Rutuja on the right track

Rutuja Bhosale...high on confidence.-Pics: R. RAGU

The 15-year-old from Pune served impressively and played aggressively from the backcourt to win the girls' title. K. Keerthivasan reports.

Hardly three months ago, in an ITF junior Grade III tournament in Uzbekistan, Rutuja Bhosale had served so many double faults that made her mother, who was watching her play, shrink in disbelief. But in the Asian Junior (U-18) Championship (exclusively for players of the Asian continent) in Chennai (May 16-21), the 15-year-old player served impressively and played aggressively from the backcourt to win the girls' title.

To win the title in a Grade B1 tournament at 15 years requires maturity and confidence. The victory must have given Rutuja, who is No. 89 in the ITF world junior (U-18) rankings, immense joy and satisfaction.

The girl from Pune gave full credit to her coach Sandeep Kirtane. “He has been drilling into me the importance of serves. We worked a lot on that aspect and he has been telling me to be strong in the head. My confidence has improved,” she said.

The Grade III tournament in Uzbekistan, according to Rutuja, was an eye-opener. The Russian girls, all aged between 15 and 17, didn't miss a ball, she observed.

Rutuja was particularly impressed by their fitness and skill. And it was then that she decided she too must improve her game.

Sandeep said, “To win a big tournament at such a young age is great. Rutuja capitalised on her chances and in the last month or so, we worked a lot on her serves and mental aspect.”

The former India Davis Cup coach stressed that Rutuja should play in junior tournaments in India and abroad and simultaneously compete in senior events too.

Rutuja played her first two rounds at the Presidency Club and when she took on the top seed, Ayaka Okuno of Japan, at the SDAT-Nungambakkam Stadium in the pre-quarterfinals, she was not sure how the court would play. Her opponent, on the other hand, played all her matches at the Nungambakkam Stadium courts.

However, once Rutuja got on court, she didn't have any apprehensions. She simply outplayed the Japanese.

Realising that Okuno's forehand wasn't functioning well, Rutuja attacked her relentlessly and finished off the contest in quick time. The top seed was so upset by the defeat that she flung her racquet in disgust after the match.

“I was not expected to beat the top seed. This was my first match here. I did not know what to expect from the courts (at the Nungambakkam Stadium). Before this, I had a tough match against Spurti (Shivalingaiah) and I think that helped me. I am happy that I beat the top seed,” said a delighted Rutuja.

With her confidence very high, Rutuja defeated Ching-Wen Hsu of Taipei in straight sets in the quarterfinals.

Gao Xin…has a game that could take him to greater heights.-

In the semifinals, against Apichaya Runglerdkriangkrai of Thailand, Rutuja was expected to have a tough time. Apichaya, a solid player from the baseline, had defeated the fifth seed, Anna Clarice Patrimonio of the Philippines, in the quarterfinals.

Rutuja, however, blunted the Thai's game by moving the stocky player from side to side and unleashing forehand winners.

Rutuja's opponent in the final, Ratnika Batra was surprisingly off-colour. Known to hit powerfully from the baseline and work for every point, it was a sluggish Ratnika that one saw in the title-deciding match. Her serves were pathetic and she made far too many unforced errors.

Rutuja, on the other hand, was consistent; she served well and impressed with her groundstrokes. “This is the best win of my career. I am eager to play in the junior Wimbledon and junior U.S. Open,” she said.

China's Gao Xin, who claimed the boys' title, played hard and ran even harder. The 17-year-old didn't drop a set in the tournament. With his ruthless game from the backcourt and amazing court coverage, Gao showed the Indian juniors how much can be achieved with top-level fitness.

Coached by Cui Miao for the past nine years at Tianjin, Gao, No. 38 in the ITF world junior rankings, has the game that could take him to greater heights.

THE RESULTS

Boys' singles final: Gao Xin (China) beat Arjun Kadhe (India) 6-3, 7-6 (2).

Boys' doubles final: Gao Xin & Yuki Muramatsu (Japan) beat Kelvin Lam (Hong Kong) & Siyu Liu (China) 6-3, 6-1.

Girls' singles final: Rutuja Bhosale (India) beat Ratnika Batra (India) 6-1, 6-4.

Girls' doubles final: Ayaka Okuno (Japan) & Aldila Sutjiadi (Indonesia) beat Aishwarya Agarwal & Rutuja Bhosale (India) 6-2, 6-3.