THIS time last year, Rosie Sterk would never have believed she would have been rubbing shoulders with the biggest names in women’s tennis.

But as 2019 came to a close, the 16-year-old was reflecting on a twelve months that saw her claim her biggest title of her career, travel to the far east for the first time and play alongside the world’s best including world number one Ashleigh Barty and current Wimbledon champion champion, Simona Halep.

Sterk’s trip to China was to compete in the WTA Future Stars tournament in Shenzen, and it took place the week before the WTA Tour Finals, which saw the eight best players of the season battle it out for one of the biggest titles in tennis.

Brushing shoulders with superstars of the tennis world was, admits Sterk, something of a shock to the system.

“It was very strange to be walking in the same corridors as these famous players who I watch on television. It was very surreal,” she said.

“We got to meet some of the WTA players and that was great. We were all right in there for photos – I met Ash Barty, Karolina Pliskova and Naomi Osaka.”

It was not an easy task for Sterk to claim her place at the Future Stars event. She began in regional qualifying, where she ended up having to play her younger sister, Anna, for a place at the national event, the Tiebreak Tens tournament in London.

She duly defeated her sister and so headed to the Finals in September. The format is somewhat different to a normal tennis match, with tiebreak sets deciding the winner but that style of tennis suits Sterk and so as she progressed through the rounds, she knew the ultimate prize was getting closer and closer. And so when she claimed the win in the final and realised she was headed to China, she admits it was somewhat overwhelming.

“The format of Tiebreak tens is really quick and serve and return becomes such a big factor, which suits me really well,” the Stirling player said.

“I was getting through the rounds and I knew I was getting closer and closer and then I won it and I remember thinking wow, I’m going to China.

“I didn’t know what to expect. I’d never been to Asia or anything so it was pretty huge for me.”

Sterk performed well in China, winning three of her pool matches in the under-16 category but three losses saw her miss out on the final.

Her appearance in Shenzen may have been the appearance that got most attention, but it merely capped off a year which, says Sterk, was the best of her career by some way.

At the start of the year, Sterk won the girls Under 16 Scottish Junior Open Championships and was runner-up in the Scottish Junior Indoor under-18 Championships while just a few months later, she became the first Scottish girl to win the grade 2 Summer National Tour event since 2015.

It was, admits Sterk, a significant step forward in her career and was a huge boost to her confidence.

“That was my biggest win to date so that really opened my eyes and started to make me think yeah, I can do this,” she said.

“I beat some good players – some of GB’s top players and national academy players so that was a big confidence boost, to not only compete with those girls, to actually beat them was a big thing.

“You learn a lot from losing but what you learn from winning is how to win. A lot of people are really good at tennis but they can’t win so that was a huge confidence boost for me.”

Sterk trains at Stirling University before and after school and has received much support from Judy Murray, who was also in Shenzen.

All the signs are that she has the potential to rise through the ranks on in the tennis world and although she is well aware of how hard it is to make it to the top in the sport, seeing the world’s best at such close quarters has only served to increase her drive to make it to the WTA Tour even more.

Sterk may still only be in her mid-teens but already, she has a plan of what she wants to do when she leaves school.

“I’d love to go to the collegiate system in America. I’m quite academic so I’d like to go over to America because then I can get a degree as well as play tennis at a really high level. It looks like a dream out there,” she said.

“My target is definitely to get on the WTA Tour at some point, at singles or doubles, I love them both. Being in Shenzen and seeing the top girls, it definitely made me think I want that too.

“It was so inspiring seeing the players up close and it makes you think yeah, I can do that or I could learn to do that.”