India No. 2 Rutuja Bhosale, on her plans to get to No. 1, playing with underarm serve and her love for travelling and animated movies

Earlier this week, I got a chance to speak to one of India’s best tennis players – Rutuja Bhosale (RB) who happens to come from my home state of Maharashtra. She is having a great 2022 with already two doubles titles (ITF W25 Bendigo w/ Ankita Raina and  ITF W25 Chiang Rai w/ Erika Sema) in her bag. She continues to be near the top by being India’s No. 2 player in singles. We talk about her plans to get to No.1 and her comeback on the tour this week at ITF W25 Gurugram. 

Q: Hi Rutuja! Welcome to ITD. Congratulations on winning in Chiang Rai! How would you assess that week?

RB: Thank you! It was a tough week for me actually. I am proud of the way I handled the situations that week. During my quarterfinals in singles, I pulled my abdominal muscle (abs injury). I could somehow play during that match. But it got worse when I went to play my semifinals in doubles. So I ended up doing underarm serves! – which was something new I had to do. I could not let down my partner. Erika and I are good friends. We played in China a couple of years ago and we did well. And we finally played again, so I did not want to NOT finish the matches. And the underarm serve was kind of a surprise for the girls. No one was expecting it (laughs). I wasn’t expecting it (to do it)! So it kind of helped us in winning doubles. Unfortunately in singles, it did not work out because (my opponent in the semifinals) Nao Hibino who has been a Top 100/Top 50 player is really smart. She handled the underarm serves well. She did not let me set up any other points – rallies or shots, anything. So it did not work out for me in singles. But I was proud of the way I handled the injury at that time and come out as a winner in doubles. 

Q: Oh that’s amazing! Where did that inspiration for underarm serves come from? Was it Nick Kyrgios? Or was it Alexander Bublik? Please tell us.

RB: Everyone in India knows I play pretty straightforward. But it was Kedar (Shah) sir. He told me to try serving underarm. My abs injury was not that painful for my forehands and backhands. So he told me to just try it out. If it works, that’s great. If not, then you can just pull out. So I tried it in doubles and it worked. So yeah it was something new – it was either a hit or a miss. A few of my serves were good. And some of them were landed on my opponent’s legs – so it was embarrassing at the same time. So yeah it was Kedar sir. He pushed me to do it. If I had to make that decision by myself, I wouldn’t have made it.  

Q: Fantastic! So I enjoy travelling a lot. I love the fact that tennis pros get to travel so much for their work. You were in Thailand for a month. How was that overall experience?

RB: Thailand is one of my favourite places to visit. It’s just so easy to get around Thailand. The food is not a problem. I love tasting new cuisine – there’s always something different to try in Thailand. In Chiang Rai, I did not stay at the official hotel. I got an Airbnb. So I rented a scooter, so it was so much easier for me to go explore new places – places to eat, to drink bubble tea/coffee. There were many coffee joints. So yeah, travelling is something I love to do, personally. If you just take out the aeroplane rides, anyone would love travelling. Thailand never disappoints. After I was done with the tournament, I had a day off before my flight so I went and visited Wat Rong Khun – White Temple which is one of the top tourist attractions there. It was really nice. 

Q: A lot of pros do not like travelling because moving so often can be stressful. What do you think about that?

RB: I mean there are pros and cons to everything. Just the part where you have to keep going to the airports, the check-in, the security – that sometimes does get to me also. But I mean it’s part of the job. But at least you get to go to a new destination and explore!

Q: Also, I think it’s always tougher for us Indians to travel as our passport is weaker compared to countries in Europe and North America. I am sure that’s a bit of work as well, right? 

RB: Oh yeah, yeah! I really do hope the Indian passport becomes stronger. Because it’s just such a hassle – every time you have to get a new visa, you have to come back to India. After the coronavirus pandemic, it’s become even more of a hassle. Even to go see my husband in the UK, I did not get my visa on time. I missed out on a couple of tournaments. So yeah I hope the situation changes. I don’t know how that’s possible but I hope it does. 

Q: Well, more diplomatic efforts are needed from our government for that change – that’s for sure. My next question is – can you tell us what your day off looks like? Professional players have strict routines so I want to know how free time looks for you.

RB: I sleep (laughs). I think my mom would agree with that. I sleep so much when I am home. Even when I came back from Thailand, I was sleeping the whole day. Then I read a lot. Fiction mostly. I’ve started to doodle – drawings. I picked up some colour pens in Thailand, so that has sparked something in me. So basically I sleep a lot and I read as much as I can.

Q. That’s lovely! So give us a book recommendation. 

RB: I’m currently reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. My friend Emily reads a lot and she told me to read this one. It’s about an Australian man who escapes prison and then his life in Mumbai. It is an intense book and I’m liking it. Other books I usually enjoy reading are the Harry Potter series and The Lord of the Rings – fantasy stuff.

