4 Sep 2018
 

In 2008, tennis star Ajeet Rai was deemed by NZ Ballkids coach Andrew Baylis, too small and lacking enough stamina to be a ball boy for the Davis Cup tie between New Zealand and China.

Ten years on, the 19-year-old is now 1.88 metres tall and has been named in the Davis Cup team.

"I was just about to go play a match in Jakarta and I got the call from the New Zealand selectors on a group call."

When that happened, the Taranaki player was overwhelmed. "I gave my brother [Amrit] a hug, while trying to talk on the phone. It was the best feeling in the world."

Ajeet will compete in South Korea in mid-September with team mates Michael Venus, Rubin Statham, Artem Sitak, and Marcus Daniell.

While he didn't run for balls during the 2008 competition at the TSB Stadium, he did meet his heroes. 

"I have got autographs in a book from them saying 'if you keep training you may be able to make the Davis Cup team one day'."

Ten years ago, Rubin Statham and Marcus Daniell were in that team; now Ajeet is playing alongside them.


 

The teenager's tennis career began 16 years ago. "I started playing when I was three."

He relished being able to spend time with his dad, Rakesh, who is Ajeet's coach, and Amrit, now 25. "It was fun being with my dad and brother."

He was school age when he started playing competitively. "I found I was pretty good at it, and when you are young and good at something…"

His mum, Madhu, a psychologist, says Ajeet's natural tennis ability didn't endear himself to everyone. Some members didn't want him to play because he was beating adults and players were leaving his first club. 

They even received a letter from the club asking that Ajeet not attend junior nights because it was demoralising for the older kids.   

"His first proper match was when he was five. He won the match but wasn't happy with the line calls," she laughs, remembering his precociousness.


 

The teenager's tennis career began 16 years ago. "I started playing when I was three."

He relished being able to spend time with his dad, Rakesh, who is Ajeet's coach, and Amrit, now 25. "It was fun being with my dad and brother."

He was school age when he started playing competitively. "I found I was pretty good at it, and when you are young and good at something…"

His mum, Madhu, a psychologist, says Ajeet's natural tennis ability didn't endear himself to everyone. Some members didn't want him to play because he was beating adults and players were leaving his first club. 

They even received a letter from the club asking that Ajeet not attend junior nights because it was demoralising for the older kids.   

"His first proper match was when he was five. He won the match but wasn't happy with the line calls," she laughs, remembering his precociousness.

 


His commitment, passion and work ethics has given us no choice but to fully support him. 

"You have tried to stop me playing tennis," Ajeet says to his mum.

Not once has she had to wake her youngest son to go training – he's always been ready and eager. 

As Ajeet has grown up and continued to succeed, there have been many knockers.

"People say 'he won't make it'," Madhu says.

"Because they don't want to see you succeeding," Ajeet continues. "They want to bring you down so you aren't doing well."

But he has way too much spirit to be beaten. "I love it when people say that – I just want to prove them wrong."

"It's been a tough ride," Rakesh admits. "We shelter Ajeet from a lot of stuff. He cannot hear what people are saying. He's always so passionate about tennis; that was the only world he knew. It drove me to keep him going."

Taranaki's rising tennis star Ajeet Rai has goals of being the best in the world | Stuff.co.nz