and not many people want to invest in you before you achieve something. I have been lucky to get some support right now but certainly it is not enough to cover all my expenses.
Do you face gender discrimination in the industry?
I have not faced any gender discrimination till date and I do not feel that there is a scope for gender discrimination in tennis. Tennis is an individual game and your rankings and your performance speak for you.
Feature Image Credit: Rutuja Bhosale