Having been afforded the opportunity to broaden her tennis horizons in recent months, Scottish teenager Rosie Sterk says she is relishing her role with the WTA Future Stars program.
Speaking with WTA community ambassador Judy Murray in an Instagram Live on Friday, the 16-year-old discussed how qualifying for and competing at the WTA Future Stars tournament in Shenzhen, China last October has served as a springboard for her tennis development, and what her goals and aspirations in the sport are.
Last fall, Sterk won regional and national qualifiers to earn a place at the event, held in conjunction with the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, where she traveled to Asia for the first time, met some of the tour's biggest stars, and learned more about professional tennis.
Finishing as the second runner-up in the under-16 round robin competition, Sterk was also the unanimous recipient of the Li Na Inspiration Award for her age group, given to the player who shows outstanding sportsmanship, empathy, respect and team spirit.
"It was such an amazing opportunity and I'm going to remember it for my life. It was incredible," Sterk said. "I met so many lovely players and coaches. The WTA staff were so friendly, and you could go and talk to them about anything.
"It was really exciting to win that award, and I was really taken aback. It's for showing qualities that Li Na had when she was a player... and I was chuffed a bit."
While at home as a result of the global coronavirus pandemic, Sterk, who enjoys baking and playing guitar away from tennis, also noted that she's remained in touch with her fellow Future Stars competitors, and called under-16 champion Reese Brantmeier of the United States a good friend.
"She's really good at art, so she's been showing me some of her art," Sterk said, "and I've been showing her some of my guitar... and I've actually inspired her to try some baking!"
In addition to competing in matches in Shenzhen, Sterk and her peers also participated in clinics with Murray and local children, and the 16-year-old also spoke about how she eagerly embraced another new opportunity by doing so.
"A great coach told me once, 'You have to be comfortable being uncomfortable,' and that was a position I was uncomfortable in," she continued.
"It was interesting as well... because the kids were maybe under 5, under 6 [years old], and some of them spoke really good English but others didn't, so you had to lead them and teach by showing, and that really stood out to me. I really enjoyed it."
In the months since Shenzhen, Sterk has continued to grow as a result of the program. She's joined in the tour's efforts to promote sustainability in the environment — which included using the Wilson Triniti, the first eco-conscious, high-performance tennis ball last year in Shenzhen — as a Future Stars ambassador.
"I always thought that climate change was really huge and big... but specifying it into sport has really helped me understand," the teenager said.
"We do need to change these things, and it's all about making small changes to become responsible citizens, and this makes big changes to the global problem.
"It's been really interesting for me, and they have a lot of people involved - Future Stars, present players and past players - to try and get this initiative going. Once a week, we have a [virtual] team meeting, which is always fun.
"We're still in the early stages of it, but it's trying to create an education program and empower people by understanding... and positively enforcing what they're doing."
Sterk also explained how she and her tennis-playing sister Anna, who is 15 months younger, hail from a diverse sporting background, which drew comparisons from Murray about her own sons, Jamie and Andy, and their tennis development.
"With me being the older sister, I think she was like, 'Rosie, you go do it first and I'll follow you!' but it does also mean that we can be quite competitive. We have had to play each other in certain sports, which was quite unfortunate, because not everyone can come home happy in the car," she joked.
"She has beaten me once, and there's not a day that goes by that she doesn't let me forget it. But it's the reverse psychology of it, I've got somebody chasing me and Anna has somebody to chase."
Sterk revealed that both she and Anna have aspirations of playing college tennis in the U.S. system, and the well-rounded teenager says she wants to pursue a degree in a field related to numbers and mathematics.
"I think college is definitely the way I want to go," she said. "I love school, so it gives me an opportunity to do a degree and play tennis. There's just such a good team aspect around it.
"I've played a lot of basketball so it's nice to have a sense of belonging and that you've meant to be there. Doubles is also a huge part of [college tennis] and I love playing doubles.
"I just try to think outside the box. I like to pride myself on being a person behind a player."