‘When Bopanna picked me up after we won gold, I told mom I was going to frame it’: Rutuja relives Asian Games run

 Rutuja talked about her ‘shocking’ pair-up with Bopanna, the bond they eventually developed and the final, where they registered a stellar win.

Four days since that spectacular achievement in Hangzhou in the ongoing 2023 Asian Games. Yet, Rutuja Bhosale may not have had the time to fully grasp the magnitude of her gold medal triumph in mixed-doubles tennis, which she won alongside the legendary Rohan Bopanna. Fresh from the events in China, where India has already made history with its best-ever performance in the Asiad, the 27-year-old was rather upbeat in talking through her fabulous campaign. On her first off day since returning from Hangzhou on Monday, which included a grand welcome at the airport followed by being felicitated by Sports Minister Anurag Thakur, Rutuja opted to relive the journey as she touched upon her ‘shocking’ pair-up with Bopanna, the bond they eventually developed and the grand finale, where the two registered a stellar come-from-behind win to take down Chinese Taipei’s Tsung-Hao Huang and En-Shuo Liang 2-6, 6-3, 10-4.

Speaking exclusively to Hindustan Times Digital, Rutuja discussed her aspirations of participating in the Australian Open and the Olympics, highlighting the substantial support she has received from the Punit Balan Group (PBG). PBG is dedicated to fostering Indian sporting talent across diverse disciplines, and Rutuja has been in partnership with them since June of the previous year.

No, not yet. Still trying to process it. We finished on Sunday, travelled on Monday, met the Sports Minister on Tuesday and came home the same day. So today (Wednesday) is kind of the first day where I am a little free. So I didn’t get much time to allow that to sink in.

Did the achievement feel bigger than what the initial reaction was after coming back to India? So many people greeted you at the airport and there were videos of people dancing as well.

Definitely. When we won it, we were in China, and it felt like we made the nation proud. But I never would have imagined to come back home and seeing so many people greeting me. I knew my family was proud and happy of what I achieved, but I expected them to be there. But there were so many other people at the airport. Not only that, people in the flight, the captain, all congratulated us. That is when I slowly realised how important a medal for a country is. So yes, it was way more than what I had thought or even dreamt of.

Tell us about your pairing with Rohan Bopanna? It was obviously your first. Was there an intimidating factor at the start given his achievements and legendary status?

Until now, I had known as the legend, who has taken Indian tennis to great heights and made the nation proud, but just the fact that he chose to play with me was a shock in itself. Ankita Raina, Prarthana Thombare, me – we all are doing very well in the doubles category in the WTA circuit. I knew that one of us was going to play with him but I never thought he was going to choose me because I literally pinched myself after I heard the news. He then explained to me saying that my aggressive game style complements his game and that is why he picked me and it probably was a good decision (laughs).

Yes, it was definitely very intimidating at first. The first meeting that we had, in Lucknow, when the Davis Cup event was going on, and the team was being decided as to who would play with whom. Even then, when he was sitting across the room, it was intimidating. I mean, come on, you are Rohan Bopanna! In fact, the very first practice after we flew to China was very intimidating as well because I did not know whether I would just take instructions or can give my view as well on where I would like to serve or how I would like to play. Even for the small things I felt whether I could speak up to him.

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