One of the more impressive improvements in New Zealand sport this year is set to make an impact in Wellington next month.
Teenage tennis player, Ajeet Rai will be one of an notable list of players lining up again for the Maxim Financial Wellington Open to be held December 19-22 at the Renouf Tennis Centre.
He’s had a remarkable rise in 2018 from no ATP world ranking to 694 in quick fashion.
For Rai who lives in New Plymouth but trains in Wellington it was a special year and will be topped off by returning to the capital to play an event he loves.
“It’s always good to play the Wellington Open. They do such a good job, so well organised and it’s great to play in front of my family and friends….it’s a rare thing to be able to do this. My dad gets to see me play as he travels with my but mum very rarely watches me on court,” say’s Rai. “It’s been an awesome year for me. It started in Uganda where I won my first points. My father grew up there. It was very humbling going there….and getting my career off to a great start with my first ATP points.”
Although Uganda may not be thought of as a hotbed of tennis, there are official International Tennis Federation (ITF) events in almost every nation of the world and sometimes it’s not just the on court performance which wins matches.
“There were a lot of good players at the tournaments. The number one seed was 300 in the world. I learnt a lot too…there’s a lot more to life than getting angry about tennis.”
Rai gained his first ranking point by winning through qualifying and then scoring a victory in his first round match. But one point only puts a player around 2200 in the world. In his next tournament he made the quarter-finals and second round the following week.
After the tournaments in Uganda there were tournaments in China, Indonesia, Korea followed by an unexpected call up to the court for Davis Cup against Korea.
Rai played doubles alongside Artem Sitak after Marcus Daniell was forced to withdraw injury and the pair scored a straight sets victory.
“I was orange boy last year and was really nervous when I got the call up to the court, but was supported by the players and coaches and it was a huge day for me. “
The best result of the year was winning the title at the Thailand ITF Futures event after fighting through three round of qualifying. In total he won eight singles matches to take away the trophy and also made the doubles final as well.
Rai also trained with former Wimbledon champ, now coach Pat Cash and American top 100 player, Coco Vandeweghe in the United States during the year which was one of his highlights.
The results are now starting to come more often for Rai who turns 20 in January and is pleased with his ranking peaking inside the top 700 in the world. Along with the results is the recognition. He was at Wellington airport recently when All Black Nehe Milner Skudder came up to him and congratulated him on his success…
“It was a buzz. He knew who I was …I played it pretty cool, but I’m really a bit of a fan boy.”
Any other fans who want to see a local tennis star on the rise can check out the Maxim Financial Wellington Open next month and watch Rai along with defending champ and New Zealand No.1 Rubin Statham, defending champ, Finn Tearney as well as top 100 ranked ATP doubles player Marcus Daniell along with top ranked New Zealand women, Paige Hourigan and Erin Routliffe along with plenty of other talent too.