Q: You won two doubles titles this year. Two last year as well. You also won a singles title last year. What other deep runs made you feel thrilled or overjoyed in the past 365 days?

RB: To be honest, just to be back on tour after the coronavirus pandemic is something I’ve enjoyed. Doubles’ success has been great but I’ve been trying to focus more on singles. Results-wise, small progress is being made. There are a lot of things we are working on with Kedar sir. I just moved there a couple of months ago. So there is a transition happening. My shoulder is better – I feel like everything is coming together. So just the fact that I am able to compete without pain is really making me happy. And better results will come eventually with more matches and more confidence. 

Q: You are India’s No. 2 player. Not many people get to say that. That’s a great accomplishment. But I am sure you are pushing for that No. 1 ranking as well. What do you think needs to be done for you to get there?

RB: It is all related to the previous question. It’s small progress every day. I mean the bigger picture is to be India No. 1 and get closer to the Top 200 – Top 100 of WTA Rankings. That’s the goal! But I’m taking it one match at a time. One tournament at a time. Focusing on the changes I’ve made – my serve action has changed. So focus on that. There are a lot of positives to take from last week in Thailand and I hope it all comes together. If the momentum comes, anything is possible. You never know. I’m playing Gurgaon next week. I might win it and become India No. 1. I don’t know. Let’s see!

Q: Oh wow! I did not know that. My next question was – You chose not to participate in two ITF W25 home events in Gurgaon. Any particular reason – given players usually look forward to playing in-home events?

RB: I mean everyone looks forward to playing at home. I was looking forward to it. But I was sad when I pulled my abs. I literally couldn’t even get up. So when I came back, after I got my tests and MRI done I was advised not to play. So I was disappointed. But I’ve made progress since. And I feel much better. So the plan is to play next week (starting 27 June). 

Q: What are your main goals for the remaining season?

RB: I really hope to play in the US Open qualies – that’s the main goal. We are working towards it. If I stay healthy and do all the right things, I should be able to do it. Climbing up the rankings is also the goal. 

Q: Let’s talk about off-court things now. I like the medium of interviews because it helps reveal the interviewee’s character. I had asked this question to Sathwika and Sharmada as well. What is that one thing you wish more people knew about you?

RB: I don’t know actually. I mean…there’s still a kid in me. I like to do childish things. I was telling my husband how I was shopping in Thailand and picking up cartoon stuff. I bought a bunch of Lilo & Stitch stuff there. And then my husband who is in London bought me Stitch accessories – an eye mask and hoodie etc. So yeah that – kid part I like about myself. My friends know about it. I can watch animated movies anytime. Some of my friends and family members are like – you know you are 26 years old – you should not be watching animated movies – and every time my nieces and nephews come over and we watch Tangled, Frozen and Scooby-Doo and all. So yeah, the kid in me is still there. The first impression people have of me is I’m a little khadus (rude or uptight). I actually do kinda portray it like that but I am not that. If I don’t know someone, I will be just at distance. But once you get to know me, I’m just a relaxed small kid. 

Q: So I must ask – what is your favourite animated movie?

RB: There are so many! I loved Inside Out. I can watch that anytime. I recently watched Luca. I loved Tangled. Kung Fu Panda is a classic – I watched it today only. 

Q: Do you follow the progress of upcoming Indian Tennis players? If so, who are the players that excite you the most?

RB: To be honest, I don’t really follow too many younger players. But I’ve been training with Vaishnavi (Adkar). She is someone who works really hard. She has a big game! I think she has a bright future. And I would love to see how she copes with the transition of switching from juniors to women’s circuit. So yeah I don’t follow the juniors but because she is around and I train with her, I know she has a big game. 

On the boys’ side, even though he is not a junior, I would like to see how Manish (Sureshkumar) does. I hit with him in Chiang Rai. He didn’t miss a ball before my first-round match there. So yeah him for sure! 

Q: Have you heard of Jaishnav Shinde? He is Maharashtra Junior No. 1.

RB: Yes, I’ve heard of him. He is from PYC Hindu Gymkhana, right? But unfortunately, I haven’t seen him play yet. 

Q: Alright. One last question – Do you have a message for ITD and our followers?

RB: You guys are doing a great job following all our Indian players. I mean that’s how I get to know who is playing where. It is a tough job considering how many players you have to cover. I wish you all the best! I hope you continue to grow. And I hope we have many more interviews (smiles).

This interview was conducted on Wednesday, 22 June 2022 via Zoom.

Abhijeet Dangat is a lawyer and writer who loves playing, watching and discussing tennis. He has lived in India, France and the United Kingdom and has travelled across the world, many times witnessing sports history being made.

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