It was well past Rutuja Bhosale's bedtime when she finally vanquished the left-handed So-Ra Lee of Korea. On Monday night, playing her first WTA Challenger match, the 16-year-old Indian not only had to step up a level to battle past a belated start, some early nerves and a tricky opponent, but also the frills and fancies that come with playing in the bigger league.
"Firstly, I was not very comfortable playing under the lights," said the bespectacled Rutuja, after edging past Lee 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4 after two hours and 42 minutes in the first round of the Royal Indian Open. "The lights were reflecting off my glasses and for the first half an hour or so it was really difficult to get the hang of things."
Trouble at home
While playing at home is considered an advantage by most, the Pune girl found it difficult to concentrate as the small but vociferous crowd cheered her on, sometimes even when the point was in play. "In the second set, I suddenly saw myself on the big screen; that was a little different. Not distracting, just different," she added.
Of the younger lot, Rutuja's game, more than anyone else's, has the carefree zing similar to Sania Mirza's.
And like Sania, her serve too can sometimes leave the home audience cringing. During her opening-round match, she served 12 double faults and the weaker second serve was taken apart by Lee.
"It is definitely not a shot I can rely on," said Rutuja. "Whenever I needed a big serve it ended up as a double fault! It does need a lot of work."
She mainly trains in the city with coach Sandeep Kirtane, but has also had exposure to training methods in Spain, at Tennis Valencia. Standing at 5'10, she is one of the tallest Indian girls on the circuit, and provides a good skeleton for an athlete to build on. What she needs is a strong guiding hand and development programme to make a smooth transition to the senior tour. What she will also need to learn is embracing the spotlight.