'I'm still a work in progress': Rutuja Bhosale has feet on the ground despite 'breaking barrier' in ITF Women's Open
In an exclusive interaction with Hindustan Times Digital, Rutuja Bhosale talks about her “good run” in the ITF Women's open, the upcoming Billie Jean King Cup 2023 competition and her goals for 2023.
The draws haven't been kind to Rutuja Bhosale. She have been pitted against some of the higher-ranked players in the early rounds of the tournaments she participated since the start of this year. In Pune and the W25 event in Bengaluru, Bhosale lost in the Round of 16 against the top-seeded players in the tournament - Tatjana Maria and Valentini Grammatikopoulou respectively. The 26-year-old knew that by being the last on the acceptance list for the KPB Trust ITF Women's Open, hosted by the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association (KSLTA), fate would have similar plans. The difference for Rutuja was self belief and mental strength and that is what she mustered to respond in the Bengaluru event last week, where she did not just beat Valentini in a three-setter in the Round of 32, she later defeated eighth seeded Eden Silva in the quarters to make her maiden semis in ITFs since Thailand in June last year. And although the right-hander lost to compatriot Ankita Raina in the semis, she is happy to have "broken the barrier". Rutuja also made it to the semis of the doubles event alongside Jacqueline Cabaj Awad.
In an exclusive interaction with Hindustan Times Digital, Rutuja talks about her “good run” in the ITF Women's open, the upcoming Billie Jean King Cup 2023 competition and her goals this year. Here are excerpts…
Q) How would you describe this run in Bengaluru where you defeated two seeded players?
Definitely a good run for me because in the first round itself I played the second seed, to whom I had lost in the second round in a tournament in just the previous week. I was the last one to enter into the competition. It was a tough draw but I feel I showed some resilience and came out on the winner's side because the last couple of months I have been playing against those ranked higher than me and lost to them in three-setter ties. So yes, I feel like that barrier is broken.
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Q) You lost to Valentini last week in the W25 event, also a three-setter match, what did you change in your strategy?
That was actually the first time I played against Valentini. I was almost close to beating her that week as well. I was 3-0 up in the final set, but ended up losing focus a little bit. Since the court conditions were a little bit different, the strategy was just to stay with her and remain aggressive because she is a counter-puncher. The mindset and strategy was simple - stay with her and attack whenever given opportunity - which is what I did and it really worked.
Q) You have been up against some of top players in the last couple of months and you have sort of finally broken the barrier in this Bengaluru event. What is the mental routine that you follow...what did you tell yourself heading into these matches?
I have played some of the higher-ranked players now and I feel that I have been playing good tennis. I came close to beating most of them. The played three-setter with all of them. So I knew I was there, mentally I knew that I could beat them. But somehow I would lose focus...something was just not working out right. In Bengaluru, I went in with the mindset that since I was the last person on the acceptance list to get in, I knew any player I would go up against would be a higher-ranked player than me. So I had to be men tally ready as well. I guess, I fought really hard with eventually helped me through the matches. It wasn't like I played one of the best tennis but yes I played with my heart with really helped.
Q) You are in the Billie Jean King Cup squad again but this time India won't have Sania Mirza and Vihsal Uppal. Thoughts on the team and on the event, how are you looking forward to it?
It is going to be a huge difference because I have had Sania and Vishal sir almost since I have come back from college and been on the team. So yes, it will be a huge transition. But I feel like Ankita, Karman and I, we have played in the team for quite sometime now and we know how the situation is during this tournament. And with the new members of the team (Sahaja Yamlapalli, Vaidehi Chaudhari), it will be a good mix. Having Shalini Thakur (captain) and Radhika ma'am (coach)...it is an all-women squad. It will be a new challenge for with the old and the new faces we are up for the challenge.
Q) What do you identify yourself as - a doubles or singles player? Has a thought of focussing on just one ever crossed the mind like we have seen as a trend in Indian tennis?
Both. I don't want to put a tagline on me which says I play better singles or doubles. I am working on both the aspects of the game and I want to do both until I can do it and lets see where it takes me.
I haven't really thought about it. I feel there is a huge advantage of playing both singles and doubles - if you lose the singles event, you still have doubles and vice versa, implying that you have something that keeps you part of the tournament. I feel I am physically fit to do both the events. But eventually if my body doesn't support it, I will have to think about it, but yes, not now.
Q) Your tennis bucket list? Any ranking goals?
I want to finish the year inside top 250 or even higher if I can. I obviously want to play a full calendar year which I have not been able to do in the past. So I want to see how many matches I can play and stay injury free. Fingers crossed!
Q) What is that one thing you feel you need to improve to make that big leap forward?
I am still a work in progress. There are a lot of things I am working on - there is strengthening, my net game. I want to become an all-rounder but it is still a long way to go. But as long as I fight with my heart and keep the work ethic and keep working hard I can definitely make the big leap. Now that I have a team on whom I can rely on, with Kedar sir who has shown so much of belief in me and always keeps telling me to keep working hard. That team is building up and they know where I stand at the moment and where I need to improve and hopefully we can keep building on this.